It was curiosity about the grade school he attended that began Whitewater resident Darryl Claassen's journey into researching each school in the Remington school district.
Claassen will give a presentation entitled "A Picture of a Rural School" at 7 p.m. March 20 at Newton Public Library, 720 N. Oak.
Claassen attended Countryside School, located northeast of Whitewater.
"I went to a very large school — it had two rooms," Claassen joked.
Countryside School was formed in 1955 from a consolidation of four other schools that closed and Claassen found there was a fifth school that had previously consolidated with one of those four schools.
"You can't just research one school because there are other schools involved," Claassen said.
"A Picture of a Rural School" will give details about each school in USD 206.
The district's 253 square mile area held 40 public one-room schools.
"I've been able to get a picture of every school except three — two of them in Sedgwick County and one of them in Butler County," Claassen said.
Foster School in Harvey County is the only wooden one-room school that still stands on its original site.
"There are a number of other wood buildings that survived, but not in the original location," Claassen said.
School buildings were moved to accommodate the students they served.
"As populations changed, they tried to keep the school in the center of the population, and so the buildings might get moved half a mile, a mile, or a mile and a quarter," Claassen said.
Claassen put together a map of where each school was originally located and any subsequent moves.
"There are a number of places where the foundation exists and I have to search through the grass and the weeds to find it, but it's there, so we can verify locations that way," Claassen said.
By contacting local families, Claassen was able to get help with his research and obtain both pictures and oral histories.
"It was interesting to me, as I did interviews with these past students, that not a one of them spoke negatively about their education," Claassen said. "They were confident in the education that they got."
Besides the public schools, Emmaus Mennonite Church conducted two German schools.
"They had their own buildings for those schools," Claassen said. "The Grace Hill Church also conducted a German school, but they held their classes inside one of the public schools that was right close by — Star School."
The schools used a Bible to teach students the German language in addition to the five to eight months of public schooling.
"After school closed, they had a month or two of German school," Claassen said.
Most one-room schools were consolidated and closed in 1946, though at least one school in the Remington school district stayed open until 1961.
One of the German school buildings is now a garage in Whitewater, Claassen noted. Several of the brick school buildings still stand on their original sites and have been turned into homes.
With "A Picture of a Rural School," Claassen hopes to shine a light on the unique culture of one-room schools.
"We have lost so much in our educational system," Claassen observed. "Now, I'm not saying that what we have now is wrong, (but) we have really lost a lot of culture over time."
Many schools had traditions that were a major part of the community's life.
"There was a school, east of Potwin, that had a community Thanksgiving feast every year," Claassen said. "They'd put up a large tent on the school grounds and that whole community would come together for a carry-in Thanksgiving dinner."
The school closed in 1946, and the dinner would only survive for another two years.
"They tried to carry on the tradition and met in the Potwin School, which was only two miles away, and that just didn't work. It wasn't the same," Claassen said.
Claassen recalls hearing the lessons given to older children when he was in the first grade.
"At Countryside, there were four grades in one room and four grades in the other room, and so I got to get in on everything that the fourth grade was learning, too, and it was fascinating to me," Claassen said.
When a teacher had to leave the room, they often left an eighth grader in charge.
"We respected them. They were there to keep order and to see to it that everything went OK," Claassen said. "That's another great experience that we're missing today. Do we want to go back to that? We can't. We're way past. Are there some things that we could learn from that time and try to reintroduce? Very definitely."
For more information about "A Picture of a Rural School," call 316-283-2890.