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Dyess, Arkansas

First Schools in Dyess


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31 July 1936

Interviews with teachers, Principal, Mrs. Salyers

The Colonists organized the first schools. The Colonists did not wish to wait for the formal organization by the administration staff. The first day of school on the colony was Monday, November 5, 1934. The teachers were chosen from among the colonist families and were 5 in number. The first few days of school were taught in the ----- section of the old kitchen. Teaching was done without pay. In December, two more teachers were added to the staff, to replace the colonist young people who had been doing the work. From December 5, 1934 to May 1935 the staff consisted of 4 teachers.

The major problem was one of room and something upon which to sit. Benches were constructed after the school had been started about a week. The school was soon transferred to one of the completed houses and tables were added to the equipment; these were flat-topped tables and the benches were without backs. During the holidays, the flat-topped tables were remade into tables with tops slanting downward from a midpoint. 12 or 14 children could be seated along one side of these tables, one table affording desk space for 14 of 18 children.

(Observer's estimate)

During the first year, the children walked to school and attendance was fair for those in the grades higher than 3rd; the smaller children found the distance too great on stormy days.

From interviews with one of the colonist teachers:

It was hard to do much teaching. Some of the children had been in school; some of them had never been in school. But with these first attempts, the school tradition was established in the Colony. The problem of discipline has not been great until this year when the school became so greatly overcrowded. One of the problems was fighting among the girls as well as the boys. Some minor disagreement in families would be carried to school and become the basis for fights among the children of the families involved; or sometimes differences among the children on the school grounds were carried back and caused differences between families.

The toilets have always been a problem, in the matter of keeping them clean and sanitary. The janitors have always felt that it was not a part of their job, and the teachers, naturally, feel that it is not theirs.

Books were a major problem in the winter of 1934-35. There were only a few and most of the work had to be done with a paper and pencil. After the arrival of the new principal in December 1934, he ordered books sufficient for the children then attending, and a few extras. The number of children soon exceeded the number of books. The schools were without blackboards until Jan 1935.

From interview with Superintendent, Spring of 1936:

The first Superintendent Of schools began work October 1, 1935. He immediately began replacing colonist teachers with regularly accredited teachers. He established a school at House 238, which cared for children in first five grades; another at House 213, which cared for children in the first six grades, with two teachers in each school. A third School was established at Old Commissary Bldg, which also cared for children in the first six grades, taught by three teachers. All the teachers were regular accredited. In December 1935, the first Superintendent was replaced by the present Suptindentent. (Mr. Womack resigned during the summer of 1936) At this time, the schools were increasingly crowded with the coming of children of new families and expansion was greatly needed.

The new superintendent installed an entirely new system. 1- The seventh grade which had been cared for in the greatly crowded schools outside the Colony, were accommodated on the Colony: 2- The trucks were used to transport the children living more than 1 1/2 miles from the Center: 3- The new system consisted in the establishment of two schools at the Old Center- one in the Old Commissary Bldg accommodating the first and second grades and one in the old bunk House accommodating the first, second and third grades; The third school, housing the sixth and seventh grades was established at House No 213 near the Center.

The schools at the Old Center were especially over-crowded; on the day observed, there were approximately 225 children in attendance in rooms at the Old Bunk House, a building approximately 30 feet wide and 70 feet long; this building was divided into three rooms with a teacher each-in one room were 83 children, and more than 65 in each of the other. Children were seated at long slant top tables on benches. Considering the crowded condition, the order in the room was especially praiseworthy.

The school year consists of 180 days with a week's vacation at Christmas. During the spring of 1936, the schools were closed for 10 days because of the prevalence of influenza in the Colony. There are 1386 children under 16 years of age. 514 are under 6, yrs or 8 yrs of age and not yet in school; of the 514, 136 will be of school age in the fall of 1936. Since March 1936, there have been two teachers in the first grade, all other grades, one teacher each.

There seems to be, three classes of children; those who can't read and write, and cant seem to learn; those who are normal at the start but are retarded through lack of opportunity; and those who are ready to be promoted to the next grade. The teachers have been told not to grade too closely, but to promote as many as possible until an adjustment has been made. The decision is left entirely with the teacher. There is no compulsory attendance. On the whole the attitude of the parents is the same.

The first school was started by parents.

Submitted by Everett Henson

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