The hero of this story is Miss Dow, a teacher who knew the radical concept of open classroom teaching in the 1950's, and who made learning a sense of adventure. The setting: a two-room schoolhouse in Lakota, Michigan -- not very far from Lake Michigan. The children in the town of about 200, a number which also included pets ranging from horses, cats, and dogs, fed into Lakota School. Surrounding farmland outside of Lakota provided that there were more children to fill the schoolroom chairs.
Ms. Dow taught Kindergarten through third grade upstairs. Fourth, fifth and sixth grades were taught upstairs.
Miss Dow did not teach her Kindergartner's the ABC's. We were taught to read. The books were the Dick and Jane books, which also highlighted Sally, Spot and Puff. We were taught arithmetic. And, we K'ers were invited to listen to and learn what the other grades were learning. A behemoth of an upright piano took up one area of the open classroom design. A large fridge held enough glass bottles of Sherman's Dairy chocolate and white (whole) milk that Miss Down dispensed to each one of us during snack time. The one bathroom was unisex featuring a paddle with green on one side and red on the other. The cloakroom held all the paraphenalia children wore to keep warm during the winter and dry during the spring rains that fed the many seeds planted by all the farmers surrounding Lakota. Miss Dow also served as proctor and janitor.
Every day we attended school, Miss Dow welcomed us as though we were her children. I still have the scarf she gave me to for my Kindergarten Christmas present. Miss Dow was also our music teacher. She could bang out a tune and sign at the same time, her high-pitched voice full of enthusiasm ringing out over ours.
What she offered to us, her sponges, every school day was an opportunity to live life largely == to become more than a label of "Kindergartner" or "First Grader." We were uniquely challenged to be our own individuals.
I only attended Kindergarten at Lakota School. My older siblings had the fortunate opportunity to attend longer. We moved from Lakota, Michigan to Johnson City, Tennessee the summer before I was to start first grade. I was really sad knowing that I was losing the experience of being Miss Dow's student for another three years. Yet, what she gave me was an insatiable desire to learn.
I will be finally completing my undergraduate degree this coming May 2010. I've thought often of who most supported me to finally finish my undergrad degree at the age of 55. Many people have made my lifelong dream possible. Although, the person who influenced me the most was Miss Dow. Now that she is deceased, I will not be able to give credit to her in person. Yet, I think she would be happier if she knew that her passion for learning that offered with such joy and enthusiasm will be carried as a torch to pass on to others.
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