GREENFIELD PARK, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 6, 2013: Ike Heller recently visited the one-room schoolhouse in Greenfield Park, New York, which he attended from 1931 to 1937. The school housed eight elementary grades under one teacher and one trustee.
The farm, where Ike lived with his family, was located about a mile and a half from Greenfield Park, a small town consisting of only one store and a gas station. The owners of both the store and the gas station were a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Kass.
Of course, Ike never knew it when he lived on the farm, but when he married Helaine, he discovered that Mrs. Kass was Helaine’s aunt (her father’s sister).
Near the Kass’s general store and gas station was the Greenfield Park school, a one-room schoolhouse that has now been preserved as a museum.
There were three or four children in each grade, starting from the first grade up through the eighth. One teacher taught all of the 28 pupils in all the grades.
Near the front of the classroom was a giant potbelly stove and the teacher’s desk was a little to one side of the stove, Ike recalled.
"We had rows of desks, starting with the little desks for the little kids on the right side as you faced the teacher," Ike said. "The older kids sat at bigger desks in rows on the left."
There was no kindergarten. Students entered the first grade when they were five years old and graduated when they were about 13.
"But some of the farm boys weren’t very smart," Ike said. "And, as a result, there were some very big husky guys in the eighth grade. They really should have been in high school already, but they were a little slow, so they were still there."
Outside, to the left of the schoolhouse, was the girls’ "two-seater" outhouse. The boys’ outhouse—also a "two-seater," was located on the right side of the building.
"The outhouses were called ‘outside improvements’ – that was the description used in those days," Ike said. "If you had to go to the bathroom in the wintertime, you put on your hat, coat and mittens, and you didn’t sit there too long. And in the warm weather, you
had to worry about bees that were buzzing around there."
Classes started at 9 o’clock in the morning and continued until 4 or 5 o’clock in the evening, because the teacher needed more hours in the day to get through all the subjects for all eight grades.
"The teacher would start with the first grade and bring the two or three kids up to her desk for reading," Ike said. "They would have reading for half an hour. Then she would give the kids some assignment, send them back to their seats and work with the three or
four second grade kids.
"After all the classes had their reading lessons, the next subject they took turns studying might be English. There was a blackboard, and in those days English included a lot of diagrams. There were all kinds of diagrams for grammar that the other kids learned."
While each class was up in the front getting their lessons, the other children were doing paperwork at their desks. If they didn’t have paperwork, they listened to the other kids reciting.
"So by the time you got to the sixth grade, you’d heard the sixth grade stuff six times, and that was very good," Ike said. "You heard the geography, the science, and the arithmetic.
"When my turn came, I had heard these stories six to seven times so I could say them all from memory. They were so impressed that they arranged for me to attend Brooklyn Technical High School after graduation."
THE MALE TEACHER
Teachers were almost always unmarried women. "We never had a married teacher," Ike said. "If you were married, somehow or other, they thought you couldn’t be a proper teacher.
"For many years we had one teacher. Her name was Miss Brown and she was a very good teacher. But we did have a male teacher for one year, and it was different. During recess or at lunch time, the girls and boys had always gone out to the schoolyard, chose
up teams and played baseball.
"But the male teacher got so wrapped up in the ball game that he would forget he was supposed to be teaching. And he’d forget to bring us back to the classroom.
"The parents were very critical of this, so they got rid of him and went back to having female teachers."
TO FETCH A PAIL OF WATER
There were no electric lights in the school and the only heat they had came from the stove. Sometimes it was so cold that the children sat with their coats and gloves on.
When they weren’t using the inkwells on their desks, the children had to put the inkwells up near the stove to keep them from freezing.
"Everybody had their personal inkwell," Ike said. "You would get your inkwell, bring it back to your desk to write and then put it back by the stove."
There was no running water in the school, so several of the older boys were assigned to go to a neighboring farm for a bucket of water. They poured the water into the water cooler, and the children had drinking water for the day.
"I remember as I got to be around nine years old, I was in charge of getting the water with Howard Kass (or Howie as we used to call him), who turned out to be Helaine’s cousin," Ike said. "He was my age, we were in the same class, and we went together and
fetched a pail of water. It was kind of an honored job. We liked it."
CLASSMATES AND DISCIPLINE
"I could name almost every one of the kids in that school, but that would take too much time," Ike said. "Each one of them came from a farm family and it was very nice.
"My class consisted of myself, Howie, Toby Mushinski (who was very smart), and Estelle Rosenberg (who was very dumb). The four of us were in the same class as we grew up from the first grade.
"If you were bad and you were very small, the teacher punished you by putting you under her desk. And that’s where you stayed for fifteen or twenty minutes. Some teachers would have you stand in a corner if you were bad.
"Another punishment for the little boys was that they would make you sit with a girl. And that was considered a very lousy thing to have you do. I remember sitting with Nasca Dunez, who was always subject to nosebleeds. She would get a nosebleed at the drop of
a hat. She had a sister, Annie Dunez; Annie didn’t have nosebleeds."
MOVING BACK TO THE CITY
Ike was 12 years old when the family left the farm and moved back to New York City, where he worked after school as a Western Union boy, delivering telegrams on a bicycle.
One day, he came home from school and told his mother that "they had taken the names of some kids for a special test" -- an entrance exam for Brooklyn Technical High School.
His mother went to school and insisted that Ike be allowed to take the exam. "Two of us from the school got in," he said. "That introduced me to electrical engineering."
GREENFIELD HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
Students who attended the Greenfield Park school in the past restored it to its present condition and formed the Greenfield Historical Association. Many of the memorabilia contained in the schoolhouse are originals.