... and back to blogging! My kids started back to school this past week. Whew! I am already suffering from waking up earlier than usual. I have so much respect for teachers who wake up early every morning, often getting their own kids off to school, in order to be there for our children. I know that this is the case, because my mother was a teacher. Her mother was also a teacher. I volunteer at school often, because I know how much work teachers put in, and also how much support they need. I've been known to say, "You can always tell who the teachers' kids are, because they are usually the first to help out."
My maternal grandmother, Marjorie Skeen Russell, was fortunate to attend college at the University of Utah, where she received her degree in physical education. While she rarely had a classroom of her own, my grandma taught children in many capacities during her life. Among other endeavors, she was a substitute P.E. teacher, a driver's education instructor, taught Kindergarten at a private school, and was a docent for Utah's Hogle Zoo, bringing animals into classrooms.
She credited her passion for learning and discovery to her own experience as a young student at the William M. Stewart School. The school's new building was constructed on the University of Utah campus just a year before she started Kindergarten in 1919 (according to my best calculations). It acted as the Normal School or "lab" school for the College of Education, and many of the children who attended were children of professors or others associated with the University of Utah. The teaching philosophy was very hands-on and experiential. The teachers capitalized on the many connections with parents and associates by making the campus their classroom.
My grandma loved recounting her early school days. One of the memories she shared was of walking across 500 South (just South of the university) to Mt. Olivet Cemetery, where the class would observe and catch tadpoles. As older students, they raised chickens on the roof of the school, and sold the eggs. The children practiced their math skills by keeping track of egg sales. She related her pride at being selected to ring the school bell. The bonds the children formed lasted a lifetime. I have memories of my grandma still regularly meeting her "Kindergarten friends" for lunch when she was in her 80s.
While I was trying to learn more about the school, I found an article written in 1988 when a reunion for the school was being organized. It described the wonderful environment created for the students - you can read all about it here. It really sounded like a dream for the entire school community.
I can say, without a doubt, that my grandmother's experience at this school has rippled out far and wide for many years. My grandma used the hands-on model of the school while raising her own children, making sure they played with clay and got out to explore nature. My mother grew up to be a dedicated teacher, whose use of experiential learning earned her the 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Much like my grandma, while I have never had my own classroom, I spent my 20s and 30s in the field of outdoor education, sharing the wonders of our natural world and gardening with young children, including my own. So many lives have been influenced by the efforts of the Stewart School - I'm left feeling very grateful for it!
If you are interested in learning more about the William M. Stewart School, there are two collections of related materials available to the general public. I will definitely be taking a look the next time I am in Salt Lake City! Here is more information:
1. "Marjorie Skeen Russell, Obituary," Deseret News (Utah), 1 November 2001; Deseret News Archives (https://www.deseretnews.com/article/885020/Obituary-Marjorie-Skeen-Russell.html : accessed 2 September 2018); also telephone conversation with author's mother/daughter of Marjorie Skeen Russell, 1 September 2018.
2. "William Stewart Building (1920)," revised 12 March 1998, University of Utah Graduate School of Architecture; University of Utah Historic Buildings (http://students.arch.utah.edu/hba/htmlfiles/bldg006.html : accessed 3 September 2018).
3. "Thanksgiving Play Dinners Enjoyed by Tots, Stewart Pupils Prepare Tempting Menus," Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), 27 November 1919, page 22; Utah Digital Newspapers (https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=15066768 : accessed 3 September 2018).
4. "Stewart School Is Having a Reunion," Deseret News (Utah), 27 September 1988; Deseret News Archives (https://www.deseretnews.com/article/18645/STEWART-SCHOOL-IS-HAVING-A-REUNION.html : accessed 3 September 2018).