MIDDLETON - Schools used to dot the landscape in the eastern part of Annapolis County. Now? Not so much.
Back when it was blackboards and chalk, Al Peppard started as physical education teacher at the new Middleton Regional High School. That was in 1949 and students came from 27 feeder schools.
Those schools, some as small as one room with a wood stove and an outhouse, were for all grades and often one teacher taught all the students at the same time.
Times change, and Peppard wants students of today to understand how it used to be out in the countryside where quite often the extent of your education was directly related to how much you had to help out on the farm.
Peppard, who went on to be principal of MRHS in 1967, has spent the past 18 months pulling together pictures and information on those old schools where so many of today’s uncles, aunts, grandparents, and great-grandparents received their educations.
He’s the last surviving member of that original teacher line-up in 1949 and on Dec. 11 at the library of the school he helped open, Peppard will officially unveil the permanent photo exhibit of the 27 feeder schools.
Back when the school was just down the road from your house, and students were from a small radius around the school, the building was often the centre of the community. It wasn’t always easy, but many of the students in those 27 feeder schools went on to university.
“The learning would be good for the student that was interested in school, but not so much for the person who was not interested because some of them would rather be home on the farm or out fishing than sitting there learning a book,” said Peppard, “but we all know that everyone should learn to read and write and to figure.”
Peppard saw all of those schools.
“When I looked at those schools, and I did visit them when I was the principal here, the first thing that hits your eyes is the stove somewhere in the school – and the elongated pipe,” he said, “and then you see the old desks.”
He compared the old chalkboard to computers and tablets, noting that students today have gone through as much technological change in one year as their parents went through in 25.
“The other thing of course is that they had outdoor plumbing and early in the history of these schools they had no electricity,” he said, “so they went in daylight and got home in daylight. They had chalk and pencils. They never had any pens. Mostly pencils and erasers.”
Throw in the distance most of them had to walk (“uphill both ways,” he jokes) and getting an education took some effort.
Current MRHS principal Jim Gushue said it would have been a huge project to transition 27 communities to a new building, and really a new way of education for all those families.
“There were many advantages in facilities, programs that could be offered, and that sort of thing at the time that they couldn’t get right in their home community,” said Gushue, “but I’m sure that was probably a tough sell at the time, to necessarily believe that was a good thing – to bring everyone together.”
Gushue wants current students to see that their communities are reflected in the project and also wants to recognize the almost 70 years of influence Peppard has had at MRHS.
“My hope is to recognize the people who contributed to Mr. Peppard’s project and to get them to come to the school and be able to see the final display, the final project that they contributed to,” Gushue said. “It’s important to me that when we’re talking about community, to recognise that Mr. Peppard has been instrumental in, and an influence on, this school in particular since its inception in 1949 and continues to contribute and help perpetuate the legacy that we have.”
Although the transition happened 68 years ago, Gushue believes the visual of Peppard’s project is important.
“This is a really good graphic display showing how this school’s been built on a larger community – and many small communities,” he said. “It’s nice for the students today to see that each of their communities – where they come from and where they live currently – is represented here and recognize that from Bloomington to Wilmot, to Port George, all of these communities continue to be part of this school. They all play a role. The fact that we are successful is a testament to the contributions and the input from all of these surrounding communities.”
The 27 photographs collected by Peppard have been hard-mounted and displayed in the MRHS library along with a map plotting the location of each school. The opening will take place on Monday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m.