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January 4, 2007

School Quiz

2007-01-04 02.jpg
Former coal chute in the basement of an elementary school, Brooklyn. Upon its construction in 1890, this part of the building most likely served as a primary school classroom.

I have a question for you all and, if you have the time, I would greatly appreciate a quick answer. Ever felt like delurking? This might seem like a strange topic to serve as a stimulus but your thoughts/reminiscences would really help me out.

What type of school buildings did you attend as a child and adolescent? Was it a typical brick structure built in another century? A modular building circa the 1950's? Or even more modern, like the high school I went to, constructed in the early 1990's? Did you feel like the architecture had an effect on the way in which you learned? Was it a positive or negative?

I promise there is a reason for my asking. Explanation of sorts tomorrow.

Posted by callalillie at January 4, 2007 7:46 AM | Education , History , Inquiry


The school I went to was probably built in the 1930's....complete with separate entrances and gyms for boys/girls, the old NYC school design with wood closets in the rear of each room, principal's office with wooden bench outside the door, etc. It was not overcrowded and there was a place for everything, giving you the feeling that school was a stable place where most everything was provided for...unlike my later experiences as a teacher in a LI school that was bursting at the seams and where I never actually had a room with window(s) and door until I had been teaching for about 10 years! Working in closets, locker rooms and cafeteria spaces was the norm if you taught any type of support service....can only imagine how that made my students feel

Posted by: nancy at January 4, 2007 8:37 AM

I'd argue that there is no 'lurking' on blogs. blogs are writerly, people come here to read what you say, sometimes they respond, but not responding is not 'lurking', so much as just reading. lurking occurs in forums where there is no singular construction of the author and everyone present is expected to contribute, thus it is a bit... derogatory, because the people calling other people lurkers are basically saying 'why are you not posting, like i am pointing, you are not performing appropriately'. on blogs, the only one expected to contribute is the author... thus the differences of term.

Posted by: Jeremy hunsinger at January 4, 2007 8:43 AM

Let's see... in kindergarten, I attended a school that was probably built in the 1950s. For grades 1-8, I went to a Catholic school, and then to a public high school. I'd say both of those were 1950s, too. All were light-colored brick.

While I was in high school, my town built a gigantic new state-of-the-art middle school to accommodate the growing population. I always thought that was kind of lame- why not give the middle schoolers the high school, and build a new high school. After I left HS, they put on a gigantic new addition, including new classrooms and a fieldhouse.

Did any of this affect my learning experience I'm not sure. I think if I was there now, it would be more dramatic, with all the crazy new technology and whatnot, installed in 1950s facilities. But I was in a pretty good district. Does that help?

Posted by: lesterhead at January 4, 2007 9:06 AM

My Grade school was built in the 1970's. It was made mostly out of concrete block. A little brick on the outside, but mostly concrete block, and all concrete block on the inside, but on the inside, the concretre was painted horrible pastel colors. It felt very dreary and institutional. Highschool had a wing built in the early 80's and an expansion wing built in the mid 90's, but from a design perspective you couldn't tell the difference. Brown brick on the outside, and, wait for it, concrete block on the interior slathered in institutional yellow pastel paint. They both could've been concerted into offices for the DMV with very little effort.

Posted by: Dave at January 4, 2007 9:10 AM

Oh yes, very helpful. Jeremy, sorry my attempt at encouragement was seen as derogatory. Point taken.

Posted by: corie at January 4, 2007 9:34 AM

Derogatory? Nah. Actually, I thought it was the question you were gonna ask. :)

Posted by: ccs178 (Chris) at January 4, 2007 9:44 AM

Let's throw some history into this.....I started Kindergarten in 1950 in a school likely built just a few years before, as my neighhborhood in Queens, NYC was a post war phenom. I took a school bus to PS 173...a half hr drive. In 1954 Brown Vs. Board of Ed mandated that I attend the school closest to my home...the neighborhood school, which happened to be located in a African-American area. Accordingly, at that time, the school had a significant minority population. I walked to PS 154, a school likely built at the turn of the century........desks bolted to the floor, the proverbial inkwells, the folding desk top, etc. It wasn't crowded at the beginning. In 1956 they built an addition onto the school.....a new wing evocative of the late 1950's school design.......spacious, well lighted, moveable desks, etc. At the same time, they attempted to contemporize the original school by trashing most of the old bolted desks. Junior high was in the same mold 1950;s). My high School (Jamaica High) was built in the 20's. Interestingly, there was a graduation picture outside my homeroom that included my father (class of 1927).

Posted by: Barry Strum at January 4, 2007 9:51 AM

My elementary, middle, and high school buildings were all built in the late 60s. The elementary school had shocking open classrooms wherein the whole fourth grade was in one giant room but split up into separate areas, like a loft. The middle of each giant room had books and beanbags.

Some kids on my street went to a different elementary school a few blocks away, and I remember getting into an argument because one of them said "my mom said your school doesn't even have DOORS" and I said "yeah it does, look" and pointed to the school, which was a few yards away. I was so scandalized that someone's mother would tell such OBVIOUS LIES about my school! It was only later when I got to middle school (classrooms complete with doors) that I realized what she meant.

Posted by: Sally at January 4, 2007 10:26 AM

I grew up in a brand new suburb outside Sacramento in the 60's and 70's, so all the schools were brand new modern with progressive teaching highly encouraged. My sixth grade class was 60 kids thrown together in a double classroom, but we had four teachers and would revolve in various groupings. I remember it as being very chaotic.

High school was even more loose, hippie, California, creative, crazy. You chose you're own classes, mostly based on which teachers were coolest. The school itself was a large campus of probably eight separate buildings, one for science, one for math, one for art, etc. In the center there was a large outdoor
amphitheater and a multipurpose building used as lunch room, concert theater, assembly room. In spite of this, I feel like I got a pretty good education.

Posted by: Cathy at January 4, 2007 11:06 AM

I attended two different elementary schools, both which were boxy types from the '50s or '60s. One had two bright levels and was quite large for an elementary school (and I loved that school - I think mainly because the playground was big and had two giant plastic cheeses we could play in). The other school was small, one floor, and very dark inside, from what I remember. And it didn't have plastic cheese.

My high school was built in the very early 1900s. It was brick and three stories and quite honestly, falling apart. But they had made some improvements, so it didn't seem as old as it was.

I teach in an elementary school now that was built maybe in the '40s . . . it is one floor, one entrance, and very long. It is such a small school that there is only one class per grade, and I think the students hate that about it.

Posted by: pismire at January 4, 2007 11:12 AM

I went to several different schools growing up, since my father was military. Most of the buildings were over thirty years old. I don't think the architecture had any impact, except for an appreciation of asthetics but how the teachers and administration treated the students. I went to a beautiful new middle school with modern lines and new desks but some of the teachers didn't adopt well to their environment and my learning was hampered. Maybe that is a better issue to look at?!

Now, I will state that I picked my graduate school partially based on how the buildings looked. Old pre-civil war and old southern buildings gracefully adorning a beautilly maintained quad with various pieces of art dedicated to long ago professors and statesmen. I definitely enjoyed the walk to school but the interior didn't match the exterior. Most buildings had been gutted and modernized with white boards, projectors and computer stations in the front. It could be a bit jarring.

Posted by: Jen at January 4, 2007 11:32 AM

i went to high school in north africa. the main school building, where the principal had her office and whatnot, was a beautiful french colonial villa, complete with mosaic tiles, wrought iron latticework with wisteria climbing on it, and a little (non-functional) fountain in the courtyard that led out to the garden.

the back buildings, around the corner, where the classrooms were housed, were added on later. some were built while i was in school there (1990s), and they were all classic third world concrete bunker construction, very, very basic, no insulation, just concrete blocks and plaster, three stories, with the hallways on the front of the buildings and open to the air.

the (very large) courtyard was concrete paving and entirely umblemished by a single aesthetically pleasing detail or tree. the girls' bathroom didn't have doors on the stalls (you brought a friend with you to stand there as a shield) or toilet paper (you brought your own).

in retrospect, the one thing it did have going for it was the weather: never really got below 55 degrees, hardly ever rained (except in winter every once in a while). with weather like that, who needs to hang around indoors anyhow? although, it would have been nice to have a few trees for shade. the sun was fierce.

Posted by: sylvia at January 4, 2007 11:49 AM

i went to school in a large brick box that was built in the 70's. more here: http://www.artifacting.com/blog/2003/10/17/remember-the-carpet/

Posted by: hubs at January 4, 2007 11:56 AM

sorry, you asked what the impact on learning was. i would have to say, it was a constant visual reminder of hierarchy: the people in charge (principal, etc) got the nice side of the school, which is what the parents got to see when they came in for parent-teacher conferences, and the lowly students got the bare-basics rest of the grounds. good reminder of how the rest of the country (and globe) was (is) structured, too: the haves get the luxury of aesthetically pleasing amenities, the have-nots don't.

Posted by: sylvia at January 4, 2007 11:58 AM

I grew up in Northern California. My schools were all boxy, concrete, fairly large outdoor campuses built around the 1960s. Devoid of charm, historical significance or inspiration, but I did not know any better so I can't say it necessarily impacted my learning. However, when I attended a large, crowded state university, I used to ditch their library to study in the reading room of the library belonging to the ritzy private university a few miles away. The space was stunning - open, soaring ceilings, magificent wood tables, woodwork everywhere, wrought iron gates lining the second floor, arched windows, book cases for the books instead of metal shelving. It inspired me to feel, well, more scholarly, and I loved being in that space. So, who knows if my early educational experiences would have been impacted by a more architectually appealing setting, but my college study days were vastly improved by that library, which was modeled after a reading room at a university in Madrid.

Posted by: Wendy at January 4, 2007 12:05 PM

My first school was quite odd - it was in what was a semi-rural area, but had gradually become commuter belt. It closed two years after i left, and i was only there for a year, but it only had two classes - infants (5-7), and juniors (7-11). So it was a wierd place to be taught, it was just two rooms and quite an old stone building, but i loved it. The mix of different ages must have made teaching a challenge but it really helped kids get on with different groups that they normally would have been kept apart from.

All my other schools were modernish 1960's jobs and i never thought much about whether that made any difference. The interior fittings were pretty much up to date, and the structure was well maintained. 6th form (16-18) was a modern block on the side, and felt a bit soulless in comparison. It did have more comfortable chairs though and a common room.

Posted by: discostu at January 4, 2007 12:09 PM

i'll weigh in with a comment about how physical environment affects learning...i taught for a few years at a middle school in the south bronx. our building was basically a cement square with few windows, peeling lead paint...you get the point. my classroom had windows that didn't open and fluorescent overhead lights that didn't work. my students and i often talked about how it was impossible to feel excited about learning with a constant headache from poor lighting and the general feeling of being in a crappy school--it evolved into our own little social/biological experiment after we brought in our own supplies and did a lot of work on the room.

Posted by: may at January 4, 2007 12:22 PM

Let's see, I did k-6 in a school built in 1910, the typical red brick schoolhouse. Then 7-9 was a 10 year old building from 1980 that was the opposite of the red brick schoolhouse in every way. There were ramps everywhere and no doors or windows in most of the classrooms. And 10-12 was back to a more traditional older building, probably from about 1915. It had no ramps, no ac, and the oldest elevator known to man.

The curriculum in jr. high was a bit more experimental that high school too. I don't know if that was the architecture though or just the way schooling was structured at the time to prepare us for college. I do remember the no doors in the junior high school being the worst idea ever as you could hear what went on in every classroom. In high school the building definitely effected the way people socialized. There was a very small lunchroom so most people just ate wherever they felt like, empty classrooms, outside if it was nice, hallways, downtown somewhere or in the auditorium.

Posted by: Elise at January 4, 2007 12:33 PM

I grew up in Iowa - no, I didn't go to school in a one-room school house. I went to grade school in a brand-new building which was verry progressive at the time. The school was divided 1-3 and 4-6. Each section had its own wing with open classrooms surrounding a central library. There were expandable walls that could separate each classroom, but were rarely used.

I definitly think the architecture afffected the way I learned. It seemed freeer, more modern, less constrained than some of the schools where other kids in the district went. We sat on the floor alot, went outside more. Maybe it was the times (late 60's, early 70's), but I think the way the builidng was built definitely contributed to the mood.

Junior high was another brand-new building, but more structure (we had doors and separate classrooms). High school was much more traditional, built in the 50's. Always seemed darker and more dreary.

Posted by: MKR at January 4, 2007 1:38 PM

my elementary school was an old building but my dad was actually the architect for the school I went to which was brand new and we had all these cool spaces where one classroom was divided into two spaces so two mini-classes could go on at the same time. also, they had lofts where people could hang out. and they had the coolest playground on the roof. sadly, i think as the school became more established, they converted the classrooms into much more traditional spaces.

and for high school, i went to hunter, aka the brick prison. the building was built in the late 60's/early 70s and it definitely shaped my high school experience. we had all these theories about what the lack of sunlight/fresh air did to our brains (hence why they lab rooms were among the few rooms that had windows).

Posted by: dahl at January 4, 2007 3:50 PM

I went to elementary school similar to that of Nancy the first poster. However, I wonder how site affects my kids who attend elementary school in a magnificent former mansion with a to die for view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF Bay. Generally speaking, they never look outside the window except when the blue angels fly by once a year, but i can't help but believe that being in such grand surroundings enforces a code of behavior among these kids that you don't find in a public school. They are generally very respectful of their surroundings.

Posted by: jb at January 4, 2007 3:55 PM

Grades 1 � 4 were in a two story wooden structure that was built in the 1910�s. The upper story held two multiage classrooms. One had grades 1 and 2 the other room held grades 3 and 4. The first floor had a coatroom, bathrooms and a multi-purpose room where a weekly music/PE class was help. The playground had a large swing set. In back of the school, there was a large cow pasture. I�m not sure how the building�s architecture affected our learning, but other factors did. Our teachers were rarely outside with us during recess. We settled differences ourselves. If someone was being a jerk, we all dealt with the individual. If one person really got himself or herself in trouble, disciple by the teacher was swift and severe after lunch.

We were told not to play in the cow pasture because the farmer often ran a bull amongst the cows. This rarely stopped us from ducking under the fence. One time I slipped on partially dried cow pie and ripped my trousers from stem to stern. I remember having to sit in the bathroom while my 3rd /4th grade teacher repaired them as she read to the rest of the class after lunch. Not following directions cost me a chapter in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.

This was circa 1968.

Posted by: euclid at January 4, 2007 5:15 PM

I guess this is as good a time to de-lurk as any! I found your blog by accident a few months ago and have enjoyed reading and love your photos.

The primary schools I went to (here in Australia) were an eclectic mix. I went to a country state school first, which was nothing but a series of no-frills demountable boxes tacked together with desks and cubby holes. My (private) school after that was in a gorgeous old farm homestead that had been modified into a 'school'...grades prep through 3 (about 15 kids) were in the master bedroom, 4 - 6 (about 20 kids) were in the lounge room, etc. The bathroom was the bathroom etc. Looking back it was very odd, but at the time it made perfect sense, and it fostered a fantastic culture of fun and learning. It was hard to tell the two apart, sometimes.

After a few years we moved north into a sub-tropical climate, and school was multi-storey brick buildings, which were incredibly impractical for the heat. The school tried to deal with it by installing ceiling fans, but within a couple of weeks they were hanging from only a few wires and the threat of them falling down and severing your head with their blades was quite real. This turned out to be fairly distracting, and probably explained why my marks dropped so dramatically.

In Australia, anything built before 1900 is gazed upon in absolute awe. European settlement was so recent and so brutal that it eradicated most of the Aboriginal landmarks it found.

Posted by: Marika at January 4, 2007 7:12 PM

In Boston I went to a kindergarten that was beautiful - built in the 1880s and now converted into low income housing for the elderly. Elementary school in a bright cheerful but concrete 60s-built school. Middle school was in a very poor neighborhood, more like a prison, built in the 30s and completely utilitarian and joyless. High school was a beautiful historic building, well maintained with a gorgeous auditorium, built in the 1920s. Nonetheless, it was full of asbestos so they kicked us out for a year while removing it.

Posted by: jen at January 5, 2007 8:34 AM

elementary and middle school were in old, large brick buildings, 30s? 40s? elem was smaller and kind of quaint and curious and more interesting with little wings for arts, etc. middle was more institutionalized, but still old and solid.

my first high school was in a new building (for the 70s) that looked like a prison. it sucked ass and smelled.

my second high school was a boarding school in vermont: all the classes were in old buildings that were like old country country farmhouses. small classes, too. creaky wood floors, everyone sitting around a table. better learning environment all around.

Posted by: grumpygirl at January 5, 2007 9:29 AM

I grew up in Iowa and went to four different elementary schools. Kindergarten: it was probably built in the '50s. I don't remember much. Grades 1-3: old brick school. I don't remember when it was built but it was significantly older (this in the 70s). It may have even been built in the previous century. What I remember most are the playgrounds. Grades k-3 were on the front playground with the junglegym, bars, swings, etc., while 4-6 were on the playground on the other side of the school, across the street. It was all grass without any equipment. Because of this, we never saw kid outside of our grade range. Grades 3-4 (we moved mid-year) was probably built in the '50s. Grades were separated by levels: k-3 level one, 4-6 on level two. Two classes for each grade, each room connected by a small room or double doors allowing classes to work together on various projects. What I remember the most? The upper level (4th grade) had regular-sized drinking fountains, and I was too short to use them. The principal brought in a footstool just for me. Grades 5-6, built in the 50s. My 6th grade teacher was more hippie-ish so our room was set up in zones with lots of pillows, reading areas etc.

Jr high -- '50s. Pretty straight forward. Grades 7-8 on one side, grade nine on the other. Halls were connected by offices, gym, and library. We had outgrown the school and had several classrooms in trailers outside of the school. A real pain in Iowa winters.

High school: Main building built previous century with subsequent add-ons. Weird heating and cooling due to additions. One room had no windows and felt like a cave. The rooms on the front of the building had those glass bricks as part of the windows. In August when it was hotter than hell (no A/C) classes in those rooms often met in the library because glass bricks are pretty much solar panels. Or else we sat in the room with the lights off, fans cranked to high, doing something that took minimal physical effort.

Posted by: biz at January 5, 2007 12:03 PM

Elementary school (K-6): typical 2-story Long Island Georgian circa 1926, with a 1955 wing for classrooms, standard-sized gym, library, etc. Expanded in early 90's and modified for handicapped w/elevator + ramps. Still has a great stand of pine trees on the property.
Junior high (7-8) 1957 modern steel/brick, expanded in early 1960s to become a junior high, was originally a K-6 school. Lots of land for athletic fields.
High school (9-12) - Built same time and across the street from junior high (1957), modern, 1-story affair with open courtyard, spacious common rooms and lots of windows. Originally a junior-senior hs until the early 60s' boom. Ran out of money in construction and a proposed pool was never built; the plot holds outdoor tennis courts with an oddly-placed fire hydrant nearby.
Well-maintained and doesn't look 50.

Posted by: 5w30 at January 6, 2007 1:24 AM

I grew up in a small town in Missouri just north of Kansas City. My elementry school was from the 50's, pretty non-descript building on the smaller side. My Junior high days were split between two buildings, one built in the 70's and one from the 40's which had a lot more brick to it. My highschool was built in the late 80's and always reminded me of a factory, very very few windows, gray/brown stone w/ steam vents on top... very very drap and I hated having to drag myself there every day.

Posted by: Amy at January 6, 2007 2:12 PM

I grew up (and still live) in Southern Vermont. My nursery school and kindergarten experience was a Montessori school in the basement of the church I now attend. First to sixth grade was spent in two buildings, but the same school. First to fourth was one of those 1920s/1930s schools with seperate entrances for boys and girls. A large two story rectangle with the office and the nurse on either side of the front door and the gymacafetorium was straight ahead. Fifth and sixth grade were spent in another building, as there wasn't enough room, and it was a large 3 story building built for the Catholic school. It was also probably from the 20s, 30s or 40s. We were on the top story and the cafeteria was (and still is) in the basement. We walked to the local rec center (former armory) for PE. My JR/High School was built in 1952 with additions in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It was bizarre and complicated, although not very huge. Each section was strongly influenced by its time and pretty ugly. For the past few years they have been doing construction, but because the buliding turned 50 in 2002, there are still a lot of the ugly quirky things that should have been changed.

Posted by: Lady S at January 6, 2007 7:37 PM

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