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Reading, Writing, Arithmetic

School is back in session

Published: September 1, 2014 12:00 PM
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Story originally appeared in an earlier edition of Amish Heartland and has been updated to reflect current school practices.

To many people, the one-room country schoolhouse brings to mind stories of pioneer days that children learn about in history class by reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

In rural parts of Wayne and Holmes counties, these schools still exist - mostly in Amish communities.

Not all Amish schools consist of just one room or even look that different from public school classrooms.

Some defining differences that preserve this older method of teaching, however, filter through some strong beliefs in the community.

Although some Amish children attend public schools, nearly 2,000 young people in Holmes County ride by horse-drawn buggy or walk to one of the approximately 60 Amish parochial schools in the area.

Becoming a teacher in an Amish school doesn't require the same rigorous testing and extensive four and sometimes five years of college preparation required in traditional public schools. Most Amish teachers interviewed for this story never intended to become teachers but came to the occupation wanting to serve others.

Many of the Amish schools are of the one-room variety, with a heating stove in the center or a coal furnace in the basement. Here children enjoy an educational career from the first through the eighth grades.

In most schools, the teachers are usually married Amish women with only an eighth-grade education; however, there are still some cases of married and unmarried men teaching in the Amish parochial schools.

The schools are governed by three- or five-member school boards selected by the Amish communities to serve six-year terms. Although the schools are separate from the public school system, the committees representing the schools work with the county education office to report state-mandated statistics on enrollment and attendance.

Many Amish continue their education after eight grades. Some take correspondence courses, and others take government-sponsored workshops. Some take the GED exam. Many students extensively read newspapers, magazines and books. An individual may continue his or her education into a college or a technical program; they only need to pass the GED exam to be eligible to apply.

As part of the course-curriculum, the Amish parochial schools cover subjects including: Arithmetic, English, Reading, Vocabulary, Geography, Spelling and German. Most schools include Pennsylvania Dutch as well. Science and/or history are not commonly taught in an Amish parochial school.

It's possible for children to begin their education in the Amish parochial school and then transfer to an area public school or vice versa. Often times this is either permanent or temporary, but it is because the child needs more than what the parochial or public school is offering them.

Every class varies somewhat, but from the information gathered, many classes follow a schedule that starts with devotions, morning assignments written on the blackboard, work time, 15-minute recess and more work that may include "class tables." Class tables focus on specific groups of students while the rest of the room uses the time to complete their work.

Lunch periods (including noon recess) last about an hour and a half. Students receive one more 15-minute break in the afternoon. Amish schools do not usually send homework with students unless a child has missed a significant amount of lessons. During test week they may bring more books home.

Most days run from about 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m., with variations depending on the teacher's individual schedule.

Unlike many public schools that allow for teachers with specializations to rotate classrooms and different periods, the parochial Amish schools demand that its teachers possess knowledge in all areas.

Classes begin in late August and end mid-April. Except for the week between Christmas and New Year, there are no breaks or holidays.

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