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Life Lessons I Learned at Waco Elementary School

I attended a small rural elementary school in Waco, Missouri. It was an old building heated by a coal boiler system and cooled by box fans. We didn’t have anything fancy, but we were happy. I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned some of my most valuable life lessons during those three years I attended that little school.

We were such a small school that we only had three grades, 4th, 5th, and 6th. Each grade had one academic teacher. Our art, music, and PE teachers came once a week for a couple of hours, and the principal would drive by every now and then, but rarely darkened the door. The librarian came every other week. Our school nurse visited once a quarter to provide us our fluoride treatments and check us for lice.

Our teachers taught us many things, but some of the most important lessons were about being decent human beings. The entire school, all fifty or so of us, met in the gym every morning to say the Pledge of Allegiance and read aloud from a giant flip chart. We read about citizenship and sportsmanship. After we read the day’s passage, one of the teachers would discuss the lesson with us.

Our instructors took good citizenship and sportsmanship seriously. I remember one time I got in trouble when we were playing an all-school game of topple ball in the gym at recess. I slammed the ball down on the gym floor in frustration when we lost a particularly hard-fought game.

There was no warning. No one told me to behave myself. No one asked me to please not act that way. Punishment was swift and unequivocal because I should have known better.

I was immediately sent upstairs to a classroom to write sentences. I had to write, “I will practice good sportsmanship at all times,” one hundred times. I didn’t think my hand was ever going to uncramp. I’ll tell you one thing; I never slammed a ball down again. My lesson was learned.

Recess on the days we couldn’t go outside was always an organized sport of some kind. We played whiffle ball, dodge ball, and topple ball, or some other team sport. We played well together, no matter how we were split into teams. Feuds were few and far between.

In addition to molding us into good citizens, the faculty endeavored to instill in us a sense of right and wrong. They made certain we were respectful of the faculty, staff, and each other. They also taught us the value of doing our share.

We students took turns performing various chores around the school. One student helped in the library. Two students helped serve lunch. Two students were responsible for putting away all of the sports equipment after every recess. Two students were responsible for hanging the American Flag every morning and taking it down, properly folding it every afternoon. The duties were rotated so each student performed each duty at least once.

The parents of our student body were a great influence, too. Our PTO organized a school carnival, partnering with Asbury Primary School, every year to raise money for things the schools needed.

The year I remember most was the one that the carnival raised money for computers. Our parents were forward thinking and realized computers were a huge part of our future. This took place in the early eighties when computers were incredibly expensive.

The carnival raised enough money that year to buy two brand new Commodore 64 computers, one for Asbury and one for Waco. They were placed on rolling carts and shared between the classrooms, so every student had the opportunity to be introduced to a computer.

The next year, my 5th grade teacher purchased several computers for his classroom with his own money to further our skills. This allowed the other two classrooms to use the shared computer more often and each of his students to further our skills. Little did we know what a valuable opportunity he gave us.

There were two other full-time people who worked at Waco School in addition to our teachers. One was our cook who made the best hot rolls I’ve ever eaten. The other was our custodian, who happened to be my dad. He worked at the school for several years until he resigned to take another job some time during my 6th grade year.

I could hear my dad whistling throughout the building as he swept the floors and went about his other tasks. He kept that old school in great shape. He even got out of bed in the middle of the night every night during the winter to go fire the furnace, which meant shoveling coal into the boiler to keep the school warm.

Some of the friendships I made while attending that little school on a dirt road in a tiny Missouri town have lasted a lifetime. I’m truly blessed to have been a student of such caring faculty and staff who taught me far more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Waco Elementary School closed in the mid eighties, and Asbury Primary School closed a few years later. The buildings were eventually sold. Waco Elementary is now a haunted house, and Asbury Primary is a private residence.

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