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Lilly-Washington, St. Brigid’s: Small schools have many advantages

Photo of Lilly Washington immediately after construction was finished about 1962.

I remember hearing the machines growl as they attacked the land above our house that used to be part of our “woods.” I rushed through up the hill to watch them ripping out trees and digging a foundation for the “new school.”

As I recall, this occurred in either the summer of 1960 or 1961, and the company was Gamble and Gamble from the New Florence/Bolivar area.

It was an exciting time just to see such a major step taken in a small community like ours, about 1,500 to 2,000 people. The old school was built in about 1917 or so, from my recollection of the cornerstone.

Now, a new facility that would have a gymnasium where we could play our basketball games, with all of the classes under one roof, was a possibility. The games at the Italian Hall would be no more.

The photo above is one of the first of the new Lilly-Washington High School, probably in about 1962. Obviously, not all of the grass and landscaping had been done, but the building was an exciting addition to our community.


As we celebrate our 55th anniversary of our class’ graduation from Lilly Washington this weekend, I started to think about the value of small schools and small classes in the educational system. And, I started to think about some of the wonderful teachers we had — and some who were not so great.

I even went back to my first eight years of elementary school at St. Brigid’s in a six-room school house. I thought that the foundation of the students in the Lilly area was solid, for a variety of reasons.

I have mentioned that I had three of the best teachers of my life at Lilly-Washington. One was a man who aided that English eduction, Mike Krumenaker, another was a fabulous Biology teacher, Paul Tickerhoof, and another was a shop teacher extraordinaire, Alex Bellock.

We had other good teachers in those years, too, many who were very dedicated.

In addition, as I write this on a flight between Minneapolis and Chicago, I wondered how far the educational system in the United States of America has fallen in the 21st Century.

Not all of this narrative is negative. Despite my 76 years, I returned to education a few years ago and started tutoring students from throughout the country. Some of these are young people who English skills are limited in a variety of ways — such as those who learned another language as their primary one.

However, many of these students are in honors and AP programs and want to ensure that they can remain there. The approach is the same: Analyze the needs of the students and determine how to help each of them.

What I have learned is that America is still fortunate to have some outstanding educators. Some of the assignments that they are given are creative and challenging. These teachers are doing a great job.

Back to the foundation

Earlier this week, I talked with a student whom I am tutoring about how fortunate I was to have such a solid foundation in the English language. I told of teachers were indeed made us diagram sentences and learn all of the parts of speech and made us write a little every day.

The young lady, who is in college studying to be a registered nurse, said that she had received a great foundation in basic English in her elementary years, but it was not continued in the secondary ones. That is unfortunate, but with the pressures that many schools are under today from parents who believe that they have a better grasp on education than the educators, it is not surprising.

Fortunately, that was not the case back in the days in Lilly. Not that all of our teachers were superb. That will never happen. However, what is great is that we received a good basic education that allowed us to go on and further our education.

So, as well celebrate our 55+ year reunion, we can be grateful for the opportunities that were provided for us.

And, what is ironic is that from what the Penn Cambria study projects, the buildings that may remain in that district are the three new high schools that were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were well constructed, better than those built in the later years that may he relegated to the scrap heap.

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