Goin’ to School (Part 1): “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.Soon teachers and children will be returning to the classroom for another year of learning and growing. But going to school in Faulkner County hasn’t always been the experience that it is today. We all have those school days memories that pop into our head at this time of year.

Students a century ago would only have attended school about six months out of the year. They would have attended one of the 115 school districts in Faulkner County. The schools were community-based but getting there might mean walking a mile or two each way.

My grandparents attended the two room school at Pleasant Valley where Pleasant Valley Baptist Church is located today. In the winter, the students attended school maybe four or five months and then most of the time there would be a little summer school so the students could attend after the crops were planted. The big room housed the older students through eighth grade while the smaller room was where primary classes were held.

Pleasant Valley was consolidated with Wooster in 1937 but was part of the Greenbrier School District. My father attended Wooster school which taught grades 1-9 until 1952 when the junior high was consolidated with Greenbrier. The grade school (1-5) continued to operate until 1961. In the early years of Wooster School, student teachers were bussed out from the Arkansas State Normal School (later Arkansas State Teacher’s College) to teach the children.

Conway was the only Faulkner County community to have an accredited high school a century ago. Students in the county who might want a high school education would have to travel quite a distance on horse each day or board with someone in town. Boys from Wooster would saddle up early for the ride across the Cadron bottoms, leaving their horses at a wagon yard while they attended classes.

By the 1930s, Conway, too, had consolidated 17 little community schoolhouses into its district but it was not the only school in town. When the Arkansas State Normal School was set up, a Model School was opened which allowed many community students to get an education while student teachers were being trained. All of my mother’s brothers and sisters attended this “training school” or Irby School as it was sometimes called.

Being the last of twelve, my mother was the only one who attended Conway Public Schools for all twelve grades.

After completing eighth grade, she received a graduation certificate from “Common School” which allowed her to continue her education at any high school in the state. She graduated from Conway High School which was then located on the southwest corner of Prince and Davis Streets.

Even as I started school in the late 1960s, Conway Public Schools was a different experience than today because the town’s population was so much smaller. I attended one of the three elementary schools and there was just one middle school, one junior high and one new high school with “pods”? I will share more about that next week!

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