Rio Grande County Museum looks at history of schools

Photos by Lyndsie Ferrell The Rio Grande County Museum opened a new exhibit featuring the history of schools in Rio Grande County. The exhibit includes memorabilia, first-hand accounts and stories of school days of the past.

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Rio Grande County Museum staff have been working on an exhibit that includes stories from different county schools. The beginning of the schools in Del Norte through the one-room schools to the consolidation of the three districts in the county are part of the display. Museum staff incorporated some first-hand stories from students, making the exhibit a unique view of the past.

The exhibit features old school uniforms, sports equipment from the earlier days of education, and accounts from teachers as well as newspaper clippings about the beginning of schools in the county.

In 1874, when Rio Grande County was first incorporated, schools were just beginning to become a norm for communities like Del Norte. Through the years and several trials, Rio Grande County consolidated three districts — Upper Rio Grande, Sargent, and Monte Vista. Though these are what exist today in Rio Grande County, it took many years to reach this point.

This is a story as told by Ross Johns who attended the Robb School in early 1900.

Roswell Eugene Johns was born in Osawatomie, Kan., on April 9, 1908, to Roswell and Lena A. Burney Jones Johns. His mother died in 1911. The family moved to Rio Grande County where the elder Mr. Johns was a farmer in the area now called Sargent. His sister, Elizabeth, helped to raise the younger Roswell who became known as Ross.

Ross Johns served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was also a farmer in the Sargent area. Mr. Johns died on April 1, 1995, and was buried at the Veterans’ Center Cemetery.

“My first teacher was Kathleen Halferty, who later became Mrs. Byron Sutley of the Center Community and who was the first Miss Stampede when it started in 1919. In those days, there was no kindergarten; when a boy or girl reached the age of 5, they started school in first grade. One teacher taught all grades, first through 12th, if anyone going to school was far enough along in learning to be in the 12th grade. Consolidation of the Sargent School District was accomplished before any students had to drop out of the top grades.

"In those days, pupils made their own entertainment at recess time. For the girls, it was either hide-and-seek or riding the crude homemade merry-go-round with a few riding while the others pushed it around in a circle until they got tired or dizzy, then they would change off.

"For the boys, it was baseball, and many are the juvenile squabbles and fights that originated from this game. The teacher was constantly on the alert for differences and scraps among her pupils during these games. Everyone carried their lunch to school in a syrup bucket or a suitcase-type of lunch kit and both boys and girls would ‘swap around’ until everyone was satisfied.

"The Robb School was a big building with the wood and coal stove in the northeast corner. The pupils’ desks were of a crude hardwood type with a shelf under the top board for books, etc. There was an aisle in the center of the room. The teacher’s desk was at the south end of the building up 

against the wall with a blackboard for the teachers.

"On Friday afternoons, the teacher would let us all have either a ciphering match or a spelling bee. This pleased everyone and we looked forward to Friday afternoon when we could have some fun,” Ross Johns said.

The exhibit will be available through Nov. 1.

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