The Buckhannon Chamber of Commerce lists me as a citizen historian. I like that! After retiring from the active practice of medicine, and after working on 11 books and close to 450 newspaper columns, perhaps I have earned a role as storyteller historian. In fact, the idea of recording more history appeals to me. I recall the moment of my next idea about schools. The “light bulb” of inspiration turned on when Dr. Robert L. Chamberlain, former West Virginia Family Doctor of the Year and former long-term Upshur County Schools Board of Education member, told me that during his tenure, our BOE closed 25 one- and two-room schools in rural Upshur County.
I exclaimed to Doc Chamberlain—we need the history of these American icons recorded for posterity! Immediately I recalled dear friends who got their learning in those schools; 180 of our B-U Class of 1966 continued to live here in Upshur County with me. Now unfortunately some are passing on, but many live to tell a tale or two. The saying is true: “When an old person dies, a library burns!” Even Doc Chamberlain has gone on to his reward. Certainly, now is the time to write the stories of our country schools.
I do declare, the LESSON LEARNED column is the proper venue to tell the story. Already I have an enthusiastic first response from my Buckhannon-Upshur Class of 1966. A few months ago, 42 of us gathered at the Country Club for lunch when I floated the idea of telling our rural mountaineer school-house story. Then another 21 from B-U Class of 1966 gathered at the Hillbilly Grill, also agreeing to tell stories of growing up strong in the heart of the isolated Appalachian Mountain communities we call home.
Here is the story of her superior education at Hampton— about 6 miles upstream from Buckhannon—told by our own Dr. Debra Harrison, Assistant Superintendent of Upshur County Schools and B-U Class of 1971 graduate. I joined Allia Shaver, journalism student, as she interviewed Dr. Harrison at the BOE Central Office:
The following is written by Allia Shaver. This is part one of the two-part interview.
“From small beginnings come great things.” I found this proverb to be true when I interviewed Dr. Debra Harrison. Her small beginning—Debra McCartney as a student attending second grade at Academy, “old Academy,” and then grades 3-4 in a two-room school, Hampton School. Great things— Debra McCartney is now Dr. Debra Harrison, Assistant Superintendent of Upshur County Schools. Her story made a piece of history come alive for me.
Though she didn’t remember the name of her teacher who taught students in grades 3-6 in one of the two rooms of Hampton School, she did remember that she admired her so much, and she wanted one day to be just like her. Dr. Harrison said, “I wanted to be like her and my second grade Academy teacher, Mrs. Phillips. Those folks were the people that ran things. Those are two of the people that I wanted to be like, and they greatly influenced me. They made me believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I wanted to be a teacher.”
Dr. Harrison taught me, and my journalism teacher, Doc Almond, a history lesson about attending her Hampton two-room school. She rode a bus to school. Her siblings were younger and did not attend the school with her. To start her school day, “We said the Pledge of Allegiance and then the prayer. We always had opening exercise songs, but I don’t remember songs in particular, but that was the best part of the day, and always got the day started on such a positive note, because music just fills your soul and makes you feel good.”
“We had books for everything. We had three or four books for reading. We had a geography book, a history book, our math book. Just your typical textbooks, and of course everything was textbook. At that point in time, everybody had to buy their own textbooks.”
Please join us next week for part two of Allia Shaver’s interview with Dr. Debra Harrison.