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GSU grad preserves a place for learning

Talk of GSU Centennial Celebration inspires GSU alumnae to restore one-room schoolhouse

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    The sight of a quaint one-room school house nestled against some woods in a  field off Bowen-Rushing Road takes one back to the old days.

     That is, if you can remember the old days. And if you can’t, the historic little building from Tattnall County can help teach you all about them.

     That’s the  idea behind the newly relocated school, a gift to Georgia Southern University from alumnus Jan Anderson, who attended Georgia Teacher’s College, which is now GSU.

     When the buzz began two years ago about plans for Georgia Southern University’s Centennial Celebration, Anderson recalled how it was when she attended the school as Georgia Teacher’s College.

     Thinking the celebration should reflect the school’s origin — when most everyone majored in education, she said “a little red schoolhouse on campus” would be a great idea.

     “A lot (of students who attended Georgia Teacher’s College) taught in one-room schoolhouses,” she said.

     But upon further reflection, Anderson decided the exhibit should not be a new structure, but an authentic one-room school.

     “Why would I want to build a new little one-room school house when I could get a real one-room school?” she said. “Then it became like a scavenger hunt.”

     Anderson soon found out one-room school houses are few and far between. If she found one, it was in poor repair or wasn’t what she wanted - and often the chase led to what someone thought was a school, but was really just a small home.

     She would get a lead and head to the location, only to find “it was g one or had been torn down, burned down,” she said. “I found a couple that were really big, not your typical one-room school.”

     After a year and a half, however, Anderson struck pay dirt.

     She was on business in Glennville and asked someone about one-room schools. That person directed her to Lyndal Tatum, who had been secretary to one of Tattnall County’s school superintendents. Anderson met Tatum and went for a ride in the country.

     The first stop was disappointing. “It was covered in rubber siding,” she said. But once she saw the second school, she said “This is it.”

     It took several months to work out the kinks and find out who owned the school, then there were “snags” regarding the purchase. And once it was purchased, there were questions about locating the treasured find on the GSU campus.

     “So we ended up putting it on one of my farms,” she said.

      The school is located on Bowen-Rushing Road, off Sinkhole Road just south of I-16.  At a recent ribbon cutting ceremony, several people who attended the one-room school enjoyed seeing the little school in its new home, she said.

     But it took a lot of hard work to get the little school where it is today.

Oak Grove School preserved

     Anderson’s friend Glenn Eason worked hard to replace window sills and shutters and restore the old building. Anderson could not find antique desks from the one-room school’s period, so Eason secured a template and created reproduction desks, varying in size from “first grade” to “eighth grade” sizes, with the backs of the seats serving as the desk for the row behind. He even covered screw heads with wooden pegs to maintain authenticity.

     He and Anderson searched from Florida to North Carolina for items to furnish the school.

     “There are 800 antique stores between Florida and North Carolina,” Eason said.

     “We made several trips to the Smoky Mountains,” Anderson said.

     Outside, there is a see-saw like children played on when one-room schools were used. There is also a real well, with the curbing from the well at Bulloch county’s Old Bird School, donated by Garland Nessmith.  The bucket and pulley were given by Billy Mikell. Donations are noted throughout the school through small plaques.

     The school is set upon wooden blocks Eason and Anderson cut from old logs they found “walking through the swamp” of Lotts Creek, and contains a pot belly stove, a box of “fat lighter,” and the old chalkboard from Denmark School.

     A split rail fence stands in front of the school. Inside, there is a 1916 portrait of George Washington, a 1919 United States flag with only 48 stars, and things like corn shuck dolls, old books and clay marbles. A school bell donated by Norris Strickland of Ellijay adds to the scene.

     The purpose of the school is education - educating people today about how education was in days gone by, Anderson said.

     “GSU will teach units in this school,” she said. “And schools will have field trips here.”

     Too much of our history is being lost, and preserving things like the school house is important, she said.

     “I think I could learn better in here than in a classroom looking out at a busy street,” she said. “Students today spend too much time on computers. They are not in tune to their surroundings. You can learn so much from nature.”

     Nature wraps the old school house in a blanket of learning opportunity. As birds fly around outside, butterflies light on the old see saw, and the entire exhibit reflects the truth about how life was in the past, students could learn a great deal, she said.

     GSU officials are excited about the gift.

     The ribbon-cutting celebration, which featured a skit with Statesboro’s Libba Smith portraying Mattie rushing,who once taught at the Oak Grove School, and several members of the Statesboro STARS, was “just the beginning of the uses we will have for the one-room school,” said Cindi Chance, dean of the College of Education at Georgia Southern University.

     “This school is a catalyst,” she said. “It will lead to faculty members conducting scholarly research on teaching methods in a one-room school, and to creating video and web pages about one-room schools for use as classroom teaching devices both here and internationally. It will lead to kids learning about their own past.”

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