It was back on Sept. 6, 1988, that “A Day at Rose Hill School” was started officially by the Oklahoma Historical Society to educate students about history after three years of planning by Ceilia Stratton and Kathy Dickson.
Since then, 63,337 students have attended the 1895 one-room school at the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry, including 2,793 scholars plus 812 teachers and parents over the past school year, said museum director Peggy Haxton.
That remarkable accomplishment is just part of the extensive education history efforts by the Historical Society.
The Turkey Creek School at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid also offers a one-room schoolhouse program, and a variety of living history events and reenactments are presented at OHS museums and historic sites each year across the state.
“The largest of these events always feature an education day component,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Historical Society. “These include the Oklahoma National History Day contest, the Fort Gibson Fall Encampment, Fort Towson Education Day, the Honey Springs Battle Reenactment, the Land Run Festival at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center and the Fort Washita Civil War Weekend.”
In addition to these programs, 84 Oklahoma schools in 36 counties are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Melvena Heisch, who directs the National Register program in Oklahoma.
“The Rose Hill School program won an interpretation award from the American Association for State and Local History,” said Dickson, director of OHS museums and historic sites. “The program originally was offered two days a week. This school year it is offered four days during most weeks plus a few Mondays.
“Fourth-grade students come from all over the state to the Rose Hill and Turkey Creek schools for an enlightening and educational experience on what it was like for young people who lived in 1910,” she said.
The scholars, as they are called, are dressed in period clothing and carry makeshift syrup buckets containing their lunch, said Dickson. They pretend to travel back in time to become scholars at one of Oklahoma's early one-room schools. They are greeted by a “stern-looking schoolmarm,” said Dickson.
During the day, the scholars have exercises in cursive writing, ciphering (arithmetic) with slate boards and chalk, and reading from McGuffey's readers. Scholars also study history and geography, and they do chores and play games.
The National History Day program is a year-long academic contest for students from the sixth grade through the 12th grade, said Jason Harris of the OHS staff. Since its inception, it has served more than 2 million students across the country, including more than 5,000 each year in the Oklahoma contest.
“Students choose historical topics related to a theme,” said Harris, “and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources, students present their work in original papers, exhibits, performances, websites and documentaries.”
These products are entered into competitions at local, state and national levels, where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators.
“National History Day conducted a year-long evaluation of the program throughout the country,” said Harris. “In almost every measure, student scores were higher than their counterparts. They were better writers, more confident and capable researchers, performed better on tests, and had a more mature perspective on current events and civics issues.”
In addition to the Rose Hill School program, Fort Towson Education Day is scheduled Oct. 1 at the Fort Towson Historic Site. Fort Gibson's Fall Encampment will be presented Oct. 7-9, with its Education Day on Oct. 7.
“To top all this off, OHS also has replaced the roof on the Rose Hill School and acquired paint, wood and metal for other improvements,” said Blackburn. “These are major steps in continuing the history of education in Oklahoma.”
Max Nichols writes a monthly column for the Oklahoma Historical Society.