An Expanding Curriculum

In the flourishing 1920’s, Seattle passed a bond issue for schools. A new eight-room building, designed by architect Floyd A. Naramore, joined the older brick school*. The classy new building wasn’t quite finished when school started in the fall of 1929. Teacher Jennie Jones described some of the confusion in verses from a song she titled “Owed [sic] to Youngstown.” It was sung to the tune of “Clementine”:

“Whistled tunes of merry workmen

Hymns intoned along the hall,

Flues are hammered, buzzers tested,

Still we teach above it all….

“We are waiting for our blackboards,

There to write assignments neat,

Till they come, we are expected

All directions to repeat.”

Once it was finished, the new school had a gym, a lunchroom, two libraries and additional rooms for classes in sewing, cooking, art, music, shop, and drama. Although supplies were limited at first, the arts and music curriculum became strong. There was an orchestra “that anybody could join if they could play,” Willi remembers.

Even “at the height of the Depression with no money… we had music every day,” Corliss recalls. He described the Standard Hour (named after the gas company). “For half an hour, we put our heads on the desk [and listened to the radio] and we were told to specify when we heard a certain instrument… For instance, if I had [been] assigned a tuba, I had to raise my hand when I heard it…. It taught us how instruments play together.”

He also recalled singing every day in class, songs like “Old Man River,” “Massuh’s in the Cold, Cold Ground,” “Home on the Range,” and “Finlandia,” which Jennie Jones wrote words to.  The teachers at Youngstown “encouraged music for everyone whether you were a football player or soccer player…. [W]hether they liked music or not, we all learned it.”

Clifford Davidson experienced music outside of class, too. On the third floor at the end of the stairway, up into the attic, “there was an old victrola…. We used to like to go in there and play this record over and over and over again on the victrola. It was ‘Aida.’”

Physical education classes designed to make students “stronger, straighter, and healthier” (Willi) could meet in the new gym or on the playfield. The curriculum of the 1920’s included lessons in sanitation and personal hygiene and a survey of the children’s health habits. The regular room teachers taught setting up exercises for 10 minutes each morning, with an emphasis on posture, sitting, standing, and walking.

For a posture contest for the girls, Willi’s mother made her a dress with pinstripes going up and down “because it would make me look straighter. I didn’t win but at least it did make me look straighter.”

The school had two play courts, one for boys and one for girls, both with covered areas when it rained. The drinking fountains were separate, too. Any boy found on the girls’ side had to wear a ribbon in his hair. “But there was an area where the girls could see the boys—between the courts—and often the kids would holler back and forth. It worked very well. The boys played their games and roughhoused around, and the girls played what they wanted to,” relates Betty Rinaldo MacWatters. Boys played mainly soccer, softball, and Soak-em. Other alumni remember playing drop the hankie, jacks, marbles, hop-scotch, streets and ladders, skinning the cat, jumping rope, dodgeball, tag, and sliding on the ice on the playfield.

One day of the week was library day “where we checked out books and learned to enjoy reading, said Betty Moe McKenzie. Every Tuesday was Bank Day, which taught the habit of saving. “You used to bring a bank book and your little dime or your nickel,” said Darlene Allen, “and somebody would be the banker.” McKenzie explained that the school was the way to convey deposits to Washington Mutual Bank, which had a School Savings Department with accounts in parents’ names. “I was always so proud to lay a dollar bill down on the desk,” she recalled. According to the school’s newsletter, the Youngstown Spotlight, 33% of students were banking in the 1930’s; the writer appealed to school spirit to bring the percentage higher. In math, children figured out the class banking percentages.

What they didn’t put in the bank, students spent in the neighborhood stores to which they walked, especially the ice cream and soda fountain, which lasted until the 1950’s. “The big thing was to walk down as far as the drug store, George’s, and go in there—they had the old wood counter—and have Green River Sundaes. Those were the fun things” (MacWatters). Besides Green Rivers (green and bubbly drinks made at the fountain), George Holman’s store had ice cream, penny chocolates, chocolate sodas, and cherry Cokes, remembers Betty Beavert Dunn.

A nickel bought a lot. Bruce Schwald’s father was a roofer for the Seattle School District, and he was working on the Cooper School roof one day when Bruce was walking home from school. “Hey, Dad, can I have a nickel?” he called up to his father on the roof. He wanted to buy an ice cream bar at the school. Bruce’s dad obliged, but a crowd of schoolkids had gathered, and they grabbed for the nickels. “He must have thrown down 50 cents worth of nickels, and I never did get one, but he made a lot of kids happy that day.”

Life wasn’t all sodas and ice cream. “I used to walk down to the meat market in Youngstown every Tuesday to buy a pound of hamburger,” wrote Linda Fouts McCullough, “and he would always give me a pickle from the big barrel there.”

* The old frame building was torn down in 1929. In 2005, construction of a parking lot north of the school revealed some of its foundations