One-room schoolhouses, first established in 1818 in Illinois, had been immensely successful. Since students attended schools within two miles of their homes, they and their parents developed a sense of community. Since the one-room schoolhouses had a low pupil to teacher ratio, the students received individual attention. Hearing subject matter repeated was actually beneficial. According to Illinois School History, Illinois had more than 10,000 one-room schoolhouses having an average enrollment of 12 students by 1942. Over 120,000 students were enrolled in one-room schools.
Radical changes were on the horizon. A combination of factors led to the consolidation of schools and the demise of one-room schoolhouses. A slow but steady decline in the rural population was occurring. There were fewer school-age children living in the country. The number of “hard” roads which could accommodate school buses was increasing. Consolidation held out the promise of greater efficiency.
In 1951 the mass consolidation of school districts began. For many rural children, this meant riding the school bus for an hour or more each school day to get to school. If a child was one of the first to be picked up in the morning, he got on the bus at 7:15 A.M. The bus traveled rural country roads to pick up the children on the route. If there were no problems on the route, the bus arrived at school at 8:30 A.M.
After school, the bus took the same route. The first child off the bus arrived home before 4:00 P.M. The others were not so lucky. The last child off the bus often did not arrive home before 5:30 P.M.
When the mass consolidation of school districts began, some of the rural children were sent to schools in large towns with populations of 5,500 or more. In other cases, children attended grade school in tiny communities which happened to have a building which had served as an academy or private school. Rosamond, Illinois is an example.
Rosamond is located in east-central Illinois about 40 miles southeast of Springfield. Children in the surrounding area attended one-room schoolhouses. In the late 1880’s, Rosamond High School was built. It was a fine brick building with individual classrooms with built-in coat closets, a large study hall, gymnasium, stage, kitchen, and playgrounds. As a part of school consolidation, Rosamond High School was converted into Rosamond Grade School, and the high school students were transferred to Pana High School.
Since the mass consolidation of school districts in Illinois in 1951, further consolidations have occurred. Almost seventy years after the first mass school consolidation began, consolidation remains a concern for rural and small districts in Illinois.
—By Karen Centowski