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Keith School: It Was Personal

Student sitting in the hallway of Keith Hall. Photo: Keith Boyer

Editor’s Note: Since the January opening of the new building of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, two of the college’s mainstays have sat vacant, awaiting demolition. Keith Hall is being razed this spring, and Leonard Hall will come down in the spring of next year. Karen Gresh is the retired editor of IUP Magazine and a graduate of Keith School.

Keith School: It Was Personal

Even at three years old, I could see that the scene was beautiful. Leaves fell in sheets from huge trees that lined the walk between the Oak Grove and the doors of Keith School.

My mother and I were Oak Grove regulars, frequently feeding the always hungry, often rude squirrels. On this fall day, though, we were headed to a meeting with Keith School’s director, John Davis.

Our way had been paved by my sister, who loved the place she called the Lab School. She was 16 when I was born and the previous spring had graduated from the school’s 10th grade. I was barely a week old when she went to the school office to pick up papers that would put me on the List.

There was no tuition at the school in those days, but class enrollment was capped at about 30. The sooner one got on the List, the better the chance of securing a place. Because children of Indiana State Teachers College faculty members and employees received preference, along with siblings of current students, disappointment was a possibility.

Dr. Davis was very nice. He consulted his copy of the List and assured us that the following year, when I was four, I would start kindergarten.

Keith School’s predecessors went way back. The Model School was housed in John Sutton Hall (in the current location of the University Museum) as early as 1875. In fewer than 20 years, Wilson Hall was constructed to house the school, which in 1907 was renamed the Training School. The Junior High School Department was established in Leonard Hall in 1921.

Keith School’s Acorn yearbook staff, circa 1955. Photo: IUP Archives

Keith School’s Acorn yearbook staff, circa 1955. Photo: IUP Archives

The building we were visiting had opened during the 1940-41 academic year as the Training School. In 1943, its name was changed to the Laboratory School.

Some thought “laboratory” might have unfortunate connotations. In 1949, the school was renamed in memory of John A. H. Keith. At the same time, three other previously existing buildings, Fisher, McElhaney, and Waller, were also given names.

The school’s names reflected the education of teachers. Best practice was “modeled” in John Sutton and later in Wilson; fledgling teachers were “trained” at the Training School; the Laboratory School served as a testing ground for teaching techniques.

Not only did many of the college’s students practice teaching at the school, but many more went there to watch others do it. In the early ’50s, John Davis was interviewed by the Alumni Bulletin: “Mr. Davis said more than 5,000 hours of observational work were conducted the past semester. He stated that more than 100 planned college classes, averaging 40 students per class, had visited the school to watch experienced teachers at work. The remaining 1,000 hours were used by students who came to the school when having free periods.”

The supervising teachers—one for each grade or subject—were therefore on display, the student teachers were on display, and the Keith School students were on display. Before the observers walked through the door, that last group was admonished not to look around or to gawk at the visitors but to keep its attention firmly fixed on the teacher.

Keith in the 1940s. Photo: IUP ArchivesRecent view of the back of Keith building. Photo: Keith Boyer

Keith in the 1940s, top, and a recent view of the back of the building. Photos: IUP Archives, Keith Boyer

In 2014, with Keith’s demolition looming, a reunion for all alumni was held, and former student teachers were included. Many invitees made contributions to a book of memories.

“I suspect all of us who student taught at Keith were terrified when those who would be doing their student teaching the next semester started to observe our classes,” one wrote. “It was not unusual to have more observers than students in the class. And, more often than not, we had the children of some of our professors in the class. (As a result of all the visitors to the classes, I never had a problem with public speaking throughout my career.)”

In the elementary grades, the student teachers—four to a grade—came and went every nine weeks. In junior high, they generally stayed an entire semester. Soon after the school opened, a 10th grade was added. This meant students could spend a total of 11 years there. It also meant that the 10th graders were only a few years younger than some of their student teachers.

As students, we occasionally became close to those who taught us. Two student teachers, in fact, invited our entire eighth grade class to their wedding.

In the early ’40s, when the last students had trooped in from Wilson and Leonard (many lugging their own chairs), they found a building of many wonders.

As one of the 2014 memorists put it, “It truly was a model school when you think of all the facilities available which lots of public schools did not have at the time, i.e., a library, home economics room, industrial arts and art room, band room, boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, along with a gym that doubled as an auditorium, science rooms equipped with labs, a typing room, lockers, etc.”

The school’s Assembly Committee, circa 1965. Photo: IUP Archives

The school’s Assembly Committee, circa 1965. Photo: IUP Archives

My personal favorites were the huge windows, the durable blue wall tile (which someone in later years misguidedly tried to paint in the Demonstration Room), and the large library on the second floor, filled with sunlight and wonderful books. Our first grade room faced south, and a big storm blew in late one afternoon. The sky was so black and the scene so foreboding that a student teacher pulled down the shades to keep us from being frightened.

At first in the new building, all had not been perfect underfoot. Two former students recall arriving in 1941 to find “sandbags all over, holding down the buckling wooden floors.” In the gymnasium, the dampness made “the lovely parquet flooring…swell into tent-like formation.”

Swelling floors aside, the school itself “was complete and very good academically,” Maurice Zacur told the Penn in 1986. Zacur taught general science, biology, and geography at Keith in the late ’50s. Earlier, he had taught in the public schools. Later, he would be an IUP professor.

“You couldn’t run a public school system like we did at Keith,” Zacur said. “These kids were encouraged to demonstrate individual initiative. They had a lot of opportunity to do things, and they always demonstrated proper behavior.

“It was an easy student body to work with. With four student teachers, there was more time for individual attention.”

For one student enrolled at Keith from 1950 to 1961, “the individualized attention we received from the student teachers was a key to our success, both academic and otherwise. For me this included conversations on many topics probably not known to the supervising teachers.”

Rachel Sternfeld teaching political science. Photo: Keith BoyerLida Fleming teaching third grade in the ’60s. Photo: IUP Archives

Half a century apart: Rachel Sternfeld teaching political science, at top, and Lida Fleming teaching third grade in the ’60s. Photos: Keith Boyer (Sternfeld), IUP Archives (Fleming)

Margie Derwart VanDyke and Elaine Reschini Judge, leaders of the 2014 reunion committee, had been Keith students in the late ’40s and ’50s. “The incomparable teachers encouraged strength, independence, and individualism,” VanDyke wrote. “The Keith influence has been a touchstone in all our lives, whether we realized it or not.”

Judge and a surprising number of reunion book contributors shared the same vivid memories of their Keith School experience. One such memory was music teacher Aagot Borge. Although not much taller than her elementary students, she was very big on rhythm. We shuffled around the gymnasium while she kept time on her tom-tom. Most memorable of all was her habit of pulling the hair above our foreheads, urging us to “Sing h-i-g-h!”

Swimming in Waller Hall’s beautiful tile pool was another popular memory. Traveling to the pool via the campus’s underground steam tunnels—not the approved route—was also reported.

The top two memories both took place in the Demonstration Room. The first was in 1958, when actor Jimmy Stewart visited one May afternoon. Until he was 15, Stewart had been a student at the Training School. Now, as an alumnus, he was coming by to say hello.

Two years later, at the end of an October afternoon, all the grades gathered to peer at what today would be an impossibly small TV. We watched as Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run to beat the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series. In those days, television sets were as rare for Keith as winning the World Series was for the Pirates.

Starting in 1963, grades were gradually dropped from the junior high part of Keith until by 1965 it was an elementary school only. In 1969 its students moved across campus, to what was at first called the Learning Research Center and later the University School.

A woman who was a little girl that spring remembered “a sad day as we walked, single file, to Davis Hall, carrying the contents of our desks in a brown bag on top of our desk chair, leaving Keith School forever.”

Author’s Note: Many of the quotations that appear here are from Memories of Keith School, compiled and edited by Kathy Rend Armstrong for the 2014 reunion.

The Ninth Principal

John A. H. Keith, circa 1917. Photo: IUP Archives

John A. H. Keith, circa 1917. Photo: IUP Archives

John Alexander Hull Keith was born in Homer, Illinois, a few years after the Civil War. He graduated from Illinois State Normal University and Harvard, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He taught at his Illinois alma mater, at Northern Illinois Normal School (where he also coached football and basketball with notable success), and at Columbia University’s Teachers College. In October 1907, he began a 10-year tenure as principal of Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Normal School.

The summer of 1917 found the Keiths enduring primitive roads and misadventures as they traveled to Pennsylvania by automobile. Taking office on September 1 as the Normal School’s ninth principal, Keith would preside over several historic transitions.

In 1920, ownership of the school passed, after 45 years of private control, to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Seven years later, Indiana and Mansfield were the 9th and 10th of the commonwealth’s normal schools to become state teachers colleges.

Although he had worked tirelessly to raise Indiana Normal School to collegiate status, Keith would not be around to preside over Indiana State Teachers College. “The unexpected has happened,” he wrote to the alumni in February 1927. Plumville native John Fisher, elected governor a few months earlier, had appointed Keith state superintendent of Public Instruction.

Both men served full four-year terms (the maximum for a governor at that time). Less than a month after he left office, Keith died in Harrisburg at age 61. Services were conducted in what is now Gorell Recital Hall, and Keith was buried in Oakland Cemetery.

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