Class reunion: After nearly 50 years, students in training schools are reconnecting online

In the year of the 150th anniversary of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, with a big community celebration, the coming together of two Golden Titans classes and the 100th anniversary of Homecoming, there will undoubtedly be reunions of sorts this fall for alumni. students, teachers and staff.

Titans from across generations will reconnect and catch up, whether it’s at the campus celebration on September 12; the Homecoming game on October 23; or any other occasion that may arise this fall.

People with a connection to UW Oshkosh for more than half a century have already come together, albeit virtually, through a public Facebook group dedicated to what was once the teacher training school on campus. Oshkosh.

The group, titled Rose C. Swart Campus Laboratory (Training) School, has over 200 members. It is a place to share stories, photos and memories of the later years of Swart Hall training school. With the program ending in 1974, the group, formed in late 2009, is primarily made up of alumni who have sometimes spent all of their K-8 years on campus.

When the institution first known as the Oshkosh Normal School was founded in 1871, it housed a full private elementary school. The school, owned and operated by Oshkosh Normal, used a French model of teacher training that involved student teachers observing and practicing the skills in real children’s classrooms. For over 100 years, the campus has included this type of teacher training school, where education teachers, student teachers and students were all brought together under one umbrella.

The training school finally closed its doors in 1974 and the University has completely changed its modern facility where student teachers are scattered across various schools and districts. Those who were fortunate enough to be educated – or to educate others – in what is now a rather unusual setting have many fond memories of that time.

An eighth grade class in 1944 at Swart Hall Training School.

Lucky group

“It was an amazing experience to have as a kid,” said Holly Lewis, who attended campus school from grades one to four. “I didn’t find out this was an experimental school until I found Cathy (Hodge) on Facebook. At first I thought they were experimenting on us. But they were experimenting with the training of student teachers, I think.

“We were very, very lucky to attend this school. “

Lewis, who now lives in Nashville, said that before Facebook emerged, she spent decades thinking she would never talk to her classmates again. After fourth grade, her family – including her mother, who had been a drama teacher in Oshkosh – moved to Oklahoma and she lost touch with her friends, as was so easy to do in the pre-Internet age. . This included her first best friend, who she told she had wondered about for decades.

“We all reconnected as if we had never been apart,” she said. “We all had different memories that we shared with each other. Everything was amazing.

Scott Neise, a 1965-1972 training school student and 1983 UWO graduate who now lives near Dallas, Texas, echoed the sentiment. It was introduced to the group about five years ago.

“It’s great to see how their life has been and to follow some of them over 50 years later,” he said.

Students gather in the library of the training school in 1945.

Generations reconnect

David Hodge taught art at the campus school for his last 10 years, then continued at UW Oshkosh. In total, he spent 43 years with the institution, including as an ad hoc instructor after his retirement. Now living in Amherst, at 86, he’s probably the oldest member of the Facebook group sharing memories and reconnecting with long-lost students.

“I tell everyone it was the best 10 years of my life there,” Hodge said of his time in training school.

Hodge said it was gratifying to read the student updates he had in class all those years ago. With the school now closed for 47 years, many of its former students have now reached retirement age. He estimated he had heard of about 100 of them.

“Some of them are just amazing where they’ve been,” he said. “I have one person coming to visit me this weekend – one of the ‘kids’, I call them, from school. “

In 2008, Hodge launched an Arts Scholarship in memory of his late wife, Margaret. Margaret Hodge has taught dance and choreography at UWO and served as a camp leader for the girls in the training school. Their daughter, Cathy, went to training school and is now actively participating in the Facebook group. Hers was among the last classes to move from kindergarten to grade eight before it closed.

After the Oshkosh Normal School burned down, Swart Hall was built. It opened in 1928.

150 years of pedagogical training

Those around to share memories of the training school only remember when it was housed in what is now Swart Hall. It started in the spring of the first year in the original building of Oshkosh Normal School, which was destroyed by fire in 1916. A new building for the training school, after many delays, has been completed. opened in 1928. (In the meantime, classes were held in several nearby churches.)

The free-standing school building was dedicated to Rose Swart in 1929 as the Rose C. Swart Training School. Swart had a landmark career in education that began with the opening of the Oshkosh Normal School and spanned over 50 years. To this day, a painted portrait remains framed in the entrance to the building bearing his name.

In 1880, the school added a kindergarten class, the first ever for a public university in the country. It was first housed in the basement of the original normal school building.

During its more than 100 years of activity, the training school has borne many names. Sometimes it was called a lab school, and once it moved into the new building it was casually called the Swart School. When the Swart building opened, it was considered one of the best teacher training centers in the country.

Swart Hall stands on the Oshkosh campus in 1968.

A sense of pride

Appleton’s Stacy Courtney was a training school student for all but a year between 1963 and 1972. She, like many of her peers, was the daughter of a training school educator.

Courtney’s father, the late Ray Schmelter, taught math and was the principal of the training school in his later years. After graduating from what was then called Oshkosh State Teachers College and is now UWO, he began teaching at the campus school in 1959, received a doctorate from UW-Madison in 1969, and took his retired from UWO in 1993. With such strong family ties, Courtney was delighted to see people reconnecting online.

“Someone invited me (on the Facebook group) and I was so excited about it,” she said. “It’s so much fun going out and looking and remembering different things.”

Courtney, who returned to the Oshkosh campus and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1981 and a master’s degree in 1982, remembers this period of her life very much. She said the children knew they were in a special setting because they often had other friends and might know children in their neighborhood who attended public schools. This education helped to form a special bond between the students of the training school. Since there was a classroom for each year, the same 20-something students were together year after year. Many of them have spent up to nine years together.

“We did it all together,” Courtney said. “Even now, as my class reunion is approaching in August, and I am not hanging out with any of the high school kids. I have a few friends from high school, but they don’t go. But all the schoolchildren on campus still hang out together at these.

Students on campus had access to facilities like the Polk Library, Planetarium, Swimming Pool and Gyms. Being on a college campus, especially in the 1960s and early 1970s, gave them different experiences than their friends in public schools.

“We always felt really special about it,” she said. “We had a sense of pride. “

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