Fox School Memories

October, 2011

Reminiscences of the Fox Schools Steven Ellis

My mother wasnʼt too keen on my going to a one room school house. It was the summer of 1956 and my family had just moved from Detroit to Fernhill Court (a little street off River Road near Garfield). I had gone to kindergarten through third grade at Wayne School, a large elementary school in Detroit that even had new temporary buildings to help accommodate all the baby boom kids. On Fernhill Court we were mostly surrounded by farms.

But that fall I began fourth grade at Little Fox school, a one room school on River Road. The school had just one room, in addition to a foyer and two cloak rooms. There was no running water. The drinking fountain was fed by gravity. Its ceramic jug had to be filled with water carried in in buckets from the hand pump outside.

There were two outhouses. Oddly, I donʼt remember using the outhouses at the Fox Schools, although Iʼm pretty sure I did ;-). This is surprising. A visit to an unheated outhouse on a very cold winterʼs day should be quite memorable. (Back then global warming hadnʼt progressed as far and it was often well below freezing in the winter.) Similarly, an outhouse on a hot spring or late summer day must have been noteworthy. But I donʼt remember using them.

Similarly, I donʼt remember much about how I got to school. I remember riding my bike, but wouldnʼt have been practical in the winter. That was before my mother learned to drive so she didnʼt drive me. I must have walked to school in the winter.

Little Fox served kindergarten through fourth grade in one room. There was just one teacher, Mrs. Schmidt. The kids in the same grade sat together in columns of desks one behind the other.

I donʼt remember being appalled or delighted by the contrast between Little Fox and Wayne School. It seems that I took the big change in stride. In fact, I unfortunately donʼt remember much about Little Fox. I remember watching the new kindergarteners crying as their mothers left them at the school. I remember pumping the swing outside high into the air. I read my first big book, Swiss Family Robinson, at Little Fox. I was so involved in the book that I would stay indoors during recess reading it. I was the (sole?) safety patrolman at Little Fox. I got a badge that I proudly wore on my leather flight jacket. I think I remember the teacher telling us about a trip she made to Florida. (Florida seemed a far more exotic place then than now.)

I remember more about Big Fox school. Big Fox was just like Little Fox, but a little further up River Road. Big Fox was for grades 5 through 8 (all in one room). I remember being worried in fourth grade by the stories I heard about the tough eighth graders at


Big Fox who picked on the other students. I donʼt know whether those stories are true or not, but I donʼt remember bullying to be a problem during my time at Big Fox.

I was at Big Fox for two years. I think the teacher was named Mrs. Garvock, or something like that. I remember her as a somewhat plump lady with grey hair.

Mrs. Garvock took steps to enrich our education. I remember that she read Moby Dick to us. Once she had us put on an evening Gay ʼ90ʼs musical revue. (“Bicycle built for two” was one of the songs we sang.) Iʼve always been good in math and to see how far I could take that, one time she brought in a trigonometry book for me to read. However, I wasnʼt yet ready for that material.

Despite Mrs. Garvockʼs dedication there was a fair amount of misbehavior in the class room. Shooting paper wads was fun. A furnace stood on the floor at the front of the room. Tossing crayons at it was interesting. If the crayon landed on the stove it made a column of smoke. (And a bad smell, too? I donʼt remember.)

I think Mrs. Garvock was pursuing a degree at college at night. (A masters, perhaps.) Talented women of her generation probably had few opportunities to excel. She may have been a very intelligent person.

Big Fox was more fun than any school I have attended before or since. I think we had two recesses as well as a lunch period. We often played sports during recess. We played football in the fall.

There was a stream that formed part of the boundary of the school grounds. I remember one winter lunch period, stooping low to avoid being seen, we walked on the then frozen stream far off school property. There we had a colossal snow ball fight.

I have fond memories of the baseball games we played in the spring. As I recall, it was then illegal for school kids our age to play hard ball at school. But we did anyway. Games would stretch over both recesses and the lunch period. And over several days, too, I think.

I also remember large and somewhat rough games of dodge ball.

One summer day some friends and I visited Big Fox only to discover that somebody had broken into and vandalized the school. Judging from tracks we found on the ground outside we thought the culprits were adults, but the police thought they were probably kids.

About that time the powers that be decided to consolidate the school districts and the Fox Schools were retired. So for seventh grade I rode a bus to Clinton Valley School. It took me a while to adjust to the change. Little Fox was eventually converted to a church. I donʼt remember what happened to Big Fox.

Some, my mother, for example, might think that one room schools cannot provide much education. But as I remember I wasnʼt a good student at Wayne School in Detroit. It was at the Fox Schools that I became a good student and I did quite well in school after I left. So the Fox Schools prepared me well for my further education.

There must be other people around, some not much older than I, who went to the Fox schools all the way from kindergarten through eighth grade. I hope some of them can write up their reminiscences.

I am very proud to tell people that I attended one room schools.

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