This is the second in a series of articles that will be running through the month of August in celebration of the beginning of the new school year. The Independent is sitting down with some retired Magoffin County teachers to help tell their stories.
David Patrick started his teaching career in 1971 at Salyersville Grade School, teaching eighth grade to 48 students. His classroom was in the old high school’s vocational woodshop and he remembered that in the dead of winter he could set a glass of water in the back and it would freeze.
The next year the superintendent called and told him he was going to Ivyton to teach.
“I told him I didn’t want to go, but he said, ‘Hurl Scott wants you up there,’ and that was it,” Patrick remembered, noting that he knew and respected Scott.
Ivyton Grade School, located off of Rt. 114 at the trestle, was a three-room school and the last of its kind in the state.
“Mr. Scott was the head teacher and taught sixth, seventh and eighth grades,” Patrick remembered. “I taught third, fourth and fifth grades and Raymond Combs taught first and second.”
Ivtyon had a small cafeteria where Scott’s wife cooked the meals for the students and staff and they would take the food back to their rooms to eat. The rooms were furnished with old desks lined up and a potbelly stove.
“When the school year started you (the teacher) had to paint your own room,” Patrick said. “The floors were wood and you’d have to go get a bucket of oil to mop the floor with to cut down on the dust. You had to keep your room clean, but the seventh and eighth-grade girls would sometimes sweep at the end of the day while waiting for the buses.”
Patrick said when he would have bus duty he would have to arrive at the school early to build three fires.
“I saved every milk carton for the fire and I would go to the new houses being built for scrap wood to use for kindling,” Patrick said.
There was running water in the cafeteria, but no water fountains, so he would have one of the students fill up the water bucket for the class’s drinking water.
“You had to have a bucket and a dipper,” Patrick laughed, “And every kid had a cup or glass of their own.”
Despite being the last rural school still in operation in Kentucky, Patrick emphasized that the students there were on par with the rest of the students in the six other grade schools in the county.
“Even though it was a country school, these kids were just as modern as kids that went to all other grade schools,” Patrick said. “They were just being taught in an old building.”
Patrick said he had to use the same teaching techniques being used in bigger schools but had to learn to quickly get to know the students and be able to group them by their abilities.
“It wasn’t as hard to teach as I thought it would be,” Patrick said. “Once I found out about each child and grouped them to ability, they didn’t seem to mind having fifth graders grouped in with third graders.”
Patrick said he can’t remember having to ever actually paddle one of the students at Ivyton, describing them as respectful.
“And they feared Mr. Scott,” Patrick laughed. “He’d been there a long time and everyone respected him. He was like a mentor and he helped me get my start.”
By having fewer students, Patrick said he had to work quickly to find what type of educational plan each student needed.
“The eighth-grade girls helped and if we had four groups of reading in a day, it’s hard to get to each one, but they would step in and we could cover reading.”
During his second year, Wanda Felber was hired as a reading and English teacher, which Patrick said helped with the reading, as well. They even had an aide, Hedy Jackson, for special needs students.
“We had everything we needed,” Patrick said. “We had plenty of books and Mr. Scott was a great teacher. His first concern was about the welfare of the child and education was second.”
Ivyton had no playground equipment and no gravel, so when it rained the playground would turn into mud.
“The kids would swing on grapevines,” Patrick laughed. “We’d get sued today for sure. Where the Parkway is now there were two concrete runways, with moss and sludge on them, and we’d slide on milk crates down them, then hit the board that we had going across the water. The milkman would come and wonder what happened to his milk crates, worn down probably three or four inches. I never did tell him.”
On the typical day when he would have bus duty, he said he would arrive at 6:45 a.m. build the fires (if needed) and sweep the classroom. At 7:45 the buses would start running. For the students that lived up a hollow, the school system would send trucks with camper tops over the bed to pick up the kids. At 8 a.m., they would start class, lunch around 10:30 – 11:30 a.m., and two recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, between lessons. The buses would pick up the kids around 4 p.m., giving them a longer day than many of the schools closer to town.
On special days the school would all gather in Scott’s room and they would have numerous contests, Patrick likened to “Jeopardy,” with students competing in math, geography and spelling.
“I had fun up there,” Patrick said of his two years at the school. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. A lot of people considered the small schools like that backward, but if you started writing down how the students turned out, they are real contributors to Magoffin County, real bread-winners.”
On the same token, they were also just kids.
“We had a girl and a boy toilet and one girl came in one day and told me this boy had Playboys in the boys’ toilet,” Patrick laughed. “I asked her how she knew and she said, ‘they told me!’ and sure enough, she was right! He’d stashed a whole stack in there!”
Patrick said the one thing the students missed out on was sports.
“They didn’t have any sports or anything, and just had a small playground,” Patrick said. “They had a basketball goal, but they didn’t play much. It was a good environment for learning, though. The children were not like you would think. The boys were mischievous, but they didn’t want to get in trouble. Some kids didn’t want to do stuff and they wouldn’t do it, but there were a lot of good students that went up there. I thought it was going to be hard to teach there but it was very easy.”
After two years of teaching at Ivyton, the school was closed down and Patrick went on to Prater Borders, where he taught and coached the basketball team for 23 years.
“It was like going from daylight to dark,” Patrick said of the transition to Prater Borders. “Not because of the students or the teachers, but the school was so much brighter, with fluorescent lights and activities all the time. They had even had the maypole up there.”
During his tenure as Prater Borders’ head basketball coach, Patrick’s teams secured 13 championships, along with the help of his assistant coach, Teddy Prater.
“It was a hotbed for basketball,” Patrick remembered. “They said I recruited, but I didn’t.”
At the same time, he also coached under Danny Adams at the high school for 19 years, starting in 1982.
“I learned a lot from Coach Adams,” Patrick said. “He was strict on the ball boys and they loved him. You can be strict and still the kids will like you.”
During that time period, he got to know Don Cecil, who was principal at Prater Borders and later superintendent, and Adams, who he still considers his best friends, as well as Jerry Patrick, who never missed a ballgame.
For his last two years, he worked with the gifted and talented students, and he also taught music. This year makes 19 years since he retired, though he still has close relationships with many of his former students.
“I have a pond where I live and some of the ball boys come and fish with their kids,” Patrick said.
As for teachers starting their first, last of somewhere-in-between school year, Patrick had one piece of advice.
“Young teachers and older teachers, you think your career is long, but if you blink it’s over with,” Patrick said. “If you don’t like it, you better get out of it. I loved every single day.”