School named after president served the city for decades
The country’s first president’s name graced the George Washington School, which began its tenure as a place of learning in 1896 near the center of Williamsport.
According to historical accounts, “When the cellar for the George Washington School at the intersection of Third and William Streets was dug, quicksand was discovered and many extra loads of fill were needed to provide a firm and sound foundation.”
The first school was a two-story brick building with eight rooms and was replaced by a more modern building, considered to be the largest school in the district. It had nine grades and a faculty of 12, according to the Williamsport Education Association’s publication, “Williamsport Schools Through the Years,” published in 1958. Because of the larger faculty, the principal received a salary of $100 per month.
According to historical accounts, George Washington School “conformed to the principle of the maximum amount of education for each child by having taught not only the state required number of grade classes, but it has welcomed practically every kind of class listed as taught in the Williamsport School District.”
The school was not only busy with educating the youth during the day, but during the evening several adult classes were offered from first grade through intermediate and grammar school levels.
“That person who had no opportunity to attend public school, or who was unable to complete the elementary subjects, or could not speak the English language was welcome to attend these evening classes,” the historical account said.
“Men who labored during the day went to school at night, often falling asleep over their lesson,” it added.
One account tells of a first grader living with his immigrant grandmother. The child was getting a bit out of hand and no matter what he got into he would tell his grandmother, “It’s a’right, Americans do it.” So, the grandmother went to night school to learn how to speak English so that she could outsmart her grandson.
The Americanization School phase of education was organized at George Washington School in the late 1890s. According to the historical publication, the program was started “primarily to prepare aliens for citizenship and not merely to teach them to be able to answer the questions in the Naturalization Court.”
Students were given training in conversation, reading and the fundamentals of government. Upon completion a graduation was held at the Williamsport Civic Club.
“At these exercises each new citizen was presented a certificate of attainment and a small American flag. Many ambitious Americans continued studying in the night school and attempting to complete their elementary school educations,” according to historical accounts.
In the early days of the school, classes were started in cooking. The Home Economics Department offered a “Cooking School” on the second floor where eighth and ninth grade girls from several other schools learned the basics of cooking.
University extension evening classes were offered at George Washington School, beginning in 1921. Professors from Penn State, Bucknell and the University of Pennsylvania would come to teach college-credit courses in professional development, the historical account stated.
The school also served as a site for the sale of War Bonds during World War I and then in the next world war the building was used for rationing.
“Young men registered for Selective Service, unemployed adults signed for work, food rationing stamp books were allotted to families, gasoline stamp books were given to car owners, extra gasoline stamps were issued for trucks and extra canning sugar permits were provided for large families. The children, too, did their share. They collected milkweed pods as a substitute for kapok and tin cans to augment the metal supply,” the account read.
Things were busy during the Depression at Washington School as daily classes in bookbinding were held in the basement to provide work for the unemployed.
In March of 1936, a flood covered the schools first floor, water reaching the trough where the chalk was placed at the blackboards. But with a thorough cleaning, new materials and new steps, the school was ready for students again.
By 1952, George Washington School had arrived at the mid-century and a television was installed in the auditorium. Here students could watch programs related to their studies.
In 1957, second grade students at the school were televised on WBRE, the television station in Wilkes-Barre, while they worked on a weather and temperature activity.
At that time, it was said that for 61 years,” through the doors of this George Washington School have march many hundreds of children. Today the grandchildren are learning the multiplication tables in the same rooms as did their parents and grandparents.”
The account went on to say that many students from various ethnic and racial backgrounds had “rubbed shoulders, saluted the flag, shared recess lunches and have loved and honored George Washington School.”
George Washington School was closed by the district at the end of the 1978-79 school year and has since been razed.