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Seneca High School



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BY: Gerald N. Hoben, Superintendent of Schools, Seneca, IL
H. Gerthon Morgan, Committee on Human Development, University of Chicago
July 15, 1943

“I have never been anywhere: I have lived in Seneca all my life!”  Thus Gerry, a second grade student in the schools of Seneca, Illinois, told the story of his life, a story which seemed to him to be a rather pathetic one.  And well can his disturbed feeling be understood when it is realized that his classmates came from twenty-four different states, that one classmate has lived in forty-six of the forty-eight states, and that another had already attended fifteen different schools before entering Gerry’s class and has now moved on to still another.  This is not just a picture of Gerry’s grade: this is a picture of the third grade, the fifth grade, the eighth, the tenth, or any other grade in the Seneca Public Schools.  One Seneca High School girl, for example, attended five different school last year while another has attended fourteen different high schools altogether.  From the South, the Plains, the North Central, the far West, even from the Panama Canal Zone, migrating families have come to live in Seneca and have brought with them many children who have entered the public schools of this little Midwestern village.

This little community is in the heart of the corn belt some seventy-five miles southwest of Chicago on the Great Lakes-Gulf Waterway.  In May, 1942, this location was selected by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company as the site for its huge new shipyards for the manufacture of large ocean-going, tank-landing invasion ships.  This the coming of this war industry, Seneca did not long remain the sleepy little mid-western market village that it was, and the expected chaos which always accompanies the growth of a boom town soon appeared and additional troubles are being experienced as expansion continues.  Some 4,000 “new comers” have come to live in the same village with the 1,235 “old timers” who are the original residents of the town.  Fifteen hundred public dwelling units, including 225 federal trailers, 300 dormitory rooms, 475 apartments, and 500 individual homes, have been added to the village’s original 300 homes and the 162 private trailers now scattered throughout the community.  Most of the newcomers occupying these dwellings are from Illinois, but many have come from Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Iowa than from the other states.  In addition to these Seneca residents, some 7,000 in-migrant workers commute to the shipyards daily from nearby towns in automobiles and by bus.  The time shifts at the shipyard are so arranged that there is a continuous stream of workers entering and leaving the yard gates during the twenty-four hour period.  More than 2,500 cars stream through the little village twice daily.

Many of the major developments in Seneca are the measurable, physical changes:  they stand as indices of the changes that must be occurring in the lives of the many workers and their families who have moved into Seneca and in the lives of the original residents of the village.  Similarly, some of the major changes in the public schools of Seneca are found in the measurable, physical changes – in an increased enrollment, in an enlarged staff, in a building program.

In June 1942, the elementary schools of Seneca closed with an enrollment of 175.  By March, 1943, this enrollment had increased to more than 400.  The high school enrollment, during the same period increased from 131 to some 200.  Such increased enrollment called for physical expansion.  How did the school system expand physically?  How were the needs caused by such expansion met?

It was difficult for the school administration to cope with the problems created through this increased enrollment.  A larger staff was needed.  More school building space was necessary.  And the money required to provide both was essential.  Although federal aid was promised early in the town’s developmental stage, it was not forthcoming until the Seneca School System had used its entire appropriations for the year and had had to borrow funds with which to continue operations.  Federal aid in the form of a Lanham Act grant of $41,000 finally came through to help the school endure this financial crisis.  The problem of school housing was a difficult one to meet.  For some time regular school classes were held in the housing development lounges originally planned for the comfort and recreation of the shipyard workers.  The classroom program was adapted to this situation planned for adult activity.  Later, when the housing developments were completed, the temporary building used for the offices of the construction contractors was converted into a temporary school.  Eight classes, including some 330 children, completed the school year in this inadequate structure known as “Temp School.”  These children are now housed, however, in a new, modern sixteen room building that was made possible by the federal government.  This building includes one all purpose room designed to serve as a lunch room, play room, or auditorium as needs change.  Increased enrollments called for a large staff.  The normal school staff of thirteen teachers was increased during last year to twenty-one.  The salary level of all teachers was raised.

And how did this set-up meet the needs of children in this war industry area?   This school system faced a new type of problems presented by children of a migratory population, by children living under the stress of boom town conditions, by children separated in part from their families and from their larger familial ties, by children whose parents are only temporarily employed, by children sharing homes with total strangers, by children whose home life is limited to that which can be carried out in a trailer, in a small apartment, or in a very small individual home.  Children in the Seneca Schools are feeling the impact of the present war and consequent conditions resulting from the war perhaps as much as is any group of children in similar war boom areas; in fact, it is probable that the impact of the war on children in this war industry area is surpassed only by the impact being experienced by the children in those areas of actual combat or by those children who have gone through the experience or evacuation from a warring zone.  A striking parallel exists in that the Seneca children are living in an actual combat area on the home front and in that they too have had the experience of having to leave their former homes.

The staff of the Seneca schools has understood this situation and has come successfully through the initial program of providing for the release of tensions which are constantly arising as threats to the stability of the children in this newly created industrial area.  The staff has recognized the existence of threats caused by emotion  arousing events, by jittery and anxious situations and people, by the disorganization of family life and familial relationships caused by migratory factors, by the conditions of home life in which these children live, by the limitations set by the types of housing in which they now reside, and by confusion because of the multiplicity of factors concerned in the war effort – the lack of a clear understanding of reasons for the war, confusion about the individual child’s place in the war, the absence of significant roles for children to play as participants in the total effort.  These and other related factors have forced the schools of Seneca to deal with this question:  “How can the public schools relieve tension arising in wartime boom towns which serve as threats to children?”

In answering this question, a number of general measures were adopted and much has been done.  Certainly the most noticeable educational accomplishment in Seneca this year has been the organization of nursery schools and kindergartens to care for the needs of children on pre-school age.  The need for such day care centers was recognized very early and the plans for such services were made in advance of the actual need.  The organization of this program was primarily the work of the Child Welfare Committee of the Community Organization, headed by a Seneca resident actively interested in the general welfare of children.  The Chicago Bridge and Iron Company contributed funds to aid in the beginning of this program.  The Works Progress Administration provided staff workers.  The Federal Public Housing Authority provided space for the schools.  Recently, a grant of funds made possible through the Lanham Act assured the continuance of such service to Seneca residents.  Theses funds now come through the regular school budget channel and in an ultimate consideration the nursery schools and kindergartens are definite parts of the regular school system.  Two nursery schools and two kindergartens are caring for capacity enrollments.

One measure that has put the Seneca school staff in good stead is that of making school services and equipment available on a community wide basis.  Although the advantages of this one factor were realized long, long ago by those in control of the school system, it seems that school facilities are now being used more than ever before for community-wide activities.  This includes the extensive use of the school buildings, the school equipment, and the school staff as worthy contributors to the maintenance of a happy community life.  Even the school pupils have been called upon for important community services.

The school building has been used for point rationing and the various other registrations.  The various labor unions at the shipyards have held their meetings in the school auditorium, This same auditorium has been used by community groups for different types of entertainments in efforts to raise money for community projects.  The agricultural teacher at the school has been of invaluable aid to those of the town who have attempted victory gardens.  He has been most actively interest in doing what can be done to encourage home production of food stuffs which can help in the present emergency.  This same teacher has conducted a course for farmers in and around Seneca on “Farm Management.”  He has conducted a second course on “The Use of Tractors” and still a third course on “The Increased Production of Pork.”  These courses have ranged from ten to 120 hours in length and all have been marked by good attendance.  Other teachers have found just as many opportunities for similar services.

The school have also recognized that war tensions require relief by extensive and appropriate recreation.  Typical of the many recreational activity opportunities sponsored by the school for the children are the after school parties held twice monthly.  The larger part of the students engage in social dancing at these parties, but a wide variety of recreational activity is offered and many different patterns of recreational interest are noted.  Youth Councils have been organized in the housing developments and it is sponsoring a full recreation program in cooperation with the school’s efforts.  Most high school students are members of active community clubs.  Community baseball fields and horseshoe pitching pits are proving popular.  Many parents and interested community leaders have had a part in sponsoring school class outings.  Sports, playground games, hikes, picnics, and other activities tend to make up a well rounded recreational program.

In still another area, the school has assisted all children in finding and in playing useful and significant roles in the war effort, and here the school program has been a most active one.  One of the earliest activities carried out was the school’s scrap campaign.  A complete survey of the village was conducted by the middle grade students to determine just who had scrap to contribute
and just when it would be convenient to call for it.  The older students in the high school made the collections.  The drive was very successful and the set quota was far surpassed.  Equally as successful has been the school’s sale of war stamps and bonds.  The year-round sale of stamps has been sponsored by the sixth, seventh, and eight grades, with students taking turns in managing the sales.  Individual students accepted full responsibility for this program, including the checking up on shortages and the correcting of mistakes.  The high school sale of bonds and stamps took the form of a contest to select a “Victory Queen.”  Each class sponsored one girl and one votes was cast with the sale of each war stamp.  In six days, stamps and bonds amounting to $5,900.00 were sold.  Here again the activity was entirely a student activity.  From the time of the first conception of the plan through the appointment of the steering committee, the publicity committee, the auditing committee, and so forth, until the actual close of the drive, students were in charge.  Approximately fifty students served on committees.  The “Victory Queen” was crowned at graduation exercise and the other contestants served as her court of honor.

School children also sponsored a community wide “clean-up” campaign.  The work was carried on under the direction of several committees – a managing committee, a publicity committee, a poster committee.  All students wrote letters to Seneca Homes about their plans in an effort to encourage community cooperation.  Many wrote articles which were published in the newspaper of the county seat.  A poster contest was sponsored and five students were awarded winning ribbons.  The grand winner was the guest at a combined meeting of the Seneca Village Board and the Seneca Commercial Club at which time the posters were pres4ented to the mayor.  The campaign was very successful and it marked a period of growth in coordinated effort between the school and the community.

Another phase of worthwhile participation in the war effort was the formation of and the program carried out by the high school girls’ club, “The Sunshine Club”.  This group spends one day each week at the Red Cross room helping make bandages and many high school girls take part in this work in the after school hours regularly.  The Red Cross superintendent reports that the girls are doing a fine piece of work and that there has always been a large group of girls interested in carrying on this work.  These and many similar activities have been include din the Seneca High School’s Victory program.  The imagination and ingenuity of both children and teachers have discovered many useful things to do which have proved interesting and educative.  

In still another area, a general measure has been that of enlisting all teachers as observers, counselors, and “spotters.”  Teachers have been “on the alert” for symptoms of emotional tension in individual children and they have been concerned with community problems in which children are involved.  A part-time school consultant, for example, has devoted much of her time to work involving school-community problems.  She has attended practically all community meetings and has been in position to make many constructive suggestions in the formation of public policies.  She was instrumental in securing books for the school as well as for the town library.  Practically all of her work tended to promote a stronger relationship between the school and the community.  

Because of the peculiar conditions existing in Seneca, home visitations have been difficult this year, but they have been encouraged nevertheless.  Although teachers have had very difficult tasks to perform and unusual loads to carry, home visitation is being continued and every home was visited at least once last year.  Many contacts were made between the Mother’s Club and through the Parent-Sons’ Club, both of which sponsor regular meetings.  The schools have not had the services of a trained psychiatrist, psychiatric social worker, or a psychologist; therefore, the school has proceeded on a common-sense basis and the counseling has been carried on according to the best knowledge and understanding of those who work in the school system.  Home visits have proved to be very helpful, and in many cases a joint plan of action involving both the school and the home have been carried out to help alleviate a given child’s difficulties.  The help of community workers, such as the recreational director, the community nurse, and the village doctors have been sought.

Although much has been done for the care of children in Seneca, the children in turn have had a part in helping with community problems.  They have had a part in community recreation by presenting class and school plays from time to time throughout the year.  Typical of this entertainment was the junior-senior class Play which called for the participation of almost every student enrolled in the two classes.  Other groups of high school students have arranged and participated in panel discussions for church groups, clubs, etc.  One student was highly commended for a talk he gave before the Seneca Commercial Club on the topic “The Burma Road.”  In many events the school and the community have combined their resources effectively.  The community choir furnished the music for the high school Baccalaureate and every preacher in the community was present for the service.  This and many similar occasions have played an important role in the cementing of community relationships.

The effectiveness of many of these general measures has depended upon and has involved administrative action in order to maintain the morale of the teaching staff through which most of this program was accomplished.  Seneca teachers, like all teachers, have shown extra-ordinary devotion to duty in this emergency.  Even in normal times teachers are called upon for many extra services, but the Seneca teachers have been called on by many local and national agencies for the widest possible array of services because of the boom town problems.  The administrative set-up in the Seneca schools guarded the time of staff members and their community participation has necessarily been limited to those activities considered most useful.  The school board of trustees has kept in touch with developments and this group now holds regular meetings in order to meet current issues regarding the school satisfactorily.

The school system has recently sponsored a program of health education and health has served as one area in which the school has placed much emphasis in the past as well as in the present.  Complete physical examinations of all children are being carried out and a recent program of testing of hearing and vision has made the examination information more complete.  In cooperation with a program sponsored by the Community Infirmary, the school children have been immunized against diphtheria, small pox, and typhoid.  Tuberculin tests have been given to both teachers and pupils and efforts are being made to follow up positive reactions shown by ten youngsters.  In addition to these services, a trained nutritionist has been working with the school and with the community on food problems that have at times been acute.

The schools have provided opportunities and educational experiences that have led to an understanding of present conditions.  War has not been discussed all day long in all classes but opportunities have been provided for children to exchange ideas and opinions, to exchange information and experiences, and to explore further for answers to their questions about the war.  War play has not been suppressed.  “Now, I am a German Stukker,” said one little third grader as he zoomed around on the playground.  He and a number of his classmates joined together and formed an airplane club, members of which were required to meet specific standards as “spotters.”  This airplane club now occupies a corner of the third grade classroom and the club meetings are carried on in the regular class time.  This corner is decorated with a number of attractive paintings of modern fighter planes.  These youngsters are helped along with this activity by some older seventh graders who have a similar club.  Many youngsters in the school have become excellent model airplane builders.  While they have set up their own organization and have discovered many things on their own and for themselves, much of their work has been integrated with the regular social studies program and mathematics classes.  These same youngsters have learned a great deal about war as a human experience from moving pictures in the school and in the town.

Social studies have meant more to Seneca children this year than ever before.  Seneca children have a new concept of geographical differences within our own country and of the world in general.  Current happenings in the Pacific, the Mediterranean, and other sectors of the fighting zones have been of much interest to these children.   Much interest has been shown in South America and in the Latin American countries.  An interesting display of posters about South America and of curios from that continents were on display in the school library recently.  Many other related items could be mentioned.  The teachers have grown in their knowledge and they have grown professionally.  They have a lasting concept of individual differences and they have found it possible to deal with such differences successfully.  The children are learning from each other.  “We don’t play Hop Scotch like that in Georgia.”  “In Texas we shoot marbles like this.”  “But my mother cooked it often in Montana.”  The “I have never been anywhere:  I have lived in Seneca all my life” group is learning a great deal from children from all sections of the country.