High on a windy promontory at the end of the Island stands the Gay Head School. It is a one-room school with all the traditional trimmings, from flag to red paint, that one-room schools are supposed to have. Outside there is a playground and a pond, and inside there are actually two rooms, but one is used as a kitchen-storeroom-catch-all sort of place and the other is a classroom.
For the past eleven years, Mrs. James Manning has been the teacher at the school, teaching kindergarten through the fourth grade to a varying number of children.
In recent years, however, the number of children has been dwindling, with only five children enrolled in the school for the past two years. Next year Chester Cook will have outgrown the Gay Head school, graduating to the fifth grade at the Tisbury school, and there are no prospective replacements coming into the lower grades.
It was, therefore, decided that the Gay Head School would have to go the way of other one-room schools, and become a thing of the past. It will still stand on its windy pedestal and people in the years to come will point it out and comment, “That used to be a one-room school!” And there will be a touch of disbelief in their voices.

Their Meeting Place

They Gay Head children will always come to the playground, since for them it is the only meeting place, and perhaps with luck the building will be used as the Gay Head library. Once before in its long history, the school did house a library and the shelves are still there.
Mrs. Manning will depart to the Oak Bluffs School where she will teach the fourth grade. She is looking forward to the change and the companionship of other teachers. A one-room school can be a pretty lonely place.
The students too are looking forward to the change. “It will be better for me because I haven’t seen it before,” said Liza Pachico, but Cully Vanderhoop said, “I’ll have to think about that,” as if heretofore he really hadn’t given a thought to the change.
The main thought in the minds of the children was that this was the last week of school. “We get our report cards and then we run out of the school,” said one youngster, and another chimed in with, “We’ll get rid of old books,” and another chorused, “We’ll run out for the summer!”
The last days of the Island’s last one-room school have been exciting. For instance, Dr. Greenberg, who teaches teacher training at the Hofstra University on Long Island was interested in seeing how a one-room school operated, and to show her pupils that individual training is not something new. She and another woman spent several days at the school listening to regular class instruction, taking pictures and interviewing the children with the aid of a tape recorder.

“Talk Without Periods”

The children were so excited by the visit that they all expounded at once about different elements of time and thought. “They talk without periods,” said Mrs. Manning.
Other adventures in the last days of the last one-room school have been a canoe trip on the school’s pond, a concert given in conjunction with the West Tisbury school, and the appearance of legs on their tadpole. Of the canoe trip one pupil wrote, “In the Canoe. I liked the canoe ride. Everybody was happy. Everybody was happy because of the ride.” At the concert several children played recorders and they all did an Indian dance. They also exhibited their masks of the wolf and the duck, which they had made after listening to Peter and the Wolf. “I can’t wait to eat Chester,” said Cully, who made sure Chester was wearing the duck mask and he the wolf.
On Wednesday, the next to the last day of the school, Mrs. Manning took them all on a picnic to Menemsha Pond, so on Tuesday there was lots of planning to do.

Abounded with Enthusiasm

The class had raised $12.15 for food. Then they made a list of what they needed on the blackboard, and approximate expenses came to $12.19. “No money for the brownies,” said Mrs. Manning. “Let’s see, the charcoal has been donated, we need hamburgers, frankfurters, watermelon, paper napkins - what about mustard and relish?” “I can bring that,” said a voice, and another said, “We’ve got lots of paper napkins,” “I’ll bring some,” said someone. “So will I,” said someone else, and the room abounded with enthusiasm.
“Cully, why don’t you make a bring-list on the board,” said Mrs. Manning. “Who wants to help him?” The list grew with one writing on the board and another on paper. The school teacher in Mrs. Manning made little corrections in the grammar or spelling, “Just one ice cube?” she asked when Cully forgot an “s”.
“Do you really think you are going to be able to ride down to the pond and back on your bicycles,” asked Mrs. Manning, “and how long do you think it’s going to take you?”
And so the planning went. The big event of the day was to be the trip in the afternoon to the Up-Island Super Market. The next was the picnic. And the day after that they would “run out for the summer,” and the one-room school would be no more.