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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2005

Bedford: Students visit historic Banner Oak school


TEMPERANCE - Courtney Kinzel spent months looking forward to the day last week when she could stand prim and proper before her fourth-grade classmates in an ankle-length skirt and sweater, hands clasped, reciting 19th century poetry.

"My [older] sister went to Banner Oak, and I really wanted to go, too," the 9-year-old said as classmates around her in rope belts or bonnets read 100-year-old McGuffey Readers.

Each year, select elementary students at Bedford - and their teachers - spend a day visiting the historic Banner Oak School on the corner of Sterns and Crabb roads.

Their imaginary time travel takes them back to a day when recess meant walking on stilts in the schoolyard, when even the single-pane windows on the wall didn't have flat screens, and when a switch in the teacher's hand did more than turn the lights off and on.

"It's different for me only because I'm now the actor playing the part," of a 19th century schoolteacher, explained veteran educator Joe Moore, who shepherded his class through reading, writing, and arithmetic in a vest and pocket watch.

Built in 1871 and designed by Toledo architect Frank Ludwig, Banner Oak School hosted Grades 1-8 until 1930, when the four lower grades were moved into a "portable" classroom on the same site. Banner Oak was the last rural district to consolidate with Bedford Public Schools in 1947, and the last classes to use the building on a daily basis was in 1955.

In the intervening years, the brick building was used as a voting precinct for a time after being purchased by the township in the mid-1960s. It also was used at various times as the home of Bedford Missionary Baptist Church and a branch of the Monroe County YMCA.

The name of the school allegedly comes from the Civil War, when township settler Julius Sterns hung an American flag from a huge oak tree on the site.

Restored in the 1980s, Banner Oak still boasts all the modern amenities of an historic one-room schoolhouse: wooden desks with holes for ink wells, restrooms located in an neighboring building, and an upright piano - still in tune - in the corner.

And Bedford's young students, like Miss Kinzel and her other classmates from Monroe Road Elementary, relish the idea of sharing an educational experience with their grandparents and great-grandparents.

"I think it would be pretty tough. You had to write on slates, you had to write with these little pencils, and you had to read... a LOT," explained 9-year-old Connor Vandecaveye.

Classmate and fellow 9-year-old Savannah Ambrose agreed.

"I think kids 100 years ago were much smarter," she said. "They had to do so much more stuff. And the reading was a lot tougher."

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