WHILE BILL WAS HERE this afternoon he asked about our Average Daily Attendance. This means he is figuring out the budget for next year. I know he is wondering if they can afford to keep up the teacher's salary as it is at present. By careful management he eked out a five-dollar raise last spring. Other years the question is how to avoid a cut. A school district is allotted state and county funds on the basis of daily attendance. Our attendance has been high for the number of pupils, but there has been a big falling off in our enrollment. Through no fault of the school or the district, our floating population is in exodus. That means a lower figure on my check; but since it means a better chance to teach and learn for me and the pupils that are left, I am not sorry. In any case, money, like time, flies away.
What does a rural teacher know about economics? Hard times and good times seem pretty much the same to people who manage to keep going on small salaries but never quite make ends meet. When I was teaching for $720 a year I contrived to run along within hailing distance of current expenses. When I earned $1800, no improvement showed up. After my five-dollar raise last fall, the price of groceries jumped. In sad foreboding I looked at the cans of milk marked for a rise of more that a cent each and realized I couldn't win. That night I got satisfaction reading a paragraph from Oliver Wendell Holmes' The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table: ‘‘
The natural end of a tutor is to perish by starvation.… I don't mean that you will see in the registry of deaths that this or that particular tutor died of well-marked, uncomplicated starvation…they fade and waste away under various pretexts—calling it dyspepsia, consumption, and so on to put a decent appearance upon the case and keep up the credit of the family and the institution where they have passed through the successive stages of inanition.’’
If there were more pupils I'd get a little more money but I'd spend more, buying them extra workbooks, art supplies, prizes, and materials for parties and treats to keep up pleasant teacher-pupil relationships and in general pep up educational processes. The little booklets of exercises in silent reading, language, and arithmetic I buy for the forced, unnatural activity I must carry on in singlehanded effort to keep six or eight grades going at once. I concede that if I were compelled to furnish such supplies and devices I would seethe with rebellion. As it is, I accept it as part of my job. In the beginning I do it in self-defense. Circumstances force me to be shut up with rowdy young creatures a large portion of each
My predecessor, the year before I came, had thirty-nine young people corraled in a space that is crowded with twenty. For a time she had to seat some of them on the window ledges. The outcome of her suffering was a five-dollar raise for me.
As clerk of the board, it is Bill's part to make the budget fit the money, not the need. So I told him that up to the present, our average daily attendance would be at least twenty. He was relieved, but clearly he wished it were twenty more.
As of the budget he was projecting if a district has an ADA (Average Daily Attendance) of twenty or above, it is allowed $65 per capita from state and county educational funds. Any lower figure means a flat apportionment of only $1250. This must cover a year's expenditures for instruction, operation (wood, janitor, supplies, maintenance—broken windows, sagging doors, new flagpole, stovepipes, and so forth), and other fixed charges such as insurance, county library, and school nurse.
Our fine attendance—right up to minimum requirements—has its regrettable side. The children have experienced hardships to keep it up, but they haven't complained. In a sense they've been brain-washed, propagandized, sold on the idea of being here every day. And it's teacher that has sold them.
Cautiously, with their eye on the cash register, legislators in Arizona—much of it still thinly settled in the back country—apportion money to school districts according to Average Daily Attendance. In a county where the population varies widely, more than half of the schools by the time of World War II were classified as rural, one-room. That meant an insignificant number of votes to politically minded legislators who allotted them little more than enough to pay a teacher of modest requirements. Could they think that country
Of course, you won't hear anybody maintain that schools are run for the benefit of teachers, although you do, in country districts, hear such remarks as: “She's a good teacher, but she's had it long enough. Give some other girl a chance.” Or, “She's got a husband who draws compensation. Why not give it to somebody who really needs the job?”
An unfortunate consequence of the Average Daily Attendance system of budgeting country schools is that it calls for frantically determined effort on the part of the teacher to keep the children coming. And it sometimes calls for astonishing fortitude and a man-sized sense of obligation on the part of rural children.
I congratulate a boy for devotion to duty when he comes to school with a temperature of a hundred and two degrees rather than spoil his record and ruin the monthly report. But as a sensible adult I also feel rather foolish for having influenced him to take this risk just to keep a clean page on the school register. Often, when by hook or crook I have kept up a high ADA record, I have been positively embarrassed by commendation from the officials.
For three years at Redington, on the San Pedro River, we had won the county prize for attendance percentage. The discomfort and vigilance it took would fill a book. Times when floods were roaring down Redfield Canyon, Tacho—our bus driver—carried the kids
When the roads were passable and a child was too sick to come on the bus, or under his own power if within walking distance, Lavita Bingham, my neighbor, mother of little cowpunchers, wife of the clerk of the board, brought her baby and sat with the children—shoulder to shoulder with me in plans and maneuvers to save the little school—while I got in my car and went after the absentee. If he were laid up with a bad cold or stomach ache, I bedded him down in the back seat so I could watch over him and dose him, and drove him back to roll call. If too sick to take part in routine activities, he lay wrapped up in the car until Lavita and I figured we could count him present. Luck was with us for nobody was ever any worse for the make-shift ambulance trip.
Licha and Tita even came to school every day while they had measles. It was seventy-five miles over bad roads (which were impassable in wet weather) to the doctor. Until they broke out, Lavita and I, doing our best with her big doctor book, didn't know what they had. Tita was miserable with fever. I took her to the teacherage and gave her cold drinks and aspirin and a liquid diet. At noon I read to her and gave her an oral spelling lesson with a dark cloth covering her eyes. Licha was the next to come down.
For the grand finale I had eight silver dollars (our enrollment was ten) polished with an eraser till they shone like new. I called up the eight candidates, with appropriate flourish, and flung the handful of silver down on my desk with a mighty tinkle. The light on the children's faces was reward—and exoneration.
Rosario was another notable award winner at that assembly. He was a retarded boy who had been in the first grade three years, so his motive may not have been eagerness for knowledge. But he took off his shoes and broke the ice in the wide river with bare feet every school morning that bitter January. I appreciated that, because I had to do it myself sometimes to make sure the little car could get across the treacherous sand.
At Poso Nuevo we have no river. No pupils walk to school. And (knock on wood) we have been free of epidemics. We have a considerable amount of indigestion, and we have lots of headaches, earaches, toothaches, infections, impetigo, and malnutrition. These maladies interrupt school work but seldom cripple the ADA. Bad colds, trips to town, and stormy weather are most often the causes of our absences. Edward and Teddy are subject to “flu” which threatens to go into pneumonia. The first of the month is cowboy payday and the Badillas go to town for provisions. If they intend to stay overnight they take the children with them. The Emerys, our little
Under the circumstances we have done well to keep in the “twenty” class. Our worst obstacles are caused by transient population and great distances from school. If the children of a community are permanent residents they can be traditionalized into sacrificing for their school's ADA. But if they know they are here for only a few weeks or months, what can it matter to them?
In the interest of child health perhaps it is an advantage that we are so situated geographically that the teacher can't send tracers after absentees, or go to get-them-or-know-the-reason-why. If a child doesn't arrive on the bus, he is safely absent that day. But if the bus doesn't show up it means a breakdown, and teacher must go to the rescue.
The second month I was out here, while I was still trying to fit Baboquívari School into Redington patterns, I went looking for the bus one morning and trailed it to its very lair up in the wild, rough Sierritas. The Aros kids went with me. They had cleaned themselves up and appeared at the appointed hour, so I hated to cheat them out of any time. We had “classes” as we rode along—the “times tables,” “states and capitals,” and history dates. Over the thirteen miles to Palo Alto Ranch we expected to see the bus at every turn, but, no. From there we went seven miles, all rough, homemade roads, to Escondido, another little ranch. There we met Pascual and Edward walking for help. The bus had a broken axle. It couldn't have picked a worse place. It was far off in a steep rocky canyon which could be reached only over rock outcrops
This month we have had lots of trouble with our attendance. The eighth day of Feb. Socorro was sick with appendicitis. They took her to town to be examined and the doctor said she must go to the hospital to cut her side. She did not come again to school until the 25 of Feb.
The next absence was Ramón. In Feb. 12 he had a sore knee. He could not walk well on it. Mrs. Bourne sent him in a school bus to Bill Ronstadt, our school board, and told Bill in a letter to take him to town with the doctor. The doctor said his knee had to be cut and he could not come back to school that week.
The third to be missed was Frances Salazar. Her little nephew the baby was sick and they took her to town when they took Licha. Because she was going to be alone at the ranch. She has 8 years. So that keeps us from having a perfect attendance and from going to the picnic at San Xavier Mission. —Alfredo Leivas, 7th Grade’’
Our most common enemies, bad colds and stomach aches, can be battled here on our own ground. Seldom a day passes that I don't dish out bicarbonate, aspirin, nose-drops, and milk of magnesia. (The school cupboard contains a full pint of castor oil, but the children stubbornly consider it punishment.) Our clinic has been so successful that the little cowpunchers don't miss school
Edward saved the day for the rest of the riders. He had stayed at the ranch with his grandmother and two youngest sisters. When his father had not arrived by six o'clock (still dark) Monday morning, he walked over the hills and got a neighbor to bring the children to school. (I took dispensational authority and counted nobody tardy).
Edward is dependable beyond the call of duty. One cold morning I was victimized by sinusitis and did not come out of my room until nine o'clock. All the pupils except Edward were crowded around the stove.
This was distressing news. It was a pity to spoil his record when the term had less than three months to go. In spring weather, too. But he had kept his fingers crossed for three weeks, March being his pneumoniaprone month. Despondently I touched the bell and faced a gloomy day without the stimulation of his bright face there by the south window. About ten o'clock he walked in. I stopped my lesson. All of us watched him as he walked down the aisle and slumped into his seat in time for literature.
We dosed him all day. He seemed better at dismissal time, but I suggested that if he did not feel much better, he had better stay at home in bed next day. But he came. And seemed much better. And Inez Jane, who had been threatened with something like “flu” was better. The weather was better, too. It was such a fine day—no wind for a change—we decided to celebrate our attendance triumph by taking our lunches and going for an outing about eleven o'clock. We had tried to keep up our school work during illness and now we walked out on it on purpose—much more fun.
It was an inspiring day to be outdoors. With March changeability, suddenly it was warm sunny spring. Long housebound, we met the bright sunshine with a burst of enthusiasm that was richer because we all shared it. Our picnic by the man-made lake will be long remembered. And we managed to get some educational profit from the day by crossing the border into Mexico and visiting the
Yesterday was a nice warm sunshiny day and we made a plan to go to a picnic at Gill's Lake which is a mile long and a beautiful one, too. When we got there all the children were jumping around very happy, and most of them went into the water wading. After we played and warmed our beans and tortillas and ate, we decided to go to Mesquite, a little pueblito on the other side of the border of Mexico. It was in Sonora.
Mrs. Bourne and Mr. Hernández, our bus driver, asked the young man who was the professor if we could visit their school. When we went in Mrs. Bourne told them if they could sing some songs for us. They said No. Then she said if they wanted us to sing for them, and they did.
Then a bad thing happened. Just as I was tuning the guitar one of the strings broke. And I could not help the children to sing. So we had to sing without the guitar which didn't sound so good. After we sang then they wanted to sing too. They sang four songs for us, and they sang very pretty. They are good singers.
Those Mexican schools are not as good to have things for their children as our schools in America. They don't have but only a few books of which we have thousands of them here. They don't have a victrola, globes, maps, and lots of paper of different kinds and pencils and crayolas and water colors. I think the schools of America are the best in the world. —Frank Aros, Sixth Grade’’
All nine Aros children, living right here in the building, have answered rollcall every school day this year. Barring serious setbacks, each will receive a certificate of perfect attendance from the county school superintendent, and a silver dollar from teacher at the honor assembly held the last day of school. Bill has no sympathy for me when I spend twenty dollars to close a term. “It's your own fault,” he says.
No, World! Listen! Children are people. School is their work. It should be paid for—at a time and in a measure comprehensible to the child mind—in medium of exchange, not intangibles too far away and uncertain to have meaning. School is a slow, seemingly endless grind that demands tiresome application and curtailment of liberty. What a pity that its personnel, from both sides of the desks, cannot have the dignity and satisfaction of monetary rewards in reasonable proportion. I wish parents could start the ball rolling by paying their children regular cash sums—say ten cents a day for attendance and bonuses for achievement—money that they might consider that they had earned in their own right.
Children will work for gold stars and certificates of honor and a dollar for a whole year's perfect attendance; and most of them finally catch on that eventually—if they live and do well for an ever-increasing number of years—they will receive the benefits of well-paying jobs and, let us hope, cultivated minds and personalities.
But they would work harder and with better spirit if, in addition to these far distant rewards, their school days would accumulate into pay days periodically from the very start of “dear old golden-rule days.” Long ago I heard that children who are good for nothing, are good-for-nothing; and oh, 'tis true.