In early 1884, the Acton School Committee's annual report stated that “not one per cent of the people of Acton ever have or ever will go through college.” The point of that prediction was that for most people, high school was probably their last chance for formal education. It was by no means the standard in town at the time.
Our last blog post mentioned the class of 1887, the second to graduate from Acton High School. Annual reports produced by the School Committee in the 1880s show some of the challenges that those students faced on their way to graduation.
Around 1883, a high school was launched in Acton. Today, the term “high school” brings to mind a building. Many would be surprised to know that in its first years, Acton’s high school students and their teacher moved to different locations each term, temporarily housed in a school room in Acton Center, South Acton, and West Acton. This was easier for townspeople to support than constructing a “needless building.” (1883-4) Transportation was not provided, and fairly soon, School Committee reports were asking that the town pay for students to be transported to the high school. “This will equalize the advantages of the High school to all. At the present quite a number who are unable to bear the expense of transportation are cut off from the education offered in the High school. This ought not to be.” (1885-6)
Despite the difficulty and expense of getting to the high school, wherever it was situated, clearly townspeople wanted more education for their children. Crowding became an issue almost immediately. In the report for 1886-7, it was stated that some of the students had to be placed in the North and Centre (younger) schools, because the South Acton school-room could not hold them all. In fact, “but four or five will graduate this spring , while thirty are reported from the different schools as fitting themselves for and intending to enter the High School in the fall. This will increase the membership of our High School from fifty, which has been its membership since the entering of the last class last fall, to seventy-six for next year. There is no school-room to accommodate such a school in the town, even if one teacher could, with any justice to himself or the scholars, be the tutor of so many scholars covering a four years’ course of study embracing seventeen different text books, besides exercises in reading, writing, spelling and rhetorical.”
Hats off to the graduates of the first classes of Acton’s High School – They found their own way to school “through wind and storm,” wherever the class happened to meet. Their classroom was often crowded. The curriculum was still being decided. The students survived sickness in the schools (including in 1884-5, illness of the only teacher). They learned from an overworked and underpaid teacher for whom the School Committee repeatedly sought an assistant. One year, all of their tardiness and attendance records and their deportment grades were printed in the town report (1883-4). But they persevered and showed the townspeople, not all of whom believed in the need for a separate, more advanced school, that the High School could work. The class of 1887 chose as its motto, “Aim at the Highest.” It appears that they did.