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Allene Hari had an unconventional education. She attended 13 schools — some public, some no larger than a single room — in places ranging from Paxton and Arthur in Illinois to Belize in Central America.
And that was all before her sophomore year of high school, when she opted for homeschool. She then spent what would have been her junior and senior years studying on her own while taking physics, Spanish and German classes at Parkland College in Champaign.
“There’s just a lot of good ways to learn, and as long as you’re interested in doing it, it can be fun,” said Hari, a resident of Clarence in rural Ford County.
Hari may not have the “normal” education of most teens her age. But in the German Baptist Church, her story is not that uncommon.
Most old-order German Baptist Church members only attend conventional school through the eighth grade, she said. And most attend one-room schoolhouses, like the four that Hari attended during her childhood.
And when they reach the age of 18, some German Baptists start teaching at the same one-room schools they attended.
“Some of them have started teaching even younger than that,” Hari said. “All the (one-room) schools always seem to be looking for teachers.”
Hari, 19, is now a teacher herself. She spent the past school year teaching at a one-room German Baptist schoolhouse near Claypool, Ind.
While at Hopewell School, she taught the school’s seven students, who were in fifth through eighth grade — as little as five years younger than her. She taught math, English, science, history, reading and writing.
“I usually had about 15 minutes to teach each class,” Hari said.
She said her students usually would receive 15 minutes of instruction time and then receive an assignment they would complete by themselves. Hari would then go to the next class — held in the same room.
“It didn’t always work out that way — sometimes fifth grade took 20 minutes and eighth grade took five,” Hari said.
“But you just really had to be on the ball.”
Thankfully for Hari, she had some help. She said that some of the parents of the children, who used to be teachers, helped teach some classes periodically, coming in once a week to teach math and English “so I could observe and pick up pointers.”
“I had aides, too, who helped with grading and stuff. They just made it go just a little bit smoother.”
Hari admits that there was a lot of learning on her part.
“One thing I learned is you have to know (the material) better than you ever expect them to know it,” Hari said. “I learned all that stuff in school, but it wasn’t something I worked with all the time, so there was a lot of stuff I had memorized and had to learn again.
“If you want them to learn, you have to learn it yourself. And if you don’t know it, they know you don’t, because they were all really smart.”
Almost all of the kids Hari was teaching had been at Hopewell School since kindergarten. They were used to the small classroom setting, with all the kids of all ages in the same room at the same time, with multiple classes being taught at once.
Children in one-room school houses usually test higher than public school students, Hari said, noting that children learn from hearing older children’s lessons while they work.
Hopwell School utilizes the A Beka curriculum, commonly used by Christian schools. The curriculum requires that the kids have to be good at memorization and knowing the material “on the spot,” Hari said.
“There were poems they had to memorize every so many weeks, depending on the length of the poem,” Hari said. “And their math facts they had to know. Their writing was really good — they had research reports they had to do and they had to have everything written down and researched.”
Besides the classroom setting, one of the other differences between one-room schoolhouses and larger, public schools is that the teachers were active in recess, joining the kids in their activities and games.
“We all played group games,” Hari said. “Everyone was included, and the teachers played with them. So that made you get to know the students better, and I think it helped to make sure that you don’t have the older kids looking down on the younger kids. They were helping them to learn the games and including them.”
Another difference: No competitive sports programs are offered at Hopewell School. As Hari noted, “most schools (in the old-order German Baptist Church) would frown upon the competitiveness” sports encourage.
While teaching at Hopewell, Hari lived in an upstairs apartment that was attached to a house of a former board member for the school, Keith Burns. She would pay $100 per month rent.
The housing arrangement “went with the job,” Hari said.
“I got to have supper with them most nights of the week,” she said.
Hari would also attend church services every week and on Wednesday nights would join other young members of the church by participating in games and discussion.
Hari said that in her spare time, she enjoyed going to Fort Wayne, Ind., to shop. She also liked to go to the library in that city. Hari was provided the use of a car as part of her job.
“That was really nice, a very generous thing they did,” Hari said. “So I got to drive around and travel some, too.”
The North Manchester, Ind., area has of the largest populations of old-order German Baptists. There are about 150 members in the North Manchester District.
Indiana as a whole has one of the larger populations of German Baptists, as well. The largest populations are in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. There are also members in Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Washington and California.
The church was started in 1708 in Germany.
Hari’s father, Mike, joined the church when Allene was 8.
“I just sort of grew up in it,” Hari said. “It was just something I believed in and saw the value in as I was growing up.”
One-room schools are common in old order Amish, German Baptist and Mennonite communities. There are over 50 in Illinois, most in Arthur.
This upcoming school year, Hari will be teaching at another one-room schoolhouse — Caneyville Christian Community School near Caneyville, Ky.
With 20 students, “it’s quite a bit bigger” than Hopewell School, Hari said. “There will be four teachers. One of them is a special ed teacher (who will have two students). I’ll have nine students.”
Hari will be teaching first and fourth grade at the school, which serves students in first through eighth grades.
“We will be teaching in the same room at the same time,” Hari said, adding that curtains are put up to help muffle the sound.
Hari said the place she is going is “very, very conservative.”
“In Caneyville, only steam engines, horse power and windmills are used for power,” Hari said. “They don’t have electricity —not in the school even — or cars.
“But I’ve lived in a community (in Belize) that was very conservative like this before, so it won’t be a shock to me.”