The School Hill

11 Apr

I have mentioned on several occasions that I was raised in “The Camp”  known in some circles as “#7” in Barrackville, WV.  One of the most interesting places during my youth was a place we call the “School Hill”.  Before the desegregation of schools, each of the small coal mining communites had a school for the black children usually located in or around the coal camp.  These were usually old buildings with one or two large rooms with a few small rooms used for special purposes and offices.  These schools had outdoor restrooms or “out houses”, but many did have some indoor plumbing.  This school building was the center of the community activities and at times served at the church for the community.  The school also had  a small playground and usually a ball field adjacent to it.

My Mother and Father went to this school along with most of my elders in the community.   The children in  #7 went to this school through the 8th grade.  In Marion County, all of the black students went on to Dunbar High School in Fairmont.  I did not go to school on the hill  because the school was closed after desegregation in the mid 1950’s.   I started school in 1959.

One of the prominent citizens in #7 was Mrs. Naomi Kyle.  She was the primary teacher at this school on the hill.   Mrs. Kyle was very well educated.  She had a Bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State College  and Master’s degree in Education from West Virginia University.   She was one of the most intelligent people I had ever met during my child hood.  After the school on the hill was closed, it became a summer playground for us.  Each summer, the Marion County Department of Parks and Recreation would have a formal organized playground which was usually supervised by Mrs. Kyle.  The playground was open from 9am to 12noon and from 6pm to 9pm Monday through Friday during summer vacation.   We had a great time there each summer.  We played everything from Chinese checkers to pick up sticks.  The playground had the traditional sliding boards and see saws.   We had volley ball tournaments, treasure hunts, and  scavenger hunts.  We would always prepare for the annual “Field Day ” which was held at the Barrackville Playground.  All of the playgrounds from around Marion County would bring their best to compete in all of the playground disciplines including traditional checkers, Chinese Checkers, basketball, softball, volleyball and zellball.  Champions would be awarded blue ribbons for their performances.  This was a great day and all of us wanted to earn the bragging rights for the next year. 

  One of the greatest things we had  there were the weiner roasts every Wednesday.  All of the kids looked forward to those tasty hot dogs and hamburgers that we feasted on during that time.  It was a community get together every Wednesday and you could be assured that if a child’s parents did not cook for them, then someone would feed those kids.  It was a time of strong community caring and love.  Most of the community was struggling to make it, but you would never known that because there was so much love in that community.  All of those women and men felt responsible for each and every one of those kids there.  They embodied the principle, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.”

As the years went by, the old school building deteriorated and went into disrepair.  The grounds and the equipment were maintained by Bethlehem Mines Corporation.  They built most of the playground equipment and kept the grass cut during the summer.  Mrs. Kyle retired and her health was failing.  Several people, including my mother, became the supervisor of the playground.  As the years went by, the playground was not used because most of the people who would have had children playing on the School Hill, moved away and just came back to visit.  I am not certain of the date, but the old School Hill closed.   The property was owned by the local church, Good Hope Baptist, and was eventually sold to the Darcus family.  The building is gone, but the wonderful memories of the “School Hill” will never be forgotten.  This experience taught us to care for one another and have pride about where we can from.  We were all blessed to have had the opportunity to grow up in such an environment.  As I said earlier, we were not rich with material things, but we had each other and that love experienced at the “School Hill” will always be with us.

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