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(On a brisk fall morning in 1997, the Cedar Falls School opened its doors to
an inaugural class of 13 students. The students were ushered into the one-room
country schoolhouse that Wyatt had built, where 17 desks collected from extinct
schoolhouses around Lewis County filled the space completely, giving it a sense
of intimacy and camaraderie. A solid slate blackboard from a country school
that was once in Maywood imposed itself formidably at the front of the
classroom. The windows lining the walls were filled with glass from every
corner of the county, combining to create a patchwork of light on the
classroom’s amber cedar floor. The school itself was a collective history of
the county, or as Wyatt likes to call it, a living history.
But the nostalgic setting is only scratching the surface of the school’s
idiosyncrasies. Students begin each day huddled around a vintage television set
watching the world news. A discussion follows, wherein the students discuss
their thoughts and opinions with complete freedom of expression. They then move
to a single classroom, where all grade levels learn in a common space. Wyatt
encourages his students to use laptops during class to look up factoids that
could supplement his teaching. After a couple of hours, they may go outside to
repaint the village cafe or make measurements for a new warehouse door. School
is out by 1 PM.
At Cedar Falls, the academic blends with the recreational, the present with
the past. A discussion of North Korea’s threat to Guam in the morning news
leads into a heated discussion on America’s obligation to protect its
territories, which can then stroll seamlessly into a history lesson about the
Battle of Guam in World War II. A math lesson on areas and trigonometry could
be immediately followed by a carpentry project in the village livery. For art
class, students can walk over to the toy museum and paint their own boxes for
one of the many dusty toy sets on display. At Cedar Falls, learning could
happen for students at any point and in any shape. The village is their oyster.
Wyatt works hard to make sure that the learning is never exhausted. He
spends his weekends combing through the VCR collection at Goodwill for science
documentaries, scouring flea markets for antique trinkets that could spark a
history lesson, and scrolling through Facebook to find unwanted cars that his
students could learn to repair. The walls of the village buildings are lined
with textbooks, historical artifacts, and endless learning material. Inside
some of the buildings, there’s hardly any walking space.
Wyatt’s school, though untraditional, surprisingly meets all the state
educational standards. As long as you get a solid education, the state doesn’t
care how you got there, Wyatt says. Public schools go down through the valley
to get to the end point, and I go over the mountain. But we both reach the same
1998 Article in People Magazine.
People. 05/18/98, Vol. 49 Issue 19, p98.
When the Lewis County school board voted last
spring to close the elementary school in LaGrange, Mo. (pop. 1,102),
most parents figured their kids would soon be riding a yellow bus to the
big, modern facility in Ewing, 17 miles away. "It's the trend to run
schools like factories," says Bob Wyatt, 50, recently retired after 29
years as a school librarian. "But I guess I'm a traditionalist."
And what could be more traditional than a one-room school-house?
Thus inspired, Wyatt—an antiques collector who had already built a
small, replica 19th-century village on his property—launched Cedar Falls
School, an as-yet-unaccredited private academy that charges $5 a day.
Though the teacher provides his 17 grade-school pupils with antique
desks and teaches some math lessons with an aged cash register, the
school's 10 computers and satellite dish prove he's in touch with the
modem world. "I keep my ear to the ground to learn new ways of doing
things," he says.
Wyatt conducts two four-hour sessions daily (younger kids in the
afternoon, older ones in the morning) and earns high marks from parents
for his reading, writing and arithmetic lessons—and for occasionally
teaching history in period costumes and encouraging his students to
follow suit. "He's made my little girl love learning," says Sherry
Strong, who directs career counseling at Canton's Culver-Stockton
College. "I couldn't ask for more than that."
Neither could her 9-year-old daughter Colette. Why? "I'm going back in time!" she says. "And it's funner here."