Miller School touched many lives

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During the first half of the 20th century, the old Miller School and its teachers helped create pleasant memories and encouraged creativity "in a time when this school was a place of magic and learning."

In 1902, the small, one-room Winn School was located "just across Shot Pouch Branch" and was moved in 1922 to a site on Miller Road. For a short span of time, it was referred to as Boulevard School. The name was later changed to Miller School in honor of Edwin Fraser Miller, who had served as a trustee of Winn School. The site chosen was barren, totally absent of trees and shrubbery, until Mrs. Alice Leavell, one of the school's teachers, began the effort to beautify the grounds by planting much needed greenery.

The building was heated by potbelly stoves around which students gathered to read on chilly days. Lunch for the pupils was prepared by Mrs. Drayton, Mrs. Ham and Mrs. Proctor, three ladies from the community. The building lacked indoor plumbing; hence, both students and faculty used outside facilities. Under the leadership of J.D. Blanding, the school was run "somewhat as a demonstration school, putting into practice many of the ideas advanced in the educational philosophy of what was known as 'progressive education.' The advisor to the school was Dr. Henry Harap of Peabody College, Nashville, Tennessee, who visited the school two or three times each year.

"Each teacher at Miller School taught reading, writing and arithmetic as well as many other valuable subjects through the medium of meaningful activities. Mrs. Brooks, for instance, had a clean-up corner in her room. Her report on this project with a picture was published in Primary Activities, a national magazine published by Scott Foresman.

"Because of the prevalence of colds, the second grade decided to establish a health corner, where each pupil would be inspected each day for neatness and cleanliness. They used the boards from large packing cases for the wall, and lined them with oil cloth. They made shelves for a basin, pitcher, soap, comb, etc., by placing boards across orange crates. A 'nurse' chosen by the class would inspect each pupil every day, and if there was any deficiency found, it was made right at once. Obviously, many lessons were learned by this activity.

"Another 'learn by doing' project, the report of which was also published in the magazine, was a 'home unit' carried out by 'Miss Jennie's first grade. The class decided to 'build' a room and make it 'homey' and pretty. They used large boxes in which window glass was packed for the framework. Cardboard was placed on the inside walls and painted pink. The outside was painted white. The dressing table was an old desk cut down and the stool was a grape box. An old rocking chair was found that would fit into the space. They had a real child's bed with mattress and covers and the doll's cradle was made from a grape box. All the furniture was painted light blue with pink upholstering. The children did the housekeeping and in so doing learned valuable lessons in personal and social behavior from their reading books.

"The second grade also had a school store where students sold 'real things for real money.' Countless teaching projects suitable to each grade were thus carried out. ... According to former teachers and pupils, Miller was filled with excitement. Every teacher took her pupils on field trips as learning situations or as recreation. Sometimes they went to Mr. Charles Mason's (telephone company) pond, where they went wading. They often followed nature trails to gather specimens of plants and insects, etc., for their studies in science. There were picnics when it was warm and Easter egg hunts. Inside students were interested in giving plays, some for the public; and always there were interesting activities preceding the Christmas holidays.

"Games on the school grounds were supervised by the teachers. Some of the boys enjoyed playing football, though the equipment and rules were far simpler than those used by the sophisticated teams and leagues in high school. Smaller children liked to jump rope. Of course, all these athletic activities were used to teach fairness, teamwork and other lessons. Enthusiasm for school ran so high that pupils living nearby would meet their teachers at school a week before the opening date each fall to clean the rooms, paint the blackboards, put up decorations, and give the building an inviting appearance. They would end their work with a walk to Shot Pouch Creek.

"Because of World War II, the boys were so stirred with patriotic desire to serve that they put on a scrap iron drive in 1941-42. This proved a very successful project and again taught valuable lessons. After Mrs. Brunson left the school in 1943, Mrs. McLeod became principal and remained in that position as long as Miller was a school. In 1949 the school was absorbed into Willow Drive School; the old building was later demolished.

"Thus, ended the life of a school that played a significant role in the educational history of Sumter. But the memories of that school still linger in the minds and hearts of all who attended or were in any way touched by the influence of its teachers."

Source: "Historical Sketches of Sumter County" by Cassie Nicholes

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 774-1294.