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Article published January 19, 2013
Joyce M. Bessor Zelienople
Articles in the Butler Eagle have called attention to the Johnston School building on Mars-Crider Road in Cranberry Township, with the latest news being that the former one-room schoolhouse will begin being torn down on Monday. I attended first grade in that school, my introduction to formal education. One Eagle article said the school closed in 1952, but I believe it might have closed much earlier. That’s because my family moved to Zelienople in 1937 to take advantage of the schools there. There was talk about Johnston School being closed at that time. My one-room-school experience was shared with students through Grade 8. A roomful of students numbered no more than 35 or 40. Miss Walker not only took care of the educational needs of the three or four of us in first grade, but she was responsible for the needs of students in all the other grades as well. Some of the eighth-grade boys were bigger than the teacher. That class probably caused the most problems; I know some of them did not want to be there, but they were required to attend school up to a certain age. There was no plumbing in the building, and for water, we used the outdoor pump. I remember using the communal cup for a drink. Heating was via the traditional wood-burning stove, as was the case at Sample and others of the several schools in Cranberry Township. I believe the schools were named for the families who owned the farms on which the schools were located. After the teacher had attended to the educational needs of the few of us in first grade, we had nothing to do but watch and listen as the upper grades were put through their paces, so we were able to absorb some lessons meant for the older students. When I was a one-room-school student, the school year did not begin until late September or early October, and the school year ended at the end of April so the farm boys could help on the farms when they were needed most. We moved to Zelienople the day after Johnston School closed for the year, and my parents decided I should attend Zelienople Elementary School for the remainder of that school’s year, which did not end until late May. There was no district transportation to Johnston School, so we walked — in my case, a mile from my home at the Mars Road-Perry Highway intersection to the school. In bad weather, sometimes a neighbor would drive her son to school and, fortunately for me, she would take me along, as well. At that time there was no transportation to the Zelienople schools either; out-of-town students who were mostly farm boys and girls had to be transported by their families. Johnston School functioned as a sort of community center, as there were spelling bees and box-lunch events that included parents and other local residents. Until more recent years, there was no combined school district, and each township and town had its own school board, with a county official responsible for the overall program. None of the local schools had any enrichment programs, and we probably were fortunate to have schools as convenient as the eight that were in Cranberry Township at one time.