Finding time for harvest, education in early school day schedules

Sep 14 2011 - 6:15pm

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Delsa Barber was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. A little more than two years later she was among a dwindling class of 1944 at Davis High School in Kaysville.

There were mostly girls, she said. The senior boys had gone to war.

"As soon as they turned 17, they joined (the military). They were patriotic," she said, sitting in her Syracuse home neighboring the house where she and her father had been born.

Now, nearly 70 years after America entered World War II, the lifetime Davis County resident is among many who recall how war, new job opportunities and farming affected the early school days in the Davis School District.

Like many of her classmates, Barber attended classes during the day from September through May while helping farmers pick tomatoes, thin sugar beets and plant spring crops. She also found work during the summer loading boxcars at the naval depot in Clearfield, now known as the Freeport Center.

This was life for a student in the first half of the Davis School District after its 1911 consolidation, said Bill Sanders, curator of the Heritage Museum of Layton.

"Every year from 1911 to the 1920s, (the school year) varied somewhat. Ninety percent of the kids in the schools lived on farms. Early in the school year they were needed on the farm to harvest," Sanders said.

And there was always the potential of an early planting season in good weather, he added. Then, in the first decade after consolidation, farmers began planting sugar beets. One of the largest employers in the sugar beet industry was in Davis County, Sanders added.

With the formation of canning companies in the 1920s, school schedules came under more pressure. However, Sanders said, industrialization highlighted needs for mechanical and business skills. Parents in Davis County wanted their children to have opportunities for education through high school.

"I think the families wanted it for their kids. They made adjustments in the farm work to accommodate their kids being in school. They were very eager to see consolidation."

The first official school year in the district began on Sept. 18, 1911, and ran through May 24, 1912. The following year, classes began on Sept. 23. In addition, school credit was granted for tasks done around the home, including milking the cows and sewing.

According to a December 1912 special edition of a local newspaper "The Weekly Reflex," home credit was "for the special purpose of assisting the child to form useful habits, and to develop system in his work. ..."

But even though schools were willing to accommodate students, the needs of the largely agricultural county continued to pose challenges. Even the length of the school week was a problem. Students in high school attended Saturday classes after consolidation until complaints led to secondary schools going until 4 p.m. each week day.

Prior to the 1920s district leaders considered shortening the school year for older students to 7 1/2 months. However, a shortened school year caused problems for students wanting advanced education. The University of Utah cut the credit of high school students for not having the required nine months a year. After discussions, university and district leaders compromised. Credit would not be cut for students in session for 34 weeks a year.

Finally, by 1934, the school year was set for Sept. 12 through May 26 to accommodate the harvest. Today, in the district's centennial year, school began Aug. 22 and will conclude for high school students on June 1, 2012.

Whatever the challenges in the Davis School District in its first 100 years, parents, students and community leaders have worked together to promote education.

Chase Rogers, director of planning for the school district, said, "Our patrons in the county are passionate about having a quality education. They know that we can continue to excel and they expect great things."

As to the teachers and administrators in the school district, Rogers said for them "it's more than an occupation. It's more a mission. It's the opportunity to affect lives positively that will return benefits for generations to come."

Historical information courtesy of histories written by Les Foy and Glen M. Leonard. Julie Dockstader Heaps is a community volunteer on the school district's centennial committee and a freelance journalist living in Syracuse. The district was formed on July 17, 1911. For more about the Centennial Celebration, go to www.davis.k12.ut.us/dsd/centennial

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