Elam Stoltzfus on the History of PA Amish Parochial Schools: Part 1

Elam Stoltzfus shares Part 1 of a four-part series on Amish Parochial schools in Pennsylvania. Elam grew up Amish, and we’ve previously seen his work here in his 4-part “Rediscovering the Ausbund” series on the Amish hymn book. This will be published in full at the Plain Values magazine Substack (linked below).

In this part, Elam shares his first day of school as an Amish child in a public school, a very important teacher he met that first year, and a key conflict involving 13 Amish fathers and a local public school district.

History of the Amish Parochial Schools in Pennsylvania, Part 1

by Elam Stoltzfus

“City Lawyer Pops up at Hearing, Offers Amish Surprise Legal Crutch – “13 Fathers Charged With School Law Violations – NOT GUILTY PLEA IS ENTERED”.

This was the headline news for the Wednesday edition of the Pottstown Mercury on February 24th, 1960.

The article goes on to say that, “The 13 Amish fathers are charged with violating the State compulsory school attendance laws because they will not send their 17 children to the multi-million dollar Twin Valley Joint Junior-Senior High School.”

I was only 3 years old when this news came out, and I didn’t remember it at all. But the refusal of the Amish parents to send their children to the new consolidated school would end up influencing my journey through the school system, as well. As I was doing research for these articles, I came across a photo of these Amish fathers from my home church: I knew all of them! And that’s when I realized that my own educational journey was tied up in their story, as well.

My first four years of education (1963-1967) I attended public school in West Nantmeal Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania. By 1967, there was an Amish parochial school for 1st to 8th graders nearby where I lived. My next four years of schooling (1967-1971), I attended the Amish Parochial Fairview school in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania.

I can still remember my first day of school as a first grader: it was the day after Labor Day, and I woke up that morning looking forward to what this new adventure of schooling would bring.

The barnyard rooster crowed at the break of dawn, reminding my family that we had chores to be completed before breakfast. For me, it was feeding a few calves with a bottle of mixed powdered supplement milk. But I wasn’t thinking about calf-feeding—I was thinking about the new adventure of being a first grader: what new people would I meet? What would school be like? I was filled with excitement and trepidation.

After our chores, we seven children sat down to a hearty homemade meal of scrapple, toast, eggs, oatmeal and fruit. After breakfast, I changed out of my dirty work clothes into my clean and pressed school clothes: black pants with a solid-color shirt and white suspenders.

During the busy hustle of getting cleaned and ready, mom packed four lunch meals for those of us who were school-aged. Mom packed a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fruit, and crackers in my shiny new metal lunchbox. I loved my new lunchbox—it was in the shape of a barn, painted red, and inside was a thermos shaped like a silo. But instead of corn in my silo-thermos, Mom filled it with juice.

Swinging my new lunchbox back and forth as I followed behind my three older sisters, we all stopped at the end of the driveway to wait for the big yellow school bus coming down the hill on Yoder Road.

Elam is in the second row from the bottom, the furthest student on the left.

Read the rest of Part 1 at the Plain Values Substack page.

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