Lucia Darling: Montana’s Chalkboard Champion

$RYF9QA5In October, 1863, twenty-seven-year-old Lucia Darling opened the first school in Montana on the banks of Grasshopper Creek in the frontier village of Bannack. Until a cabin could be built to serve as the schoolhouse, she used the sizable and comfortable home of her uncle, Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton, who had been appointed the governor of the territory. Makeshift desks and chairs, books, and other teaching materials were hastily acquired. Her students were the children of the three thousand or so homesteaders and gold miners who had established their claims in the wild and woolly Western town. “Bannack was tumultuous and rough,” the young school teacher wrote in her diary. “It was the headquarters of a band of highwaymen. Lawlessness and misrule seemed to be the prevailing spirit of the place.” Through her school, Lucia sought to inject some civilization into the place. Lucia was born in Tallmadge, Ohio, in 1839. Although raised on a farm, she spent her childhood in academic pursuits. When she was old enough, she became a qualified teacher and spent nine years teaching in an area of northeast Ohio. She also taught at Berea College, the first integrated college in Kentucky. She did this at a time when it was unusual for a woman to get a college education or go to work. In 1863, Lucia accompanied her uncle and his family as they relocated to the West, keeping a detailed diary of the route, the Indians they encountered, the historic landmarks they passed, the weather patterns, and the chores she completed each day along the journey. The group traveled by train from Tallmadge to Chicago, by river boat down the Missouri River to Omaha, and by covered wagon across the vast prairies of the West. After three months, the expedition finally landed in Oregon. From there Lucia made her way to Bannack, where she founded her school. After the Civil War, Lucia traveled to the Deep South where she taught for the Freedman’s Bureau, an organization founded by the US government in 1865 to provide educational opportunities for newly-freed African Americans. Lucia Darling: a true chalkboard champion.

Sister Blandina Segale: The Chalkboard Champion Who Taught Young Outlaws

Sister-Blandina[1]The teacher sat beside the pale body of a teenaged outlaw who had been severely wounded in a shoot-out. Gently she mopped the sweat from his brow, helped him swallow a few mouthfuls of fresh water, and changed his bandages. A gang of youthful renegades surrounded the wounded youth’s sickbed. The teacher, who was also a Catholic nun, was Sister Blandina Segale.

Rosa Maria Segale was born on January 23, 1859, in Cicagna, Italy. When she was only four years old, her family immigrated to the United States, settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. After graduating from high school, she entered a convent, changing her name to Sister Blandina at the time she took her final vows.

Mistaking the community for Cuba, Sister Blandina accepted a position as a teacher in Trinidad, Colorado. She arrived in the centennial state on December 10, 1872, and immediately set about persuading the locals to build a better school building and to acquire better furnishings for it.

It was in Trinidad that one day Sister Blandina was called upon to care for bullet-ridden Happy Jack, a member of Billy the Kid’s infamous outlaw gang. As compensation for her efforts to save Jack’s life, Billy granted Sister Blandina one favor. She immediately asked that he cancel plans to kill four physicians in Trinidad who had refused medical treatment for Jack. Unfortunately, the wounded outlaw eventually died from his wounds, but the nun was able to save the lives of the four doctors.

Mary Tsukamoto: The Chalkboard Champion Imprisoned in an American WWII Internment Camp

maryts1[1]When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan, Mary Tsukamoto was living a quiet life as the wife of a strawberry farmer in a diminutive Japanese-American community in Florin, Northern California. Following the attack, Mary’s quiet life was suddenly turned upside-down. Like 120,000 other persons of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, most of them American citizens, Mary was forced into a relocation camp by the U.S. government because her loyalty to our country was questioned. Mary, her husband, their five-year-old daughter, her elderly in-laws, her teenaged brother and sisters, and other members of her family wound up in Jerome, Arkansas, where they were incarcerated until authorities were convinced this family of farmers posed no threat to national security. While detained in the camp, Mary became part of a prisoner-organized effort to provide meaningful educational opportunities for their imprisoned children. Mary taught speech courses for the high school students and English language classes for the elderly.

When the war was over, Mary returned to college, completed her degree, and became an elementary schoolteacher, one of the first certificated Japanese-American teachers in the United States. Her remarkable story is told in her autobiography, We the People, a volume which unfortunately is now out of print. However, with some effort, it can be found through second-hand book sellers or in some libraries (check WorldCat), and it is well worth the hunt. You can read also read her story in Chalkboard Champions, available through

Pondering Professional Responsibilities

As teachers ready themselves for the start of another school year, it seems appropriate to spend some time reflecting on professional responsibilities. Usually I read the list of responsibilities for teachers published by the National Popular Education Board in 1872. It’s amusing to see how much things have changed in the last one hundred and forty years. Here’s the list:

  • Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
  • Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
  • Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
  • Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
  • After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
  • Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
  • Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
  • Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
  • The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.


        Strong School Library Programs Increase Standardized Test Scores

        Most chalkboard champions agree that library programs are extremely valuable to students. But did you know that, according to recent studies, strong school libraries help to increase standardized test scores? Statistics show that public schools with strong school library programs outperform those without such programs on high-stakes standardized tests. This is true regardless of the school community’s parent education, poverty levels, ethnicity, or the percentage of English language learners in the school population. Increases in library program elements correspond to standardized test scores at all grade levels: elementary, middle school, and high school.

        Library elements that contribute to increased test scores include the total number of hours the library is open, the total amount of technology available from the library, the total services provided by trained library staff, the presence of a program of curriculum-integrated information with literacy instruction, the informal instruction of students in the use of resources, providing teachers with information about new resources, and providing reference assistance to both teachers and students.

        A strong school library program in described as one that provides a full-time teacher/librarian, a full-time paraprofessional, a robust and up-to-date collection of digital, print, and media resources with a budget to support it, and abundant access to the library’s facilities, technology, and resources. How well does your school’s library program meet the criteria?