Thursday, June 1, 2023

Ionia family continues tradition of attending ‘one-room school’

IONIA — Hudson Reisbig is a kindergarten student who loves to play with Legos and is learning to read and count coins. Most parents feel some trepidation when their children began kindergarten, but when Hudson started school this fall, his parents were not as nervous.

Hudson Reisbig, in front, is a fourth generation students at Haynor School in Ionia. Pictured with Hudson are, from left, his grandfather Scott Leak, great-grandmother Joyce (Young) Leak and mother Ashley (Leak) Reisbig. — Karlee Bailey | Brick Street Studio

Hudson, age 5, is one of 10 students in the kindergarten through second-grade classroom at Haynor School in Ionia, the same school where his mother Ashley (Leak) Reisbig attended kindergarten through fifth grade. It is also the same building her dad Scott Leak, and her grandmother Joyce (Young) Leak went to school.

“My grandmother went to school through eighth grade, and still lives a mile from there yet,” said Ashley, who was in the third- through fifth-grade room when her sister started in the K-2 classroom. A few years later, their younger brother also went to Haynor, along with a few cousins, and another generation of their family made up several spots in the two-room school.

Located at 1779 Haynor Road in Easton Township, the first school, known as Grove School, was built on 1¼ acres of land on the corners of Dick and Haynor roads. The land was deeded for the school by Charles and Catherine Tillson on Feb. 10, 1866, with Isaac D. Haynor as director.

The first school census showed that as of Sept. 29, 1865, there were 26 children in the district age 5 to 20 educated in grades kindergarten through eighth grades. By 1898, the student population had reached 64 students.

In 1938, the school gained electricity. Albert and Mary Haynor sold some property for $75 to the school with the request it’s named be changed to Haynor School. A few years later, two more lots were purchased to expand the playground. Additions were built in 1938 to 1939 and again in 1961 when a second classroom was added.

“When Hunter was in preschool, we began talking about where to send him for kindergarten,” Ashley said. “My husband went to Ionia schools, and they have good schools, but I really liked the smaller setting of Haynor. We currently live outside the district, but through Schools of Choice, we are able to enroll him there.”

From left, Joyce (Young) Leak, Scott Leak, Lisa (Leak) Brown, Lori (Leak) Rittersdorf, Ashley (Leak) Reisbig, Lindsey Leak, Adam Rittersdorf, Alison (Rittersdorf) Nelson, Justin Leak and Hudson Reisbig. — Karlee Bailey | Brick Street Studio

Plans are also to send their 3-year-old daughter to school there as well when she is ready for kindergarten.

“I was so excited when I heard that Hunter was going to attend there, too. I couldn’t wait for him to go!” Joyce said.

The school, one of 16 “one-room schoolhouses” in the state, and one of three in Ionia County, has sustained an enrollment of 20 to 40 students in the past two decades.

Ashley began attending in 1990, grandpa Scott started kindergarten there in 1966, and great-grandma Joyce began her schooling there in 1946.

“It was only the one room when I went there,” said Joyce, “I attended four or five years with my younger brother, and then was in high school when my youngest brother started going there.”

She recalls walking half-mile through her dad’s fields, past the cows, to get to school each day, and her dad building a bridge so she and her brothers could get over a drainage ditch. Sometimes a cousin or two would walk with them.

“There were two occasions, at least, that I walked there, only to arrive and learn that school was canceled for one reason or another. I had to turn around and walk back home,” Joyce recollects.

She fondly recalls the pupils’ parents being very involved at school, helping with picnics and an end-of-the-year celebration.

“We didn’t have all the things kids have now. We didn’t have a library or all the sports offerings,” said Joyce. The students, however, did take occasional side trips to go play ball with students from the other local one-room schoolhouses.

“The parents would load the students and teacher up in our cars, or we’d ride bikes over, and we’d go play ball against Welch, Bellamy or Potter Schools,” she said.

Ashley also has a lot of emotions about returning to the school she was so fond of.

“It’s nostalgic to go back now,” Ashley said. “I see some of the same bookshelves and tables that were there when I was a student. They have some of the same classic books. It is fun to see so many of the things that have stayed the same, and yet see changes, too.”

The smaller setting, with students having the same teacher for three consecutive years, brings on a real sense of community, she said.

“When we attend the school functions, we get to know the other parents, and have that camaraderie with them and also with the teacher,” said Ashley.

The students hear the lessons being taught to the older grade levels, and are introduced to a topic two years before having to learn it, she said.

“You can listen as the big kids are taught, and then through osmosis, you begin to learn it also. And, being a smaller school, they can do grouping more by ability and not as much by age or grade. You can’t be as flexible in a regular classroom with 30 kids compared to less than a dozen here,” she said.

Joyce agreed the one-room setting is advantageous to all students.

“You were introduced to subjects prior to learning them. You’d hear the older kids going over their lessons, and when you were ready, you could go on ahead. The teacher did not have to hold you back to a certain grade level,” said Joyce, “And often the older students would help the younger students with their lessons. We all were very close to each other. You grew very fond of your teacher and classmates. At that time, they were all the neighbor kids. Now a lot of the kids live in town, and through the Schools of Choice program, opt to send their kids to the smaller schools.”

Students from Haynor School then funnel into Ionia Public Schools as sixth-graders, blending in with other elementary schools in the district to become new middle school students.

“It was a bit nerve-wracking to a big school, but you get used to it, and it is a nice point to transition when everyone else is new, too,” said Ashley.

Joyce expressed thanks that the bigger districts have allowed the one-room schoolhouses to remain open.

“So many have closed now. There aren’t too many of them left now,” Joyce said. “But we have a real pride in our little school.”

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