Pretend that you’re at a University of Missouri-Columbia football game and it’s halftime; you grab a microphone and get the crowd’s attention by saying, "Stand up if you have known Caroline Hartwig, Ralph Watkins, Fannie Bardlemeier, H.Y. Moffett or Ray Odor." People would bounce up all over that stadium, cheering for a unique family - and trying to identify the other people who are also standing. Those people were MU’s Laboratory School educators. Add these names: Mary Jesse, Eleanor Taylor, Elizabeth Burrall and Charles Butler. What a wonderful family we were: students, coaches, teachers, directors and administrators at University Elementary School and University High School. Most have been gone for more than 20 years, but they live on in many hearts and minds.
The two buildings faced Columbia’s Sixth Street, near Conley Avenue.
Our small classes fostered a feeling of belonging; staggered recess hours allowed the two groups to share the uneven, ungraded dirt playground. Big kids enjoyed the elementary school’s giant slides, parallel bars, swings and other equipment. All shared the Sixth Street hill when there was snow enough for sleds. One year, we skated on thick ice on that hill, coasting on our skates going down and skating back to the top. High school students helped the elementary ones learn things such as that.
The lab schools were different from city schools. "Laboratory" meant learning by doing. Other kids called us "guinea pigs," but those innovative MU professors were breaking new ground. For example, we learned about ice by going to Columbia Ice and Storage Plant to see ice being formed, cut, stored, marketed and used. Then we wrote about it for English class and calculated costs of the 300-pound chunks and the various smaller chunks in math class. Some parents thought learning was too much fun!
At Columbia Savings Bank, we filled out deposit slips, made withdrawals, requested loans, pretended overdrafts and asked many questions. Then we went downstairs, a few at a time, and peeked through a huge door into a small room where large bags of real money were kept in reserve.
We learned about business and hard work at Dorn Cloney Laundry, where steam rose out of washing rooms and ironing rooms and women in white dresses pressed men’s shirts with separate collars, starched stiff and carefully ironed. Everywhere we visited, our teachers were given blanks to be filled out, and costs were calculated in our classes after our visits. The MU dairy barn was white, like Dad’s barn at home. However, their cows were milked more than twice a day, for experimental purposes. In adjacent areas, milk was separated and bottled as whole or skim milk, coffee cream or whipping cream. We followed each visit with reading, writing, arithmetic and more. Biology began with visits to Eleanor Taylor’s wonderful growing plants in the kindergarten room; many of us waited there when we got to school early. What child could forget the elephant ear leaves on that huge plant?
Hands-on learning included our six-person orchestra, for students in both junior and senior high. I had been given a violin and 18 private lessons from the orchestra leader, Ruth Houck. I was crushed when she graduated from the university and left Columbia!
Facilities in the MU physical education department were available to U-High girls, and for only $5, we had swimming lessons twice a week all semester.
As soon as the bell rang, we’d take off running about three blocks to the women’s gym, shedding clothes as soon as we reached the gym. They required us to wear gray, cotton bathing suits with skirts!
The men had no pool but used the other equipment at the men’s department. Ruby Cline took me as a dog-paddler and later coached me in the MU women’s racing team and Mermaids Club. Yes, we were helping our superiors learn to teach in innovative ways and were the first to benefit by those new ideas. We were a family of winners!