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THE HUNTER ISLAND FARM SCHOOL
The following notes describe an experiment in actual truck farming for Ungraded children begun in April, 1914, by P. S. 4, Bronx, New York City:
Among the many problems that we have to face in dealing with our Ungraded children, is that of vocational training. Next to giving the children a good physical start, the most valuable thing which the school can do for them is to help them to earn a livelihood.
We had tried basket weaving, in which some of the children attained a high degree of excellence. In September, 1913, we tried a course in shawl weaving and the children turned out some fine shawls, which were marketable. We felt, however, that this was not adequate. Various other plans were gone over, among them the opening of a small printing shop. In all of these plans-many of them very attractive—the fatal draw-back was that these children will have to meet the competition of normal people in the open market, when the inevitable time comes for them to seek work. After careful consideration and consultation with Miss Elizabeth E. Farrell, Inspector of Ungraded Classes, a course in actual truck farming for the high-grade group of the Ungraded classes was decided upon.
The Child Welfare League of P. S. 4, Bronx, organized in October, 1913, to further the interests of the Ungraded children, through the co-operation of neighbors and friends of the school, raised $325 for the purpose of this experiment in actual truck farming. Whereupon the New York Foundation voted $500 toward the experiment, and the course was outlined to extend from about April 1 to about October 1. After casting about for a suitable location, we selected a spot of three acres on Hunter Island in Pelham Bay Park. Hon. Thomas W. Whittle, Commissioner of Parks for the Borough of the Bronx, co-operated in giving us the use of the land. The spot selected is one of unusual natural beauty, and sufficiently secluded to protect the field from intrusion and from being tampered with. It is seven miles from the school, far enough to give the children a sense of “the atmosphere of a new and serious work." The field is sufficiently far from the waters of Long Island Sound to enable the teachers to feel sure of the safety of the children.
Mr. Willard McHargue, a former student of Stetson University, Florida, who had had thorough farming experience in Florida and Montana, was
chosen instructor in farming. He pitched his tent on the farm and camped there from April to October.
Commissioner Whittle, at our request, promptly had a pipe extended from the Convalescent Home so that we had running water. One of his superintendents supervised the solution of the problem of sanitation.
Seventeen boys were selected from the four Ungraded classes. They were from the high-mentality groups and ranged in age from 10 to 17 (mental age 7 to 11). On April 17, 1914, the boys, under the personal charge of Miss Elise Seyfarth, made their first trip.
W. R. McHargue Actual work was begun on the twelfth day of April. Day after day the boys, with their teacher, left Tremont Avenue at seven forty-five for the long trolley trip to Hunter Island. After two transfers and a half-mile walk, they were ready to begin the day in earnest by nine o'clock "at the farm.” The first weeks went by in a drizzle of rain, but nobody seemed to notice that.
For months before, the Farm had been the one all-absorbing theme in the classes back at school. From the beginning enthusiasm ruled the camp. The first real problem of the season arose over the "turns" with the axe and the old dead oak, whose hacked sides still bear evidence of our initial outburst of energy. We broke a rake one day and a hoe the next, in our assault upon the first little corner turned up by the plow.
Classes were held in the tent close by. Condemnation to "all studies and no work” was the direst threat in the calendar, one never put into effect. In groups of five or six, that being the number of our hoes and the limit of our Farmer's patience, we worked in half-hour periods in the garden, alternating with the class work. On very rainy days we all crowded into the tent, but agreed unanimously that even so it was “better than school."
After lunch, with hot cocoa made on the oil stove for all, there was one iron-clad rule. Everybody in camp had a half hour sleep. No one was ex. empt. Rebellion came very near. When at last the thing was achieved, and ten or fifteen youngsters lay stretched out in their steamer chairs together, absolutely quiet, for a half hour every day, we began to see our reward.
One sunny, steaming afternoon we went down to the rocks and the boys dipped shivering feet into the cold water of the sound. One or two could swim, but most of us were strangers to water in all but the most limited and infrequent applications. Before long the daily swi
Before long the daily swim became an institution, from which only stern authority could drag us away at three or four or five
VOL. I, No. 1
o'clock. The most flimsy excuses availed to keep us an extra hour or two, to set cabbage plants or cover another row. Several of the older boys were permitted to stay over night with the Farmer.
Our first efforts at gardening were dismal. We had all played in our school garden before this, but never in such a garden. Our rows were more than crooked, and our seeds would get on top of the ground between them. When the first green appeared it took long and painstaking analysis before we could tell weeds from good stuff." Our feet got on both alike and our hoes slipped alarmingly. We used to whack away at big clods until we could tell something about where the hoe would strike. We discovered that it is useless for us to attempt to follow long rows of little plants, so we just planted more corn and beans in hills, where we could see them.
The big boys learned to mix fertilizer, how much to put in the row for radishes, and how much to put in the hill for corn. They learned to run the seeder along a tight string, and later to follow the scratch of the marker without any string. We all had nature talks regularly and every once in a while. We learned about Paris green for bugs and about Bordeaux mixture for blight. We learned to watch for these things as we went through the garden. On July sixth we came to camp to stay.
We had a beautiful program carefully put away with the records. Our time we divided to suit the occasion. Every boy made his own bed and cleaned up his part of the big tent. Everybody was on continuous duty as camp cleaner. “Pick every one up" became the familiar password of the camp. Authority was very little in evidence. Yet, as Sig said, "Too bad, I got to do what I'm told.”
By the middle of July we had established a spirit at which we ourselves never ceased to wonder. We worked regularly two hours a day in the garden, hoeing and planting and gathering. Instead of constant quarreling we had learned co-operation. A group of boys could be assigned to a certain piece of work and left to themselves, with the certainty that it would be done. The hourly and momentary supervision of the first months gradually relaxed until we all forgot about it. Suggestions and corrections sufficed to keep the work up. An extra swim always restored good humor after a difficulty.
There were hikes and bonfires. We hunted starfish and dug clams and ate lots of green apples. On hot days we lived in bathing suits and on hot nights some of the bolder ones slept in the corn. We got fat and sunburned and mosquito bitten. We loaded our boat with sweet corn and roasted it with our neighbors on a nearby beach. We went in swimming before breakfast and
all day and after supper. In short, we just naturally got glad all we could.
The camp was closed on the seventh of September. We came back to school healthier and happier, at least, than we had ever been before. One of the boys has found a purpose in his reading lessons. He wants to read more bulletins, so he can raise potatoes. All of us are waiting anxiously for next year.
TESTS In April, 1914, before the work on the Farm began, and again at the end of September, the following tests were given to the farm group: (1) Mental; (2) Physical; (3) Medical; (4) Binet; (5) Class work.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL TESTS
Samuel B. Heckman, Ph. D.,
College of the City of New York, The report of the boys whom you brought to the Clinic for examination physically and mentally before and after their farm experience last summer I think could be summarized best in the following manner. I find that according to their attendance they may be placed into three groups: the first group, composed of six boys who were at the farm during the entire period; the second group, composed of four boys who went to the farm until the school term closed and then dropped out; the third group, made up of five boys who were irregular in their attendance at the farm both before school closed and afterwards.
The mental tests given before and after the farm experience include:
(d) Test for association. GROUP I.
In tests for memory and attention, five showed improvement and one no variation,
In tests for motor co-ordination five showed improvement and one no variation.
In learning test three showed slight improvement and three no variation.
In test for association, six showed improvement. GROUP II.
In tests for memory and attention two showed slight improvement, one vėry slight improvement and one no variation.
In tests for motor co-ordination one showed slight improvement and three slight decrease.
In learning test four showed no variation
In tests for association four showed slight improvement. GROUP III.
In tests for memory and attention three showed slight improvement, one no variation and one a slight decrease.
In tests for motor co-ordination one showed slight improvement, two slight decrease, and two no variation.
In learning test two showed slight improvement and three no variation.
In tests for association four showed slight improvement, one very slight improvement.
The physical examination given before and after the farm experience includes the following:
(b) Vital Capacity. GROUP I.
There was an average weight increase of 45 per cent.
There was an average vital capacity increase of 41 per cent. GROUP II.
There was an average weight increase of 5 per cent.
There was an average vital capacity increase of 272 per cent.
There was an average weight increase of 5 per cent.
David A. Swick, M. D.
Allowing one point for improvement and two points for great improvement, the average per cent. gain was as follows: Group I....
5272 Per Cent.