The Richard L. and Miriam L (Swan) Mix Student Historian Award was established in 2016, to recognize the high school senior who submitted the best essay concerning the Taber Museum. The award comes with a $500 prize.

The competition invites seniors attending schools in Lycoming County to submit an 800 to 1200-word essay for which the student selects a time period from one of the displays at the Taber Museum and becomes a person who lived at that time in history. The essay must be historically accurate for the time period depicted in the gallery.

The 2024 award winner was announced by Board Member Pat Damaska at the Annual Meeting of the Historical Society on April 28. Michela J. Peterman of Williamsport High School prevailed over a number of entrants with her essay, “The One-Room Schoolhouse.”

Congratulations to Michela!

Here is her winning Essay:

My fingers brushed over the woolen fabric of my petticoat, effectively smoothing down the creases created by many days of wear and tear. I step into the small, one room wooden building in front of me. The walls are decorated with mint green wallpaper, a framed picture, and a window. All the wooden desks are arranged neatly in rows with a larger wooden desk at the front and a chalkboard behind it. A faint smell of wood polish and chalk dust fills my nose as I make my way towards my desk.

I place my small, hand-woven basket on the back corner of my desk and remove my knitted shawl from my shoulders before draping it across the stool. My hands moved to lift the slanted top of the desk and retrieve my striker and flint. The cover is placed back down gently with a light squeak of the hinges before I head towards the stove. The charcoal-colored, pot-bellied stove sat in the middle of the room. The machine was placed close to the children because it did not spread heat around the room very well, and this new location gave the children better access to heat. I smile as it begins to give off heat, and I move to the back corner of the room. I grab the broom by its handle and quickly sweep across the front of the room, ridding the faded wooden floor of dirt.

Children file in through the doors as the day begins. The younger children talk and giggle with one another while the older children attend to the chores I assigned them. A younger girl with a dark green dress and a faded cream apron approaches me and takes the broom from my hands before picking up where I had left off. Another one of my students, a young boy in dark brown pants and a dirty gray button-up, is sent to retrieve our pail of drinking water from the outdoor well.

My fingers wrap around the handle of the bell, and I give it a slight flick of my wrist. The kids quickly rush to their seats, which are ordered by age. The youngest are in front while the oldest remains in the back. I call out each of my students' names and mark down their presence in my worn-out ledger. I start school with a prayer before delving into our first subject: reading. The younger children group together to share their small amount of tattered textbooks while the older students’ group together to share their own. Each student practices reading aloud a sentence from their books and then recites the sentence presented by the last student.

Next comes arithmetic, a subject that requires patience and repetition. I bring out wooden blocks and counting rods to help the children visualize the new mathematical concepts. Each of the children has different levels of knowledge on the subject and requires different amounts of assistance and lectures. The younger kids were learning addition and subtraction with the old wooden abacus and the older kids were being taught division. The children are required to complete their assignments on slates before presenting them to me. When I discovered that each question was done correctly, the students were sent off to lunch, and the younger ones were off to lunch and recess.

After a short recess, we reconvene for geography and history. I draw the children’s attention to the map to the right of my chalkboard. I reviewed by outlining the shapes of the states we learned the day before and asking for someone to give me the name of it. The younger children raise their hands before calling out the names of the state I gestured to. A smile graces my face as I look at them with pride. I pull down another map to show Pennsylvania and begin to discuss the founding of our beloved state by William Penn. As the day wears on, I continue to juggle the multiple roles assigned to me. I must act as a teacher, mentor, and disciplinarian, all while ensuring that each student receives the attention and assistance they need. It is a challenging task, but watching my students succeed makes the work worth it.

The students pack up their belongings and attend to their after-school chores. Two of my students are clearing the chalkboard and ridding the erasers of the white dust, and another has taken up sweeping. The children leave the building in pairs and trios as they prepare for the long walk home with their friends. I wrap the shawl back around my shoulders and grab my basket before heading towards the door. I step backward out of the building before pulling the doors closed and locking them. I turn on my heel and head down the same worn path my students left on. I smile to myself as I look back on the day’s activities and accomplishments. It has been a long, yet rewarding, day of work.