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Scarce Funding for 1920s Early Education

A group of 1950s kindergarteners from Emerson School in Flagstaff is pictured on the fire truck across Leroux Street from the fire station.

A group of 1950s kindergarteners from Emerson School in Flagstaff is pictured on the fire truck across Leroux Street from the fire station.

Every year that teacher Anne Tinsley taught kindergarten at Flagstaff’s Emerson School, the 40 or so members of her class got to visit the fire department and sit on the huge fire truck.

The last class in 1950 was no exception. The group is pictured on the fire truck across Leroux Street from the fire station. The children are bundled up and the truck sports tire chains on the rear wheels, so the photograph must have been taken during the winter months.

Mrs. Tinsley, wife of a Northern Arizona University history professor, was one of 10 finalists for Teacher of the Year, before moving into administration as a curriculum adviser. Her kindergarten room was on the sunny south side of the Emerson school building.

Mrs. Tinsley was remembered for her loving but no-nonsense approach to early childhood education.
Kindergarten was available in Flagstaff comparatively early. At first class was in the basement of the Normal School (now Northern Arizona University).

But by the 1940s, kindergarten was being held in the two Flagstaff elementary schools. One of the kindergarten teachers from that time, Alma Bunch, remembers that her class at South Beaver School consisted of 46 students whose winter dress ranged from little coats and little galoshes to old blankets. “One child had her feet in newspapers, and I just let her wear the newspapers through the morning because I didn’t think I’d ever get them back on in a way to protect her feet.”

The move toward early childhood education started early in many places. A resident of St. Johns, Arizona, remembers that in 1908 she was too young to attend regular school, but did attend “something like a kindergarten, where we spent lots of time lacing yarn into the holes punched in cardboard animals.” Her name was Maud Isaacson Pace and she was given a prize for good work.

By the 1920s the National Kindergarten Association was setting basic standards for curriculum and providing research and support for kindergarten programs. The association proposed that reading, writing, arithmetic, music and art would be introduced as a “period of preparation” for the primary grades. Being read to, holding a pencil and counting numbers would set the stage for the advanced work in the first grade.

The association also pointed out that kindergarten was a help to mothers: “With her child in its care, she can better attend to home duties.”

In 1920 Arizona began certifying teachers in early education and kindergarten through third grade, but funding for the programs was scarce. In 1932, the Legislature refused to fund both kindergarten and adult manual training classes for school districts.

Two years later, however, the districts, which had been supporting kindergartens with local money, returned to the state to request funding for a pre-primer group organized within the first grade. That plan was funded by the Legislature.

Today, kindergarten programs are once more the subject of legislative debate.

— Joan Brundige-Baker. Photo courtesy Cline Library, Northern Arizona University.

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