Whether you just started school or it’s been decades since you sat in a classroom, chances are you have at least some memories of your first school experiences.
This is a story about a unique school in Caldwell that taught both the original crop of baby boomers as they started their school careers, and the college students who would go on to educate the post-World War II generation, and in some cases, their children and grandchildren.
This private “lab school” opened 60 years ago at Fillmore and 20th streets on The College of Idaho’s campus. There were two classrooms — one for kindergarten and the other for first grade. It was also designed with observation galleries to give C of I students wanting to become teachers an up-close look at how young children learned.
Among the Child Development Center’s original students in fall 1952 was first-grader Chuck Randolph, who went on to become a teacher and associate superintendent in the Caldwell School District. Randolph is a current member of the Caldwell Historic Preservation Commission, an interest he must have inherited at least in part from his mother, who saved newspaper articles, letters to parents, a class photo and even a tuition receipt from the center.
Chuck Randolph recalled lots of music, being on the playground, sitting at a small table with — gasp — a girl, and first-grade teacher Winifred Rugh very carefully forming letters on a green blackboard with ruled lines.
“I just remember it being exciting. It was welcoming. I never remember in that school any instances of bullying or not wanting to be there,” Randolph, now 66, said. “It was just a place I wanted to be.”
Randolph’s classmate Dick Shaw, now the pastor of Caldwell First Baptist Church, also recalled Mrs. Rugh playing songs on her piano in the corner. That corner was where kids were sent for a timeout. Shaw said he was relieved that Cherie Pasley — his “major first-grade crush” — wasn’t there the one day he was sent behind the piano.
“I have little snippets of memory. I was introduced to the story of ‘Chicken Little’ and ‘the sky is falling’ that year … the big expansive windows in the classroom that looked out on 20th Avenue. … I remember the toys being all new. ... That’s when I was learning to tie my shoes,” Shaw said. “I don’t remember much about the academics.”
‘My biggest recollection was those mirrors’
What only some of the young College of Idaho Child Development Center students knew back in 1952 was that they were being observed through one-way mirrors installed to allow their parents and teachers-in-training to watch them at work and play.
“My biggest recollection was those mirrors,” said former first-grader Linda Nicholes, who left Caldwell and has lived in Anaheim, Calif., since the 1970s. Her parents Bob and Mary owned Bob Nicholes Oil and remain in the Treasure Valley. “I remember being puzzled by that and wondering why, what was back there.”
William “Bill” Gigray III attended both kindergarten and first grade at the Child Development Center. Gigray, an attorney who now lives just blocks from his former school, said he knew the classes were being observed.
“You could actually peek beneath the mirror and see people sitting there watching us,” Gigray explained. “It was like looking at silhouettes. … It was just a curiosity, I wasn’t fearful.”
We may never know what the school’s founders made of the fact that some of the young students caught on to the mirrors, but it’s clear from documents saved by Chuck Randolph’s mother that the intent was that the children never be “subject to ‘experimentation.’”
In a letter titled “Directions for Observers,” college students and parents were warned not to talk in the observation gallery. “Bring only notebooks — extra books may cause noise and confusion. We expect a professional attitude. That is, the things you see and hear will be used only for class discussions and class reports. … In case of a fire alarm, remain where you are until all children have left the building.”
The College of Idaho Archivist Jan Boles said the one-way mirrors stayed in place long after the center was closed and the building found a new use.
“Those were left, but the Art Department put peg board over them,” he recalled. “You would become aware of this kind of strange feeling: You could see light peeking through those holes.”
While the mirrors stand out in the minds of the former grade-school children, two now-retired teachers and school administrators who were C of I students at the time said they don’t have clear memories of the observation galleries.
TRAINING A GENERATION OF TEACHERS
Former Caldwell School District superintendent and Idaho legislator Darrel Deide graduated from C of I in 1960.
Deide, who turns 77 this month, remembered enrolling in a methods class where he conducted a science lesson for the 5-year-olds at the lab school.
“I had put these fertilized chicken eggs under the lights. … Then I substituted those eggs with eggs that were ready to hatch,” he recalled. “I wish I had recorded in some fashion the reactions of the kids as they watched with wide eyes” the eggs hatch.
Deide said he was superintendent of Caldwell schools when the Child Development Center was many years later leased to the district for its Gifted and Talented program.
Keitha Hahn was a student teacher at the lab school around the same time as Deide’s experiment. She spent half of her senior year student-teaching kindergarten under Marjorie Deal and the other half in a first-grade classroom at Lincoln Elementary, the same school she retired from as principal four decades later.
While she doesn’t have vivid recollections of what was taught, Hahn said the purpose of demonstration schools was to test new ideas in education.
“That’s the reason they had campus centers,” Hahn explained. “It started me out in a very positive way.”
FILLING A VOID IN CALDWELL EDUCATION
C of I’s Child Development Center opened in the days before public kindergarten, so Randolph said there would have been big discrepancies in the skills of the 6-year-olds entering first grade. Linda Nicholes’ 92-year-old mother, Mary, said she and her husband paid the tuition ($67.50 for kindergarten; $45 for first grade) so that both of their girls got a good start.
“I was pleased with it,” Mary Nicholes recalled. “It was during a time when not many kids were going to kindergarten. I wanted (them) to have that experience.” She added that when Linda transferred to public school for second grade she felt lonely because she didn’t know many of her new classmates and hadn’t learned to tell time.
Linda described herself as “a day dreamy kind of girl probably not ready for first grade. ... My impression was that we got a lot of individual attention. This really helped me get through.”
A newspaper article dated Sept. 9, 1953, reported that enrollment in the Caldwell School’s first grade grew by 100 kids from the previous year — a 56 percent increase. Then-Superintendent Clyde Gilley said Van Buren Elementary’s first-grade classrooms had 44 students each. That’s compared to 14 kids pictured in the Child Development Center’s original first-grade class photo.
Chuck Randolph stuttered and said his parents felt he would do better in a smaller classroom. Throughout public school he said it was assumed, as was common then, that because he had a speech impediment he also had a learning disability. But for that first year, he felt safe.
“The teacher spent time knowing what each of us needed, the individuals’ personalities,” he said nostalgically. “I remember never being put in a position where I would fail.”
And Gigray said he met students at the Child Development Center he would graduate high school with.
“Some of them I have maintained a relationship with to this day.”