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There used to be more than 90 one-room schools in SLO County — each one with a story

Despite this exuberance, Banning School pupils have mixed emotions about beginning summer vacation in 1965. The Banning one-room schoolhouse was located east of Morro Bay.
Despite this exuberance, Banning School pupils have mixed emotions about beginning summer vacation in 1965. The Banning one-room schoolhouse was located east of Morro Bay. Telegram-Tribune

Before cars and helicopter parents, schools were scattered across the county, walking distance from home.

In 1908, the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram published a list of county schools and the state funds allocated — all 94 of them by my count, Alamo to West Pecho. Almost all the schools, each their own tiny district, received $5.50 from the state that year.

Students who went on to high school would go to town to continue their education.

Areas typically were known by their school. The Banning tract, near “Morro City,” is mentioned in the San Luis Obispo Tribune on Nov. 20, 1880 as a location for the Perinoni Dairy.

Mark Hall-Patton’s book “Memories of the Land” catalogs county place names and said the district may have been named for Mary Hollister Banning, second wife of Phineas Banning and daughter of John Hollister, who donated the land for the school. It was located near today’s Highway 1 east of Morro Bay in dairy country. The school district was created in 1896.

The Telegram and Tribune (two separate newspapers then) published frequent notes, marking teacher arrivals in September and departures in June for a vacation at home.

“Miss Katherine McKenzie, teacher of the Banning school has gone to Lodi, where she will spend the summer,” wrote the Daily Telegram on June 21, 1920.

Given their small size, a personal crisis could close a school.

The Daily Telegram wrote on Oct. 18, 1920: “C.B. Pittman, teacher at Lower Banning school, resigned his position last week and the school will be closed until another teacher can be secured. This makes six schools in the county that have bee[n] closed on account of shortage of teachers. Mr. Pittman resigned on account of his health.”

The school did not reopen for almost a month.

In the 1960s the era of one-room school houses was winding down.

Gilbert Moore wrote this Telegram-Tribune story on June 11, 1965:

School is fun at Banning; kids hate to see term end

Pupils at the little red Banning schoolhouse ended the term and began summer vacations Thursday with smiles on their faces but regrets in their hearts.

In exclusive interviews with all eight students at the one-room country school between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, the Telegram-Tribune learned that Banning stands pretty high in the estimation of its undergraduates.

Miss Willette Smith, 9, says: “I don’t want it to end right now. I’d like school to last another week, because I like it pretty well.” She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.H. “Red” Smith and will be in fifth grade next fall.

Her sister, Michelle, 8, a second grader, agrees because “the teacher is so nice.” The teacher, Mrs. Ruth Moyer, “lets us do art work on Fridays all the time, and sometimes on Mondays and Tuesdays,” adds Michelle.

This summer she will pursue her ambition to become a “cowgirl.” She has a mount: “it’s a bucking bronco too. It’s a Shetland. I can’t even get on it.”

Mr. Timothy Perry, 7, who just completed the first grade, allows that school is “fine. I like to do stuff here.” Timmy was asked if he had a dog. He does.

“His name is King — and his last name is Kong,” said Mr Perry. He is also a sportsman: “hide and go seek, kick the can, any game.”

His parents are Mr. and Mrs. George Perry. Timmy’s father and grandmother, Mrs Evelyn Nicola Perry attended Banning School before him.

His brother Michael “Mike” Perry, 8, wants to be a teacher eventually “Because I could teach everybody things.” The second grader thinks school is A-OK because there are a bunch of children that I can play with.”

Miss Denise Caligari, 8, and Mike’s second grade classmate, sees some advantage in vacation: “I don’t have to get up so early.” Her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Dalton Caligari. Her father and grandmother, Mrs. Luella Flood Caligari are Banning School alums.

Two new pupils, here since May 18, are Christine Myers, 9 1/2 and her brother Harry, 12 1/2. Christine came from the big city, Santa Margarita, but prefers Banning because “Santa Margarita had too many rooms. The [lessons] fourth grader likes are best “cause I can draw.” [sic]

Harry Myers, a sixth grader, sees a certain advantage in one-room country schools. “The teacher has more time to talk to you and teach you things,” he believes. This summer “I might go skindiving with my uncle.” They are the children of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Myers.

The student that Mrs. Moyer calls “my standby” is Russell Alan Mendes, 11 1/2 who will be in sixth grade next fall.

The son of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel Mendes, he formerly lived in Templeton but believes that “in a big school you hardly meet most of your classmates.” He is sort of an elder statesmen to the younger students; his favorite is Timmy Perry, the first grader.

Mrs. Moyer, who has been teaching for 35 or 36 years, says rural schools are “a tremendous amount of fun. Never go into teaching unless you love it. I’ve loved all of mine.”

Banning School may run only one more year; after unification the pupils there may go to town.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp

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