EDUCATION Little School

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 13: EDUCATION
Series 19: STUDENTS
Little School
1920s – present

EDUCATION Little School

07_2449 Little School 1934-35. Franky-Sary, Polly, Doris, Charles, Herman, Alison, Bob, John, Evelyn, Elmer, Minnie, Mai, Chester, Joe, Una, Wadie(?). [098_IX_students_07_2449001.jpg]

TAGS: Education, Little School, preschool education, early intervention programs, Head Start, rural education, correspondence, Katherine Pettit, Glyn Morris, Mildred Mahoney, Burton Rogers, Mary Rogers, Robin Lambert, Rebecca Caudill Ayars, libraries

EDUCATION Little School

EDUCATION LITTLE SCHOOL is an overview of the “Little School” history at Pine Mountain Settlement School from the 1920s to the present. The Little School’s mission was to address educational, social, and health issues of three-and four-year-old children living in the area.

"The Little School," depicted in PMSS "Dear Friend" fundraising letter, 1935. [pmss archives_little school-dear_friends_1935_04_002.jpg]

EDUCATION Little School 1920s

In the PMSS Collection, the Little School was mentioned as early as the late 1920s in the list of Boarding School Students 1929-1949. The following are names associated with the entry “Little School”:

Amy Pennington 1927-1932
Sally Day 1934
Shirley Day 1935
Elizabeth Day 1936
Barry Day 1936
Hazel Day 1936
Earl Cornett 1937
Walta Morgan 1937


Director Katherine Pettit, in her undated letter to Angela Melville, expressed her concerns about the future of the “little school.” (The letter was probably written during the time Miss Melville served as the associate director for two years following the death of Ethel Zande in 1928.)

Mrs. Kiegle writes very enthusiastically about her little school, which reminds me that she said that she could not have it long. I do hope that it can continue. Have you any one in mind for it[?] I wish we could get the same volunteer to continue on thru the spring and summer. Do the Kenneth Nolan’s come[?] Is there any one writing to come who would do[?]

In a letter dated November 25, 1930, to the recently retired director, Katherine Pettit, Director Hubert Hadley relates this “Little School” anecdote:

I wish you could see the Little School for the children are adorable. Miss Semones, their teacher, has written a little play for them to give tomorrow night — but it isn’t going to be produced exactly as written. Little Una [Ritchie]  (whom Miss Semones calls Oonah) was given the line “Hail to the flag” to say, but invariably when it came her turn to speak she said, “Hell to the flag” and the line had to be changed to “Allegiance to the flag” to suit her tongue!

A few years later, on June 5, 1936, Director Glyn Morris responded to Esther Weller‘s inquiry about employment by describing the status of “Little School” at that time:

June 5, 1936
Miss Esther Weller,
Antioch College,
Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Dear Miss Weller:

I have received your letter of May 30th, and a letter from Miss Willett, dated June 2nd, regarding the opening in our Little School.

At the present time I am waiting to hear from our county School Superintendent, as to whether or not the county intends to make its usual financial contribution towards the salary of the Little School teacher. I expect to hear from him shortly, and will then know definitely whether or not we can engage a salaried worker for this position this year. In the event that the county makes any changes, it will be necessary for us to secure a volunteer worker. In this event we pay transportation to and from the school, and a small monthly payment of ten dollars. This is our usual arrangement with volunteer workers. If the county plans to continue the present arrangement, however, the position will be open at a salary of thirty-five dollars a month, with room, board and laundry.

No doubt Miss Willett has told you a good deal about the work as it has been narrated by Miss Thomas to her. The Little School is primarily for a few of the local children who live too far away from the county school to make it convenient for them to attend…..Then too, the Little School takes care of a few of the children from our boarding school who cannot carry the work in the upper departments. It is highly individualized work and requires a good deal of resourcefulness and initiative….

Sincerely yours,
Glyn Morris

LITTLE SCHOOL 1960s: The Most Active Years

In 1965 Julie Sugarman, the first director of the National Head Start program, launched a summer school model program that would look to the educational needs of low-income pre-school age children as they and their families started the journey into the national educational system. Conceived as an early intervention program, the summer Head Start program with the support of government grants was planned to address educational, social, and health issues of low-income children who were often disadvantaged by entry into an educational system that favored the model of stable family life, strong social coping skills and parents who had either nurtured literacy skills or paid for expensive early childhood education programs prior to enrolling them in the public schools. The national Head Start program was largely based on lessons learned in urban environments and initially incorporated and focused on children with disabilities

The National Head Start program was administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The program was launched by the Office of Economic Opportunity‘s Community Action Program as an eight-week summer program in 1964. According to History PMSS Summary 1963-1964: “A summer ‘Little School’ was organized as a pre-school experience for 46 4 to 6-year-olds. Four PMSS teachers and 62 volunteer aides from Grades 7 – 10 provided an exciting school readiness experience for these youngsters.”

In 1965 it received the blessing of Congress as a year-round program. The year-round program of Head Start was part of the comprehensive social programs launched by President Lyndon Johnson during the so-call “War on Poverty” years. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the purpose of year-round Head Start was conceived to be the provision of educational, health, and social services for pregnant mothers, children from birth to age five, and their families. Through the channels of preschool education, medical treatment, nutrition and developmental screenings, children were believed to be better prepared to enter the mainstream educational system. The 1965 program was greatly expanded by the Head Start Act of 1981 and was later revised in 2007. It touched the early lives of millions of children and their families in the United States but was presented with debilitating political challenges as the new millennium got underway. It has not flourished well as many states sought to remove or reduce services.

Little School at Pine Mountain was begun in 1963, two years before the national Head Start program was sanctioned. It might be considered as a pilot of the national program as it followed many of the same guidelines as the later national program. While the national program had been shaped largely by needs identified in urban environments, eastern Kentucky was rural. Children in rural environments sometimes had additional challenges such as isolation from peers and little opportunity to engage peers in daily interaction, lack of experience with supervision other than a family member or relative, and little knowledge of the expectations of a public school setting. Studies were beginning to demonstrate that early intervention in a preschool program could give younger children a better chance at engaging the demands of public schools with success if there were early intervention and support.

Little School at Pine Mountain Settlement School pre-dated the institution of the national Head Start program by almost two years and some have suggested that it was the first “head start” program in the country. Established in 1973 the Pine Mountain Program was conceived by Mildred Mahoney, a teacher at Pine Mountain in the Community School, and Burton Rogers, the Director of Pine Mountain Settlement School and a Yale graduate. While earlier than the national initiative, the Pine Mountain program was founded on many of the same principles as those established by Dr. Robert Cooke, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University, who had received his undergraduate degree at Yale, and Dr. Edward Zigler, a professor of psychology and later director of the Yale Child Study Center. It is Zigler who has been described as the “father” of the national Head Start program, but as Dr. Robert Cooke describes it in his oral history, the idea for Head Start* began with Susan Gray, a teacher at Peabody College in Nashville. It was carried forward by Zigler and Cooke as part of the War on Poverty programs.

Pine Mountain, founded in 1913, had in fact been engaged in the “Little School” concept since its inception. The earliest years of the School found very young children taken into the program as families lacked the ability to care for the children or a home lost the father or the mother. Pine Mountain was not an orphanage, but in the very early years, it served some of the same functions for many mountain families.

Mary Rogers in her The Pine Mountain Story (1980) describes the “Little School” of the 1960s:

In 1963 a “Little School” was organized for the summer months. To staff it, help was sought from sixth to tenth-grade students. Amazingly, nearly all of the eligible ones (over sixty of them) volunteered. The home of every pre-school child was visited more than once to familiarize parents with the idea, and to acquaint children with their teachers, parents promised contributions in kind to furnish a hot lunch. Exciting weeks followed as small students learned to play together, eat together, and to take naps. They went for science walks about the grounds and in the woods; they listened to stories and looked at books in the library; in art lessons they experimented with lots clay and finger paint; they had reading readiness sessions; they sang songs and listened to music. They played on the playground and tried out the swimming pool.

Their older brothers and sisters worked with them as volunteers, conducting them from place to place, helping with their clothes, preparing and serving their meals, and presenting reading readiness activities. Through this service the older ones learned more about child care, discipline and education, as bona fide staff members, than they could have learned in a year sitting at desks as pupils. After two years of Little School in the summer, Pine Mountain decided to sponsor and finance a year-round pre-school. Two years later this was funded by Title l.

In the early sixties government pre-school programs such as Title I and Headstart were being initiated as part of Area Renewal. The originator of the Pine Mountain kindergarten program, having pioneered in the work here, was able to offer valuable advice from the fruit of her experience in helping train teachers for these new government programs. 

*[“In the early years, some 700,000 children enrolled at a per-capita cost of $2,000 to $3,000 (2011 dollars). Under the full-time program (Head Start), enrollment dropped to under 400,000 by the early 1970s. Enrollment reached close to 1 million children by 2011.”]

See also: REBECCA CAUDILL (AYARS) PMSS Little School Endorsement

LITTLE SCHOOL 1990s – present

By the late 1990s, Robin Lambert was the director of Pine Mountain School. She reports in the Notes From the Pine Mountain Settlement School of Summer 1998,

This spring and summer saw the successful continuation of a 4-H program for fourth through eighth graders, and a weekly “Little School” providing school readiness and other activities for three- and four-year-olds.

Pine Mountain Settlement School, in the interest of providing for the educational needs of the mountain children, had not forgotten the smallest of those children. For various reasons, including economic, there were gaps in the execution of the program over time. However, the pressing need for preschool education was ever present and the program was resumed several times over the School’s 100-year-plus existence.

In the Spring 2016 issue of Notes From the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Director Geoff Marietta reported that, after a 15-year hiatus, the “Little School” program is once again in operation.


See Also:
EDUCATION Guide to Sources
Series 13: EDUCATION (Private)