In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Scarborough: They Called It Owascoag

A Look Inside the Classroom Over Time

The school system in Scarborough has seen many changes over the past 352 years. In order to demonstrate to you how far we have come in education, Scarborough Middle School students invite you to travel back in time to witness the evolution of a variety of things found in any Scarborough classroom today.

Ian, grade 8

School items on display at the Scarborough Historical Society
School items on display at the Scarborough Historical Society

Student testing has gradually transformed over the years into what we know today. The history of standardized testing dates back to the late 1870s when an “Eighth Grade Examination” was administered to students over the course of two days. The results would decide whether or not the individual could or could not attend high school. As time went on, teachers began to conduct their own end of the day quizzes. Each student would be quizzed orally while standing in front of the rest of the class. In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past and the Present, Rodney Laughton recalled testing in the 1960s. “We also had to memorize lists of simple spelling words, posted on the blackboard every Monday. By Friday came the dreaded spelling test.”

Today, students are regularly tested from kindergarten up until high school (as well as college if attended.) The tests are taken by the entire class at one time, quietly, and on paper or on the computer. There are no longer tests which determine admittance to high school, but the PSAT's, SAT's, and various others are important for students trying to get accepted into college.

Abbie, grade 8

Scarborough teachers have changed greatly over the past years. The first school committee hired the town its first school master in March 1730. This school master taught alternately ¼ of the time at Black Point and then at Dunstan. In 1735 the town hired another school master, Robert Bailey. He was paid in lumber, a common form of pay at the time. By that time the school had one official school, this was in the Prouts Neck section of Black Point. Scarborough had difficulty attracting teachers, because of its rural wilderness. But by 1846 Maine State Legislature set up a Board of Education that paid the teachers’ salaries from common taxes and helped attract teachers.

In the 19th century the sole classroom teacher was usually an unmarried young woman, sometimes with students even older than herself. She would use the most basic resources, slate, chalk, and a few books. With these resources she would teach literacy, penmanship, arithmetic, and “good manners”, with recitation, drilling, and oral quizzes. Most teachers rotated living with local families.

As time went on schools required more teachers, and in 1877 Edmund Fogg taught a class of about 30 students at Scarborough High School. One year later another teacher, William G. Lord, was hired at the high school and was often praised for his ability to teach. With more students and more teachers the school system kept growing larger and larger. And now the approximately 75 teachers at Scarborough High School require special training and a degree. Now there are more subjects, which require more teachers, and different, more varied teaching methods.

Anders, grade 8

19th century school desk on display at the Scarborough Historical Society
19th century school desk on display at the Scarborough Historical Society

Furniture in schools has changed much over time. In early schools, the students sat on three legged stools or long benches at narrow tables. These stools and tables were often made out of pine or oak boards by the students' parents. By 1880, children sat in individual desks that were bolted to the floor, all facing towards the front of the room, and the teacher. Girls and boys sat on separate sides and the younger smaller children sat towards the front of the room, with the older larger children in back. Students rarely faced each other and had little interaction.

By 1930, most desks were portable, but were still used in the same way as the old desks and tables. However, in the 1960s, round tables became common to encourage students to work together. Today, portable desks and tables are common in schools. Interaction among students is expected and the teacher no longer is the center of attention, the learning is.

Amara, grade 7

Blackboards have evolved over the years but their function is still a part of many schools today. The first blackboard was used in a Philadelphia school in 1809. These early blackboards were made of pine and coated with a mixture of egg whites and carbon from charred potatoes. The students and teachers wrote on the boards with chunks of chalk and erased with cloth rags.

Soon, the slate board was invented and it was then that teachers switched to cylinders of soft white chalk -closer to what we have now- and felt erasers. These were easier to make, so instead of just one board in the classroom, each child was given their own. This made it a lot easier for teachers to teach their students because after she taught a lesson the students could practice it on their own. Chalkboards, as they were called because they came in green, continued to be found on the walls of many classrooms for many years.

These boards have progressed all the way to current day where we use whiteboards also know as dry-erase boards. These are much easier to write on and erase. They allow for colored markers, but still require felt erasers. Teachers use them everyday to write down assignments, correct homework, and teach new topics. White boards have become a big part of the school day and are an important tool in learning. Some classrooms even have SMART boards, interactive whiteboards that combine a whiteboard with a computer.

Extra Curricular
Danielle, grade 6

The Scarborough School System's extra curricular activities have changed and grown since an early start. At first, the schools offered very few extra-curricular activities. One of the first few was a prize declamation which offered students a chance to compete and win prizes by singing, reading, or reciting poems or other pieces. Schools from Beech Ridge, Oak Hill, and Dunstan participated in the event, with one hundred and eighty-five people attending. By the 1920's, the schools had formed a school orchestra, agricultural clubs, a senior fair and drama production, public speaking contest, and a girl's club.

By the 1950's, Scarborough’s extra curricular opportunities flourished, with student council, 4-H, a hobby club, a junior Red Cross organization, and a French Club. Many clubs competed and won awards. They had a girl's glee club, boasting around sixty members, and a boy's glee club, with fifteen. Thespian students could participate in one-act plays, and in the 1950's, the high school added the Future Homemakers of America, National Honor Society, a band, and a choir. With the 1960's came a medical club, a junior rescue organization, a ski club, pep club, future teachers of America, and a volunteer production staff.

Today, we have a wide range of sports, clubs and activities to choose from, including student council, drama club, chess club, various music clubs and a chorus, extra-curricular academic activities, and many, many, more.

Connor, grade 6

Schools have not always had adequate heating, in fact, some schools didn’t have heat at all. In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present , Elaine Frederick Killelea recalled the heating conditions at Black Point School in the 1930s. She said, “Each year the lavatory and drinking fountain at the front of the classroom froze in December and remained frozen until April.” Heating in schools was provided by a potbelly stove in the back of the classroom. The children closest to the heater were uncomfortably warm and had trouble fighting off drowsiness. The corners and front of the room were so cold students had to wear multiple layers of clothing and sometimes even a hat. The oldest boy was appointed the janitor and had to arrive at school early, bring in the wood or coal and keep the fire going throughout the day. In 1938 an eight grader named Harold "Scoot" Richardson was the janitor for Black Point School and according to the Scarborough Town Report he was paid $9 for the year for this service.

Today, heat in the schools is automated and overseen by the facilities director for the school department. Luckily, students are no longer required to play a role in the process of keeping the school warm.

John, grade 6

Maine was the first state to seize the potential of technology in classrooms
Maine was the first state to seize the potential of technology in classrooms

Technology in the schools is constantly evolving. In the late 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s, schools didn't have computers, or high-quality projectors, or several televisions. They had to do everything by hand or in bad quality. They only had abacuses (old-fashioned calculators), stereoscopes (a hand-held viewing instrument that created three-dimensional images of landscapes, plants and animals), low-quality televisions, radios, and projectors.

Most of the technology found in schools of the past seems archaic to us. In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present Rodney Laughton described watching a movie, “Occasionally, we saw a 'film strip,' similar to a slide show; watching a movie was always a big event. The teacher rolled a large, bulky projector on a cart into the classroom. The movies were reel-to-reel and usually featured newsreel type productions.” Nowadays, we have 1:1 laptop access, TVs, high quality DVD or CD players, and LCD projectors. All of these technological tools are essential for teachers and students on a daily basis.

Olivia, grade 6

During the 17th and 18th centuries discipline was much different than nowadays. There were many different forms, but all resembled one another. In the early 1800s many schools used wooden canes if a child misbehaved. Soon after in the 1850's the leather strap and hickory switch were introduced to classrooms across the country. These tools were primarily used as motivation to behave and were often kept behind the teacher's desk. They were there just to let children know what could happen if they needed to be taught a lesson different from what was being taught in class that day.

If children only mildly misbehaved, doing things such as disrupting class or talking out of turn, there would be a few consequences. Either their desk would be moved into the corner of the room and they would have to stay there for the remainder of the day, or they would have to stand in the corner facing the wall. If there was a problem on the playground the child who caused it would be sent in for the rest of recess. Big issues usually never arose but if they did the teachers knew how to handle them. In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present Rodney Laughton explained how teachers kept order at Oak Hill Primary in the 1960s. They told us to “sit up straight and fold your hands.”

Nowadays discipline is much different in Scarborough schools. Instead of physical punishment children are given punished verbally or given a written slip. Warning slips are given out for not being prepared for class, and if you were to break the rules in a bigger way you may have to serve detention. If you are mildly misbehaving a teacher may pull you out into the hall or speak at you in front of the class. Discipline has changed very much in the last 200 years, and it is still being modified slightly every year to encourage acceptable behavior.

Andy, grade 6

Student transportation, also known as the school bus, has been very important in Scarborough for may years. At first most students walked to school, but some students rode a bus, a bus that was very different from today’s busses. In Scarborough 350: Linking the Past and The Present Margery Miliken tells about taking the bus to Dunstan School in the 1920s.

“We had the first school bus in town, pulled by a team of horses. The conveyance, built of wood, was rectangular in shape with seats along either side facing each other. The door was in the rear and the driver seat up front. Mr. Small drove the team of two horses with the reins going out through a small opening. Fall and spring it traveled on wheels and in the winter on runners.
The number of school children riding school buses in Scarborough has risen dramatically since then and the standard yellow school bus delivers students to and from school daily. Currently, Scarborough has 29 school busses in its fleet.

Kristen, grade 7

Graduations ceremonies have not always been what they are now. In the past, diplomas were still handed out, but they were very different. Diplomas were made with sheepskin, were hand- written and tied with a ribbon. This is where the saying “Hang your sheep skin on the wall” came from. The diplomas were rolled, but because it became hard to hang them, they are no longer rolled. In the past, very few kids attended school every day because of work at home. This made it so very few kids actually graduated. Fortunately, the number of kids graduating has increased over the years.

In 2010, almost 300 kids are graduating from Scarborough High School. Diplomas are still handed out, but they are not rolled. They are often plastered on to a mat to make them firm. Often people frame them and hang them in their house. Now “Pomp and Circumstance” is played while students are graduating and receiving their diplomas. This is how graduations have changed.

Slates and Slate Pencils
Laura, grade 7

Photo of slate boards taken by students
Photo of slate boards taken by students

Over the years, the writing utensils that students use have drastically changed. In the past, kids wrote on small tablets called slates with thin cylinders of rock called slate pencils. These slates were approximately book-sized, and were carried with the student to and from school each day. Because everything that was written on the slates was erased, kids had to memorize everything they were taught during the school day. In those days, a good memory characterized a good student.

Eventually, slates and slate pencils were discarded and manufactured pencils and paper were used. These had many benefits that the slates did not have. For example, slate pencils were very wide, which made it hard to write neatly and quickly. The new writing utensils did not have these disadvantages, and were considered a great invention. Slates and slate pencils are no longer used for writing, but are an integral part of the history of our schools. Without them, who knows where we would be now?

Talya, grade 7

Photo of books taken by students
Photo of books taken by students

In early times, classroom books were quite different. Back then, there were multiple books in each classroom, for a while there was only one. The first book introduced to classrooms was the Bible. It was used for most of the children's education, not only for its content, but for building basic reading skills. Much of the school day was devoted to memorizing and reciting passages from it and practicing penmanship by copying them down.

Putting aside the Bible, the first true schoolbook was a textbook entitled “New England Primer” and was used between 1760 and 1843. The most popular schoolbook of the nineteenth century was first introduced in 1936 and it was entitled The McGuffey Reader. The Reader sold tens of millions of copies only in the nineteenth century alone. The books came in a set of six and each book progressed in difficulty for each student's separate reading needs. They also helped making teaching classes of mixed ages and grades easier to manage. The books were used for teaching literacy and, like the Bible, basic values.

In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present, Francis K. Marsh, remembers books in school.

"That first day, the teacher laid a big geography book on my desk and another one on Joe's to keep us occupied while she attended to paperwork from other classes. No one heard a peep out of us for the rest of the day. With those pictures to spark curiosity and all those unknown words to wonder at, by the time four o'clock came, the first grade was totally motivated. It wasn't long before Joe and I had another book put into our hands. It was green with orange letters and said something like A Child's First Reader. On the first page we were introduced to Dickie Dare, who taught us much about the printed word.”
Now in our schools we have many textbooks for each subject. It is also common for online books to be used and Internet sites full of information. We still use the standard books for reading in class and for the usual research and such, but we are not completely dependent on them as they were in the past

Pens, Ink, and Paper
Isabelle, grade 7

Photo of pen and ink taken by students
Photo of pen and ink taken by students

Quill pens and ink were commonly used before pencils and regular pens were invented. Quill pens were used for writing that would be exhibited or important writing tasks, since penmanship was considered an important skill and the appearance was more important than the accuracy. The teacher would whittle the tips of the quills out of goose feathers, and they also made the ink. In the cities, the ink was easier to make, because the ink consisted of only ink powder and water mixed together, while in the country, it was made of lampblack or tannic acid from oak trees mixed with light oil. Ink could also be made from swamp maple bark and copperas. Writing with quill pens and ink could be very messy, so the students used blotting paper to soak up any excess ink from the pages to prevent smearing when they were finished.

In the 1870s, mass-produced paper was inexpensive enough to use in the everyday classroom which allowed students to write and keep longer pieces of work. Although some artists use ink today for certain pictures, we mostly use pens that do not require refilling of ink. In fact, students at Scarborough Middle School barely use pens and pencils for writing because they use laptops to electronically type out their work

Jonathan, grade 6

In the nineteenth century kids would play in the school yard before school. When it was time for kids to come in a teacher would stand in the doorway and ring a bell unless the school had a bell tower. Kids needed to stay close enough to the school so that they could hear the bell or they would be punished for being late.

Today some schools use a bell or buzzer over the intercom to tell when a class period ends. This system provides structure for kids who have to go to many different classrooms during the day. Classes end when the bell rings so teachers have to plan their lessons to fit the period lengths. However, at Scarborough Middle School we don't use bells for this purpose.

Jess, grade 7

Generally, the American flag hangs from a pole outside every school. Every day, children would go outside to recite the Pledge and the Lord's Prayer. In the 1920s, the Pledge of Allegiance was introduced, and in the mid-century, all public schools were reciting the Pledge.

The American Flag has a long and fascinating history. In May of 1776, Betsy Ross, often known as the maker of the American Flag, reported that she had sewed the first American Flag. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, shown here: "Resolved, that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new Constellation." Now, our flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, representing the original 13 colonies, with 50 stars for our fifty states

Today, the flag hangs inside each classroom in the Scarborough schools. On Mondays and Thursdays at the Middle School, we stand up and recite the Pledge. Although the Pledge of Allegiance is not the same ritual it was in the 1920s, we continue to honor our country.

School Lunch
Drew, grade 7

School lunch is a necessity that has expanded over the years. In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present, it states that the hot lunch program began in 1919, but they only had hot cocoa. Luckily, a short time later, the menu added bread, butter, meat, clam or fish chowder, and donuts. At that point, hot lunch cost from six to twelve cents a meal. Prior to the hot lunch program many students went home for lunch or brought lunch. Warren Delaware recalled bringing his own lunch to Dunstan School in the 1920s.“I carried a sandwich and a jar of milk. Once a year, they would have lunch at school. They’d bring baked beans all hot in a bucket.”

Many kids still bring cold lunches from home, but hot lunch can be extra popular on days with everyone's favorite foods. At Scarborough Middle School you can regularly get pizza, sandwiches, chips and more. Plus, each day there is a special. There is also a lunch account to help keep track of your lunch purchases, which is around a dollar for any item. They still don'€™t have donuts though.

Emily, grade 8

Attitudes towards homework in America in general have shifted with the changing times, and the homework levels in Scarborough were no exception to this rule. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when many children seldom went to school, if at all, the homework they were given was limited to rote memorization. As society progressed onward to the early 20th century, school was considered much more important, but homework was blamed for children's problems and was rarely given. The American school system stayed this way until the fifties, when the Soviet Union launched the first spacecraft. At this point, the government insisted that the school curriculums should become much more rigorous to try and educate American children in math and science, in hopes that they would grow up to help their country become number one in space innovations once again.

In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present, Rodney Laughton recalls school life in the 1960s. “We had no backpacks and no homework, and we kept all our school books at school.” Throughout the next fifty years, homework cycled in and out of fashion, with its popularity peaking in the 1980s. Where will it go next? That is up to educators to determine.

Kevin, grade 8

Over time, the curriculum for Scarborough High School has drastically changed. As our society evolves, new curricula have emerged to match these changes. In 1915, there were only two required courses to be completed for each year. These courses were different levels of math and English for each year until fourth year they took U.S. History in the place of math. The number of electives to chose from was much lower than today. Freshmen in 1915 had a choice of three electives and all other years had five.

In our modern high school, each year students are given a packet listing many different classes to chose from. We got to this point over the years as our economy has grown, and the population has increased. This way, they have the ability to hire more teachers for the students. With more teachers, the school can offer a much wider variety of classes. As more and more teachers were hired, the curriculum expanded, with 4 core courses, and 3 other blocks to fill with electives and study halls. Now, as standards have been raised, everybody does some classes that are more difficult than what was offered a century ago.

Emma, grade 8

Students celebrate MCHP with cake
Students celebrate MCHP with cake

Christmas, Easter, Passover, Chinese New Year, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Yom Kippur are all major holidays in the United States. Some of them like Easter, and Passover are religious holidays, while others like Thanksgiving are native just to America. In school nowadays, holidays aren't celebrated as much. Part of it is most likely the lack of money and the other part is about not wanting to offend people of certain religions. But, in the past, holidays played a role in school life.

Holidays were sometimes celebrated by a party during school, study of the history of a certain holiday, or a performance. Gifts were often exchanged. In Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present, Elaine Frederick Killelea shares her her memories of holidays in school in the 1930s. "We drew names of course, and spent twenty-five cents on the gifts we would swap. And the most exciting of all, we put on a show for our families. This was the one time of the year that our parents came to school for this evening party." In the Middle School today, we celebrate events like House Assemblies and CSS rather than holidays.


1. School: The Story of American Public Education,

2. Susan Dudley Gold, ed., Scarborough at 350: Linking the Past to the Present (Scarborough, ME: Friends of the 350th, 2007)