By RACHAEL LONG / Photos courtesy of the City of Brentwood, Boiling Spring Academy Facebook page
As soon as they step off the bus at the one-room schoolhouse in Primm Park, second graders are told to turn in a circle.
By the time they come back around, they’ve been transported back in time to 1845, where they’ll spend the day learning about what life was once like for school children.
This is part of the introduction Historic Commission chairwoman Anne Goad said students experience during the Boiling Spring Academy, which begins next week.
Each day, second grade classes from Brentwood city schools are invited to visit the academy which sits on a Smithsonian-excavated and well-recognized prehistoric site which was once home to Mississippian mound builders. The property, also known as the Fewkes Site, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Guided by retired teachers who transform into schoolmarms for the day, the second graders have a spelling bee, a lesson on ciphering and are even exposed to a dunce stool with a cone hat.
“The kids think it’s kind of fun,” Goad said. “Especially the boys like to volunteer for being in trouble, and they have to go sit on the school with their back to the classroom and their nose in the corner…And they like that discipline. They really do.”
The 1830-era school house and surrounding parkland are owned by the City of Brentwood, after the Primm family donated the two acres in 2003.
By 2005, Goad says the educational program was up and running.
“We thought it would be so cool for kids to see how school used to be,” Goad said. “We came up with a curriculum, and it’s totally kid-centered.”
Goad says the curriculum has varied a bit over the years based on the Williamson County curriculum guidelines. The second grade class curriculum, she says, is best suited for the educational trip.
While a few things change year to year, there are a few staples of the experience that stay the same. During what Goad says is a “real school day,” the children sit in nineteenth century-era desks reproduced by a Brentwood man with an affinity for woodworking, use real slates which were once used by school children for writing, and eat the kind of lunch they would have had access to in that time.
Lunchables, Goad said, are not included in that list.
“The moms, over time, have talked to each other about it, I think,” Goad said. “They’ll have like an old paint can that they’ll put a napkin in, and they might have a baked potato in there, they might have a boiled egg, they might have a biscuit. But they don’t have a hamburger.”
The schoolhouse has no heat, no air conditioning and no electricity. As a result, Goad said the academy visit dates are limited to spring and fall. As long as weather holds, Goad said the students are given a tour of the ceremonial mound and educated about the history and significance of the site, roughly dated from 900 to 1450 AD.
The schoolhouse was originally created as a place for sons of wealthy landowners to be schooled, Goad said, which is why it was built so nicely. Because of the materials used, Goad says there is some speculation that the schoolhouse may have been built by the same builders who constructed the Ravenswood Mansion, built in 1825.
Some of the boys may have boarded with families in the area, according to the Historic Commission page on the city website.
Only years later, in January of 1887, did the private school morph into a Williamson County public school. Around 1900, the school began also being used as a church, which continued until around 1918.
These days the Boiling Spring Academy is open to the public on the third Sunday of each month from April to October.
Goad says the Historic Commission would like to open the academy more often or to county students, but the commission funds the entire experience, and all funds must be raised.
“We just do the best we can with what we have and the limited time we can use the building,” Goad said.
Despite these constraints, when the academy is used, Goad said it’s a hit.
She says it’s not uncommon for the second graders to come back, excited to show their parents or siblings what they learned about on the field trip.
The academy is an unique experience for the kids, but Goad said it’s also a horizon-widening adventure, which can open the doors of children’s’ minds in ways they may not have been opened before.
“It’s really the old quotation, ‘If you don’t know history, you’re doomed to repeat it,’” Goad said. “It’s just the exposure to a real world … Giving them a taste of how things used to be may hopefully trigger something in them … The second they find out one or two things about history, it’s going to open their eyes.”
For more information on the Boiling Spring Academy, visit the Historic Commission’s informational website here, or contact the City of Brentwood at (615) 371-0060.