School started up again this week. North Carolina state law mandates 180 days of school today, but Mitchell County’s student population a century ago didn’t get that many days of instruction. Like other rural children, they were likely to attend school in the winter when there were fewer outside chores at home, or during the longer daylight of summer, than during the spring or fall when they were needed to help with the crops.
Students often attended subscription schools, which arose when parents in a community would raise enough money to hire a teacher to instruct their children for a certain length of time. Sometimes children would board with relatives if there was no school close to their own home.
Education in the WNC lagged for many reasons, ranging from the Civil War to the economic isolation of mountain counties. This didn’t begin to improve until the NC General Assembly enacted the School Machinery Act in 1931-33; the law moved most of the costs of education from the county level to the State, with funding coming from a new state sales tax.
In 1931 North Carolina mandated 6 months of education in a school year; the State increased the requirement to 9 months of instruction in 1943. Twelve grades were instituted in 1942, with compulsory attendance until age 16. Kindergarten for all 5-year-olds began in 1977.
This old photograph, labeled the Bakersville Free School, depicts some children outside their school in 1908. Students today stay comfortable on hot August days thanks to air conditioning, but open windows invited cooling breezes to come into this one-room schoolhouse.
The Mitchell County Historical So