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Back to School! Again!

Dedication of the M.S. Hershey Consolidated School. 1914

Dedication of the M.S. Hershey Consolidated School. 1914

 

By now, students everywhere are back in school.  We can definitely feel it here in Hershey, as Hersheypark has closed, except for a few more weekends, and Hershey residents can drive through town without being slowed by tourist traffic.

 

Hershey residents take pride in the quality of our public school system.  Good schools were valued by Milton Hershey and he made significant contributions to ensure that Hershey children would have access to a quality education.

 

2014 marks the centennial of Milton Hershey’s first significant gift to Hershey’s public schools: the M.S. Hershey Consolidated School of Derry Township.  Dedicated on October 13, 1914, the M.S. Hershey Consolidated School offered education for grades 1-12.  The building had 18 class rooms on three floors, a kindergarten, library, bathrooms, playrooms and lunch rooms.

 

Class portrait, Derry Township School District. ca.1920-1930

Class portrait, Derry Township School District. ca.1920-1930

 

The building was designed to serve up to 850 students.  Students began their academic career as kindergartners on the first level and literally worked their way through the building, grade by grade.  Students finally made their way to the top floor for their High School years.

 

Hershey Junior-Senior High School, graduating class.  ca.1925-1950

Hershey Junior-Senior High School, graduating class. ca.1925-1950

 

This school building was only one of many gifts Milton Hershey would make to the Derry Township School District during his lifetime.    You can read more about the history of Hershey public education here and here.

 

M.S. Hershey Consolidated School

This week, thousands of Derry Township students returned to school, something that children have been doing in this township since the 1800s.

‘Tis education forms the common mind

Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined

Alexander Pope, British poet, 1732

I found this quote in the Hershey Press.  It was part of an editorial published July 9, 1914.  The editorial was praising the completion of a new school building for Hershey, the M.S. Hershey Consolidated School, that would open that fall.  The addition of the Consolidated School was a remarkable accomplishment for a town only 11 years old.  And it was all due to Milton Hershey’s vision for his model community.

Greiner School, a one-room school in Derry Township, PA.  ca.1900

Greiner School, a one-room school in Derry Township, PA. ca.1900

When Milton Hershey returned to Derry Township to begin construction of his  chocolate factory, 14 one-room schools dotted the township.  During the 19th century, in rural areas like Derry Township,  education was limited to one-room schoolhouses.  Milton Hershey, who spent part of his childhood here,  attended 3 of those schoolhouses as a young boy.  The short school year and Milton Hershey’s lack of interest resulted in a very uneven education.  His experience was not unusual.

Milton Hershey as a seven year old boy, 1864.

Milton Hershey as a seven year old boy, 1864.

By the time Milton Hershey was an adult and developing his new town, he knew that the future success of his model community would depend upon the success of future generations of residents.  He recognized that investing in public education was key to that success.

Named for the recently slain United States president, McKinley School enabled the School District to establish a township high school.  ca.1906

Named for the recently slain United States president, McKinley School enabled the School District to establish a township high school. ca.1906

His commitment to public education began even before the Hershey Chocolate factory was completed.  In 1904 he donated land and money to the Derry Township School District to encourage them to build a high school for his new community (even though he couldn’t know for certain how many children would be available to attend).  It was a gamble.

But Milton Hershey’s dreams for his community became real and the town grew.  The numbers of students increased rapidly.  The first school building, McKinley School, consolidated 4 one-room schools and established a formal high school program.  The School District quickly outgrew the building.

McKinley School, ca.1910-1914

McKinley School, ca.1911-1914

In 1911 McKinley School  was enlarged.  By 1912 it was clear that a new school building was needed.  The growth of the community and the student population provided Milton Hershey with an opportunity to implement an innovative educational program.

Next time:  Bringing Educational Innovation to Hershey