Public education began in Poughkeepsie in 1843, when a village Board of Education was created by the State legislature. This twelve-member Board was authorized to borrow money and raise taxes to build one school house and rent school rooms in five other sites. Between 1843 and 1844, the Board opened seven grammar schools, one of them a ‘Colored School”, which was continued until 1875. The first free school was built on the corner of Mill and Bridge Streets. All other schools were housed in rented facilities and served approximately 760 children. In 1856, a new school building was constructed on Church Street, with the second floor used to offer a high school program. This high school opened in 1857, and in 1863 held its first commencement exercises.
Between 1858 and 1875, additional grammar schools were built on Church Street, Union Square, North Clinton Street and upper Cannon Street. The high school was discontinued for one year in 1865, but reopened in 1866 in rented space in the Dutchess Academy, a private school on the corner of South Hamilton and Montgomery Streets that apparently merged with the public high school. This building was later sold by its trustees, with proceeds from the sale donated to the Board of Education to finance building a new High School, which opened in April, 1872, on the corner of Washington and Lafayette Streets.
EDUCATION FOR ALL CHILDREN
Poughkeepsie was greatly impacted by the New York State Compulsory Education Bill of 1874, which mandated school attendance by pupils between the ages of 8 and 14 and made employment of children under 14 illegal during school hours. Prior to this time Poughkeepsie students were only accepted for the free schools if they could pass a screening examination, which indicated that they could “read with facility, find places on the map and understand…addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.” The new laws made grammar school required for all children, and the public schools were expected to replace home schooling or private “dame schools” that had previously prepared children to enter formal schooling.
The Compulsory Education Act and an influx of European immigrants swelled the school population in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Curriculum changed quickly as the State began to increasingly oversee the content of the educational program. The grade structure was formalized, instruction in drawing, music and modern foreign languages introduced and the grammar school emphasis on “Reading, Writing, Spelling, Arithmetic and Geography” established. During this time, there was movement away from the “old, orthodox rut of reliance on textbooks”, toward oral “teaching and fostering pupil powers of observation.” “Manual training” in the industrial arts was also introduced to give students vocational preparation prior to leaving grammar school. The State developed an interest in new instructional technology, and in 1895 made funds available to enable the district to purchase ‘a lantern, cylinders, screen and all the necessary apparatus for showing stereopticon views.” Physical exercises were introduced into the school day at the turn of the century, and in 1901, kindergartens were created to teach little children ‘lessons of courtesy, kindness, self-respect and unselfishness.”
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