The Beginning :



As the United States entered the twentieth century, high school level education was not for the average person. In 1900 high school graduates numbered 95,000 only 6.3 percent of persons seventeen years old. St. Tammany Parish, in tune with the times, had no public school offering high school level work. The average student's education was considered complete after six or eight years of schooling, and many had less.1

To fill the need for upper level education, there were private schools for students whose families were able to pay for further education. Many private schools had come and gone in the Covington area, but today's St. Paul's School has continued since its establishment as the Dixon Academy in 1899. Also dating from the early years are St. Peter's School, probably founded by the Roman Catholic nuns as early as 1875, and St. Joseph's College, a boarding school for boys, started about 1900.2

Education began to change in St. Tammany Parish in the 1890's when there was a public demand for better schools. With few exceptions, the predominantly one-room, ungraded schools were open only three months of the year, but by 1893 conditions had improved so that school was in session for nine months in all wards except Third Ward where Covington was located. However, by 1900 the Covington School (white), located at 300 North Jefferson (where C.J. Schoen Middle School is located), was a nine-month school.3

The Covington School of 1900 had an enrollment of 96 pupils taught by Misses Salome Seiler and Alice Hawthrone. The one-story, wooden building had been built originally as a dance hall/recreation center with one large central room and three small rooms at either end. A wood-burning stove in the center of the building provided any necessary heat. Students climbed steep steps to enter the raised building. Inside, near the entrance, handy to quench their thirst after play, stood the water bucket which had been filled across the street. A tin dipper hanging on the wall near the bucket was used in turn by everyone. Providing for sanitary needs were two outdoor privies. The one on the Jefferson Avenue side was the boys' toilet with six cubicles shielded by lattice work; an identical one was on the opposite side of the school for girls. The school was high enough off the ground for children to play underneath, although there was a large drainage ditch beneath the building which continued across the school yard.4

The 1900's brought changes. The United States had fought an overseas war,"The Great War, " and was looking forward to being a world power; new inventions brought new industries and changing life styles as well as, expanding markets. People with more education were needed to meet the demands of this enlarging world. As a result, by 1910 there were 156,000 graduating from high school nationwide(8.6 percent of persons seventeen years old); by 1920, 311,000 (16.3 percent) were graduating; and by 1930, 665,000 (28.8 percent were graduating).5


The Covington school expanded to meet the pressure and added classrooms by partitioning off the corners of the dance hall. Two early high school graduates are Mrs. Bertha Perreand Neff and Mr. Philip Burns. Mrs. Neff entered Covington School in the third grade in 1903, and graduated in a class of four in 1912. Mr. Burns remembers entering the fourth grade in 1906 and graduating with ten or twelve others in 1909. By this time the school encompassed grades one to eleven.6

Both Mrs. Neff and Mr. Burns remember their school days as happy ones with "grand" teachers. The principal was Professor Elmer E. Lyon who later became Superintendent of St. Tammany Parish Schools. All high school students were together in one room and were taught mainly by Miss Seiler, but also by Professor Lyon at times. The subjects included English, History, Mathematics--mainly Algebra with a little idea of Trigonometry, Chemistry, Latin, and a choice between French or Spanish. Students had to provide everything including textbooks which they purchased from H. J. Smith & Sons on Columbia Street for $1.00 to $3.50. Punishment ranged from standing in the corner, writing lines on the boards, and staying after school, to the use of the strap, paddle, or switch. There were very few serious offenses, although Mr. Burns remembers a principal being thrown out a window. Generally minor tricks by the boys such as putting a girl's hair in the inkwell or putting gum on the seat were all. Students brought their own lunch except for those who were too poor to have one. Those beyond walking distance rode a horse or came by horse and buggy and tied the horse to a tree on the north side. There were no organized athletics, although the boys played basketball, baseball, and other games. Social activites were provided by the home, not the school. Daily homework was at least one hour or more, depending on the quality of student.7

In 1910 another brick building intended to be Covington High School was started on a corner of the original property. However, it was not completed due to lack of money. In 1913 the School Board passed a resolution making the Covington School a high school. Then, with the passage of a special tax and bond election in 1914, there was the money to move the old wood building and build a new brick one. However, Covington was growing and by 1920 there were 2,942 people in town.8


A report on the schools in the State of Louisiana comparing the years 1913-14 with 1923-24 showed that the number of high schools had increased 125 percent, the number of high school pupils 358 percent, the number of high school teachers 217 percent, and the number of graduates 442 percent. Along with the trend Covington High School was becoming overcrowded; the building needed repairs and was settling. High school students were being brought in from Madisonville, Military Road, Lee Road, Ramsay Road, and Abita Springs. The chemistry class which had been built to accommodate four to six students now had thirty-seven. The elementary classes were way too large--74 in the first grade, while the high school classes ranged from 66 in the eighth grade to 22 in the eleventh.9

In 1924 a new bond issue brought in the necessary money to purchase property on Jefferson Avenue between 17th and 18th streets, and by January 1925 work was well under way on the new Covington High School. In February 1925 it was also decided to house the school board offices in the new building since the Court House needed the space they had been using.10


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