Donna Berry has always been drawn to teach in a one-room school.
"When you talk about a one-room school, people always know someone who attended one or have a story about a one-room school," said the 76-year-old as she sat at the front of West Auburn School recently.
She attended one in first and second grade on Long Island, New York. When she graduated from teachers college in 1957, such chools were being closed in favor of much larger ones so she put her dream on hold. She taught in the New York public education system before moving into educational museum work.
When she and her husband, an Auburn native, were planning to retire, they decided the best place would be Maine.
"When you have Maine in your blood, you always want to come home," she said.
The couple moved to Minot and almost immediately got involved with the Androscoggin Historical Society, where Berry was able to realize her dream.
West Auburn School, used from 1843-1950, was brought back from near ruin in the 1980s and since then the one-room school had been waiting for its schoolmarm.
Berry approached the society about giving classes and in 1998 she had her first group of students visit. Settling into an 1850s school day is a lot different than what the visiting students from Oxford, Norway, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham were used to.
Girls enter the school first and the day is started by reading Psalm 100 from the Bible and having a prayer. From there, the mostly second- and third-graders learn other aspects of a typical day.
"I don't know if they take all of this in because it's a lot in one three-hour school session, but they love it. The teachers love it too," she said.
Berry comes from a family of teachers and when she's not volunteering as a schoolmarm, she can be found giving cello lessons, playing in the Youth Orchestra of Lewiston and Auburn, coordinating Sunday school at Grace Lutheran, or leading the Junior History Club in Minot.
"Teaching has been a passion of mine for a long, long time now. When you talk about being called to something, I was called to do this," she said.
She said she knows teachers face a lot of hardships in present day classrooms.
"Everything is so sterile now and sometimes children just need to be hugged. I have a lot more freedom here, and I have had a lot of good experiences," she said.
Berry keeps a scrapbook of her past classes and the letters they have written her. But what brings a smile to her face is the memory of a child coming up to give her a hug.
"He said to me, 'If I had to have an old teacher, I would want her to be you.'"
Berry will speak about her past 14 years as a one-room schoolmarm
at the Androscoggin Historical Society meeting at 7 p. m. Tuesday on the third floor of the Androscoggin County Courthouse in Auburn.
Those interested in a school day session for $30 may contact her at 207-346-3106 .