There were about five of us that started school in Granite Falls with not a word of English

Ms. Schommer talks about her experience starting at public school as a child.

Audio Chapters

I started kindergarten here in Granite Falls. When we started kindergarten there were five of us. In our culture on the mother’s side, if you’re sisters, you take your mother’s sister as a mother and then the father’s brothers as uncles, so a family is never without a mother or a father. This lady I’m going to be talking about, Joan, her maiden name was Two Star, and she was one of them that went to school with me, also my little brother and another brother. There were about five of us that started school in Granite Falls with not a word of English. I can understand people that come in from different countries, but when you’re little like that, you learn a whole lot quicker than when you come in as a teenager or an adult; it’s harder. It was strange. If you had to go to the bathroom – at home we could pick up and go to the toilet outside and if we wanted to drink water, we would drink out of the pail. It was different. I tell my students now that the school that I’m teaching in is the same age as I am. I said, “Five years after this building was built I started school here, and took the first steps going up the stairs coming into the building. Aside from the steps getting onto the bus, they were the highest steps I ever took – most difficult steps I ever took in my whole life because I knew that that was going to change our world.” So kids look at me and say, “You were born when this school was built!?” “Five years later,” I said, “I was going to school here.” I learned a lot. We must have had good teachers, because we didn’t know how to speak English, but by the time I was in seventh grade, I could get in front of the class. I forgot about being afraid and bashful to make book reports. I got good grades; we all did. We learned. I think the reason why we learned the English language so quickly was because if we didn’t, how could we tell the teachers if we were thirsty, or if we had to go to the bathroom?

The one thing that was strange to us was that we had to take naps in the afternoons on these braided rugs. We never had to do that when we were out and about at home. Then of course, the food was different. I got very, very sick on egg salad sandwiches. There were a lot of foods that they fixed that our stomachs just couldn’t tolerate. It was probably the richness of it. We ate like everybody else did, but we didn’t have all that they served at the school.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Carrie Schommer Interviewer Deborah Locke made in Granite Falls, Upper Sioux Community, MN | Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. There were about five of us that started school in Granite Falls with not a word of English August 20, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1113

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