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April 23, 2024

History of Hill Demonstration School

Reflecting on one of Cleveland’s early elementary schools

by Keith Wood

The Bolivar Bullet

Delta State Teachers College was established in 1924 by an act of the Mississippi Legislature, through SB 236, introduced by Senators William Beauregard Roberts and Arthur Marshall. It was signed by Gov. Henry L. Whitfield. It first opened its doors to students on June 7, 1925, for a summer session, then began its first fall session on September 15. The state legislature created this school to train teachers for the public school system.

In 1926, Delta State began operating an elementary education laboratory school called the Hill Demonstration School. In this program, student teachers, under supervision of outstanding teacher-trainers, provided practice teaching to children between the first and sixth grade. It is assumed the actual idea for a demonstration school was originated by William Henry Zeigel.  Zeigel was the dean and head of the department of edu-cation for Delta State Teachers College at the time. 

The Hill Demonstration School was located in the Hill Building.  The Hill Building was one of three agricultural high school buildings donated to the state by the city of Cleveland and Bolivar County. It originally housed DSTC’s first academic facilities and President Broom’s office, as well as dean Zeigler’s. Over the years the building also housed the library, classrooms, functioned as a dormitory, a courthouse and the Cleveland Little Theater headquarters.

The “Dem-School,” as it was called, was spearheaded by Laurie Doolittle, the first principal. Doolittle was an experienced teacher and administrator form Kirksville, Mo. She and several of the original teacher-trainers were graduates of Columbia Teachers College, a top ranked graduate school of education. Located in New York, it was founded in 1887 by the philanthropist Grace Hoadley Dodge and philosopher Nicholas Murray Butler to provide a new kind of schooling for the teachers of the poor children of New York City.  The beginning tuition at the Hill School in 1926 was $1 per semester, payable by the month. This fee, however, gradually in-creased over the years and was listed as being $21 per semester in 1949-50 for four and five-year-old kindergarten children and only $6 per semester for children in grades 1-6. The following year of 1950-51 was listed with an in-creased tuition price also. Original student enrollment, located in the basement of Hill Hall, began with 25 students in 1926 and had doubled to 50 the following year.   

With a growing enrollment, Hill Hall was turned over to the Demonstration School in 1930 and had an annex added in 1938. A look through roll call sheets reads like a who’s who of Cleveland citizens who attended the school. The students from all grades enjoyed recess by playing jump rope or tag, as well as baseball or football, depending on the season. The school also presented end-of-the-year plays that involved students from all grades.

One of the special events at Hill Demonstration School began in 1932, when the Hill students, along with 250 Delta State students, participated in the first Delta Council Day Pageant. The pageant’s theme commemorated the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. The pageant’s organizer and director was Ethel Cain, who continued in this role until 1951. Both Hill and DSTC students, dressed in colorful, era-appropriate costumes, performed in the four-act production. The first two acts depicted early America and its wilderness beauty, concluding with the time listed as “Indian Days.” The final two acts were titled “The Coming of the White Man” and “Birth of a Nation.” Touted as a tremendous success, the pageant became an annual event at Delta Council. Each year was based on a different theme and included more plays, musicals and variety shows. The tradition continued until 1955.

In 1957, in an effort to acquire more funding, Delta State enlisted a special study committee to research ways to improve the school and its curriculum. The committee’s findings focused on broadening the academics at the college to encompass more fields than just teaching.  Ironically, one of the committee’s findings was “a major recommendation affecting the teacher’s education program was that the campus demonstration school be eliminated.” Thus, the Hill Demonstration School ceased functioning that year. 

Sadly, in 1965, the Hill Building was demolished for salvage materials. Today, other than pictures and memories, all that is left of the facility are select bricks that were saved and used in the floor of the patio area at the Lena Roberts-Sillers Chapel and the planter area near the front of Ward Hall.