COLUMBIA— The digital projector propped up by a stack of worn books shone brightly on the screen located in the corner of the one-room schoolhouse.
Young and old occupied wrought iron and wood desks as they viewed a slideshow of similar gatherings in black and white.
Sponsored by KOPN/89.5 FM, the "Celebration of Education" was held in the Newcomer School House at Shelter Gardens Wednesday night and was inspired by the One Read book, "The Whistling Season." From the outset, a common theme pervaded the night's discussions: the importance of schools as community centers.
"One-room schoolhouses were places where people had church and social gatherings," said Holly Maness, director of events and promotion for KOPN/89.5 FM. "They served as places for people to come together."
Throughout history, schools have served as more than just educational institutions. They have served as community hubs, hosting extra-curricular activities, PTA meetings and serving as voting stations.
Linda Green, a resident of Columbia and guest speaker at the event, fondly remembered the holiday parties and Christmas plays her one-room schoolhouse in rural Iowa hosted.
"It was a way for neighbors within a several-mile radius to get together and have a good time," Green said. Close interaction with the community served as extra education, she added.
"School was only part of the learning structure."
Communal ties between schools and local citizens have altered over the years but still remain prevalent.
The connection between school and community has played a big part in the life of Leslie Kerns, director of business, marketing and cooperative education for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"We lived in four different states, and we lived overseas in Madrid, Spain," she said. "Each time we made a move, the connections that we made through our children's schools are what helped us fit into the community."
The relationship between school and community has become even more enmeshed as school systems have grown in size.
"The school is very often the largest employer in a community," Kerns said. "In fact, it is the heart of the community."