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Hermann Seele would have loved this fine arts class

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

This week 164 years ago, on August 11, 1845, Hermann Seele called to order the first school in New Braunfels under elm trees at the bottom of Sophienburg Hill. Fifteen children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, English and German. The picture shows Austin and Macy Bergquist and their grandmother, Stephanie Bergquist checking out the marker commemorating the spot where the first school was taught on Coll St. Bergquist taught at Seele Elementary and the children are students there. It is appropriate that the school was named Seele Elementary because Hermann Seele taught school on and off all his life.

This time of year I get a little nostalgic feeling for teaching. I am remembering an incident that occurred when I was teaching sixth graders at NB Middle School. Bless them, I loved this age with their “grown-upness” and childishness all wrapped up in one body!

The incident was sometime in the 1970s. Fellow teacher Georgia Brooks and I had a class of about 60 sixth graders in a class loosely called “Fine Arts” which was required by the state of Texas. We did some very creative activities and one of them went like this:

The students were divided into six groups and they were to write a play lasting about ten minutes. It was a lesson in creativity, imagination, and of course, grammar. Do you remember how creative your mind was in the sixth grade?

All right, step one accomplished. Step two was for each student to make a puppet representing their character in the play. The final step was to paint the head, make clothes for the puppet, create a stage on which to present the play, and finally to perform it for the class. It taught cooperation, art, color awareness, play writing, grammar and performance. A dream lesson plan with lofty ideals!

But the dream nearly turned into a nightmare. Picture this:

Each child was to bring a toilet paper roll on which to attach a blob of papier-mâché. This blob they would transform into the head of a character. On the day that this step of sculpting took place, Georgia Brooks mixed the papier-mâché with her hands in a huge tub. She added water to the paper which contained wallpaper paste (that’s what holds it together). Each student was given a glob of wet, sticky papier-mâché from which they formed the head, ears, nose, and whatever. They loved playing with this stuff and I do remember being on the lookout for small missiles.

About 15 minutes into the class, not too many faces had been formed and most of them had the gooey stuff up to their elbows. Now the fun began. A fire alarm!

That meant everyone had to evacuate the building. We didn’t know if it was the real thing. We couldn’t just hide, so leaving the wet heads behind, 60 sixth graders with 120 sticky wet hands filed out of the building. As we were in front of the building, the papier-mâché dried on their hands and arms. I remember looking over at Principal Bill Karnau shaking his head with that “you did it, you solve it” look on his face.

Typical for this age, the 6th graders were delighted that their hands were stiff. All the other students in school filed back into the school and here we were. We could not let them wash their hands in the sinks because the pipes would stop up.

On the ground was the solution to the problem – a water hose! For the next 30 minutes we hosed off (and it wasn’t easy) the 120 stiff hands. (Could that have been a science lesson in paper, paste, wind, and finally water?)

Were you in that class? This episode was the highlight of the whole project. I think Hermann Seele would have loved our fine arts class.

Austin, Macy, and grandmother Stephanie Bergquist checking out the marker commemorating the place where Hermann Seele taught the first school below Sophienburg Hill in 1845.

Austin, Macy, and grandmother Stephanie Bergquist checking out the marker commemorating the place where Hermann Seele taught the first school below Sophienburg Hill in 1845.