It’s easy to find an original one room schoolhouse in Killingworth, but a one room school teacher? No one has taught the 'old-fashioned' way for decades here, until now. Portia Hurney, a Yale Divinity School student from Pierre, South Dakota is getting the one room schoolhouse experience every Sunday morning at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, also known as The Little Church in the Wilderness.
Recently, Emmanuel expanded its children’s Sunday School program by hiring Hurney, who teaches in the Parish Hall room of the tiny two-room church.
While technically this is not one of Killingworth’s eight schoolhouses, “everybody, regardless of age, is taught in the same room at the same time,” Hurney explains.
The ages of the students vary depending on the week, but can range from 3-year-olds to a 12-year-olds.
“It takes a lot of patience and a lot of flexibility,” Hurney says.
“The thing that I’ve found recently that works really well is I’ve implemented character education into the Sunday School program, so we’re learning about things like hospitality and kindness and respect and responsibility. We talk about those things in relation to the gospel as well as what’s going on with us in the room,” she says.
One way the kids respect one another is to listen when others talk. There’s also keeping hands to themselves.
“It’s something the little kids need to work on and the big kids don’t, but the big kids still need to be respectful and listen to that,” Hurney points out.
Hurney's leans on the experience she gained while teaching children music, which includes giving piano lessons in high school and teaching Kindermusik with her mother.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with little kids and music but not little kids with church, and I’ve done middle and high school kids with church so I put it all together.”
When Hurney completes her education at Yale in two years she hopes to be an ordained priest. While she loves kids very much, her real passion is to work with senior citizens.
“I actually feel that [my primary calling] is to work with senior citizens,” she said.
To make the leap will depend on what type of minister Hurney becomes. Most likely she will be in a parish working with all ages.
She would like to return to South Dakota.
“It’s very different in the East than with being in South Dakota, but the things that I’ve noticed are different in little ways because at the end of the day people are still people. People are always making comments that people in the Midwest are so nice and people in the East are so mean but I don’t think it’s true,” she says and adds, “The differences are more in culture and the fact that here there’s public transportation and we don’t have those kinds of things. They’re more lifestyle kinds of things than it is interactions and relationships.”
Oddly enough, Hurney did not come from a family with a deeply religious background. She says her parents took her to church when she was young, but that the family only prayed in church. Her parents left the church when she was in sixth grade because of problems with the minister, but she wanted to stay.
“My mom said fine, you can go to church by yourself, so I did and I stayed there until I went off to college. I rode my bike to church by myself every day all through middle school and high school,” she said.
“I think that was the best thing that they gave me – better than if they would have raised me in a heavily religious home because I got to make the decision myself.”
Hurney hopes to continue teaching Sunday School in Killingworth for the two years she has remaining at Yale.