RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Woodrow Wilson was president, students were transported to campus in wagons and Los Ranchos Elementary, a three-room building surrounded by dirt, was opening its doors to students for the first time.
The year was 1914 and the land for the school cost $300. It was 140 feet wide and 400 feet long.
The school, like society, is almost unrecognizable today, but it still sits in the same spot, welcoming students from nearby North Valley neighborhoods. The school initially served first- through eighth-grade students and teachers were paid $75 a month.
It has had 16 principals since its opening, including Renee Gallegos, the school’s current head. She’s been responsible for organizing and carrying out the school’s yearlong 100th birthday celebration that will culminate in a community party next month. Classes were assigned to research different decades, and the school every month has held an assembly where students present what was happening in the school and the world during that time.
Los Ranchos Elementary is not only physically different than it was a century ago, but expectations for teachers and students have dramatically changed. Dancing back then was not allowed. Teachers were asked to follow instructions outlined in an 1872 document titled “List of Rules for Teachers.” They had to bring a bucket of water and a “scuttle of coal” each day. “Men teachers” were allowed to take one evening a week for courting purposes and two if they went to church. Female teachers had their own set of expectations.
“Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.”
All teachers were encouraged to read the Bible or other “good books” in the evening, and all were discouraged from drinking and smoking so their integrity would not be questioned.
In the early years, Gallegos said the school didn’t even have a cafeteria. The parent-teacher association raised money and literally built the school’s cafeteria, which sits virtually unchanged, in 1947.
Lore Aguilar, who turns 84 today, attended Los Ranchos Elementary in the late 1930s and early 1940s. She remembers packing and eating her lunch underneath some trees where the daily swapping of sandwiches would commence. Peanut butter and jelly for bologna or a cheese sandwich. The school sat between two small grocery stores, and students were allowed to walk there during lunch and recess, she said.
“The school was just one building then,” she said. “They had what they called a baby room and they put me in that. I’m not sure why, but I think it was for people who didn’t speak English. After I learned some English, they moved me to another room.”
Aguilar now lives a mile and a half from her childhood home on Edith and all of her 11 children attended the school.
It’s also a family affair for Esther Leyba, who turns 63 on Sunday. Two of her grandsons are currently students at the school. She said the boys like to ask her about what the school was like when she was there in the late 1950s.
“The building was really different than it is now,” she said. “It was all dirt and we didn’t have a gym.”
Both Aguilar and Leyba rode the bus but, until 1922, students were transported to school in a wagon. The switch from coal to gas heat came in 1949, followed by clocks in every classroom and square-dancing in the auditorium.
Gallegos said today’s school, with an enrollment of more than 300, is nothing like anyone could have imagined. It has multiple buildings, including a gymnasium and an entire wing for kindergarten students. In the beginning, the school had a few teachers and a principal.
But those days are long gone.
There are now 14 teachers, office staff, a librarian, seven special education teachers, a counselor, a reading coach, math interventionist, technology teacher and a PE teacher.
“It’s a lot bigger than its humble beginnings,” Gallegos said. “A classroom back in the day was a chalkboard and some desks. Now we have all this technology we never imagined.”