West Grove, Pa. — In the past the Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster County have honored their teachers with the use of a quaint custom called "the fruit roll." It is time we get back to the custom of honoring those who give service to our communities by working with its youth.
Many of our schools discourage the honoring of its staff by the adoption of policies and administrative rules that forbid the receiving of gifts by teachers from students. This was brought about by extremes in this practice that resulted in hurt feelings of students and staff members. Some districts that do permit gifts ask that they be inexpensive or of small enough value to be consumed in one day,
Teachers in former times have been the recipients of small tokens of their students' affections. They have been honored on their birthdays, wedding anniversaries, graduations, and the birth of children with small gifts such as cologne, handkerchiefs, socks, or ties. In rural Lancaster County a gift of potatoes, string beans, strawberries, or other items of food have veen commonplace.
The fruit roll was reserved for the very special teacher, who was honored for no other reason than that the children wanted to show their affection. Fruit was selected as it was considered a delicacy, especially at a time of year when it had to be "shipped" from other parts of the country. it was a practical expression of the way students felt about the teacher, or the esteem in which the teacher was held by the students.
The fruit roll was organized by a student who got the "feeling" that it was time for one, and he sold the idea to the other pupils in the classroom. A date and time were decided on by the group without the knowledge of the teacher, so that it was always a complete surprise. Since the fruit is packed with the student's lunch or recess snack, the secret could be kept.
It was necessary to plan the fruit roll a week in advance so that parents would have an opportunity to shop for the fruit of their choice. It would be most unusual if a student did not participate. Some students even donated the fruit portion of their recess snack or lunch. Most fruit roll presentations were held immediately following the morning recess.
When the selected day arrived and the time was drawing near, all eyes were focused on the Regulator clock. Exactly on the minute, each student took the fruit he had brought for the teacher from his lunch bag or box and rolled it up the aisle toward the teacher's desk. With cleanliness in mind, some students wrapped their contribution in waxed bread papers.
Those who brought more perishable fruit, or fruit that couldn't be rolled, such as bananas, peaches, plums, or grapes, would quietly walk up the aisle and place the fruit on the teacher's desk. After the fruit roll, all of the students would help pick up the fruit. It was a time of good feeling and joy for all.
A gift of fruit such as an orange or an apple was small when taken to the teacher alone. However, when combined in a fruit roll, it made a very handsome and welcome gift indeed. Small gifts of kindness combined make a gift of great consideration.
The fun of a fruit roll, besides that of giving, is the surprise element. I remember on one occasion when we were favored with a pretty young teacher from the city. We all liked her because she would play baseball with us at recess and lunchtime. She was honored with a fruit roll in the early weeks of school.
When the fruit started to roll her way, she was so taken by surprise that she left the room in tears. After an experienced teacher explained to her that she was being honored with a fruit roll, her tears of misunderstanding turned to tears of joy.
The fruit roll was a very special honor given to very special teachers. The practice continued into the consolidated schools, but has been used with less frequency in more recent years. As a matter of fact, it's been so long since this writer heard of a fruit roll that he cannot recall the last one.
Teachers of today are not honored and revered as in the past. It may be because of their improved socioeconomic status. But for whatever the reason, teachers are turning to activities outside their classrooms for their pats on the back or strokes of reinforcement. These may take the form of hobbies, a second job, or active participation in their professional organizations.
This is not a plea for a return to the one- room schoolhouse. But it is a suggestion that we would all be better if we looked for ways to honor our worthy teachers.