History of Penn Elementary School

  • In 2012 Penn Elementary School celebrated its 50th anniversary. A group of 6th graders met weekly for several months with the librarian, Debra Dorzweiler, to learn more about Penn's first 50 years. The students researched local history and then interviewed former Penn teachers and principals. Former teacher Martha Schemmel told us she attended the "country school" when she was in first grade, and then moved to the old Penn School on Cherry Street. She still remembers when the students carried their books across the street to the brand-new Penn Elementary when it opened in 1961. Together the former staff members we interviewed worked a total of 204 years at Penn as of 2012! Read the students' report of the first 50 years below. 

    Former Penn teachers (years as teachers): Ann Holton (1970 - 2008), Martha Schemmel (1958 - 2003), Michaela Armstrong (1984 - 2010), LorraineTurnipseed (1960 - 1995); and Donneta Knarr (1981 - 1998)

    Former and current Penn principals (years as principal): Julie Robinson (1999 - 2011), Theresa Schoen (1979 - 1989), Jim Thomas (1989 - 1999), and Kristy Heffner (2011 - present)

    The First 50 Years at Penn Elementary, by the Penn History Club

    About the Penn History Club:

    A group of Penn 6th graders met in the spring of 2012 to find out more about Penn’s first 50 years. Students started by thinking of questions that had about Penn’s history. Then they looked at some local history books for answers. After that they interviewed a panel of former Penn elementary teachers and also with three former principals to find out what Penn was like when they were here. One of the former teachers, Mrs. Martha Schemmel, attended the former country school, the earlier elementary school that was located on Cherry Street, and was at Penn the first year it opened. Finally the students met in teams to write up each of the reports included below. By Mrs. Dorzweiler, Penn Librarian and Penn History Club sponsor.

    The School before Penn

    The school before Penn had the colors black and yellow, but the year of those colors are unknown. Their mascot was the panther, as it is now. The teachers have always loved to work with kids and enjoyed watching them learn and grow! Martha Schemmel said that she had no personal preference to the schools. “I loved them all!” she said. “I feel that each school was fitting for its time and history.” According to Ms. Schemmel, there were many chores that needed done at the earliest school. Ms. Lorraine Turnipseed said that she was glad that the newer school had art, PE, and music teachers. There were around 17 students in 1st grade, 13 students in 3rd grade, and 16-17 students in 4th grade. In 1997, the total amount of kids estimated, was around 250. By Leah, Abby and Nick Penn Building The Penn building has had many add-ons such as gym, music room, library, lunchroom, 4th grade wing, and kindergarten rooms. The first classrooms held 13-18 students in each classroom. The first layout had the office and six class rooms. There were always buses bringing kids to school. Penn was the only school at the time.

    By Jackson, Connor, Hakeem, Lucas, and Ryan

    Penn Education

    The education was very good. Some of the students were very smart. There were not that many students in the class. When Penn was a new school it had five classrooms. Penn is the best school ever. By Semaj and Emanuel Important People There were no famous people that went to Penn but there were people that went on to have great professions like doctors, photographers, teachers, and many more. Penn was named after Penn Township. About six to ten teachers taught at Penn, when it first opened. Benjamin Horner, Miss Frost, and Martha Schemmel were the first employees at Penn. The first principal at Penn was Frank Snider.

    By Mae, Crystal, Maddie, Kaalon, and Ella

    Penn Traditions

    Some favorite things at Penn were the students, teachers, the Penn Spirit Song, and the pink plastic shoes joke. The first school pets at Penn were rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, lovebirds, and snakes. There is a Penn spirit song it was written in 1986 by Doug Nickel and Mrs. Knarr, the music teacher at the time along with some students. Penn had many traditions. Some of the favorite ones were… 

    • Stone soup—all the kids brought ingredients to make a soup big enough for all the kids in the school  Grandparent’s Day—all the kids’ grandparents came in
    • Author visits—an author came in to talk to the kids
    • Christmas tree—was to celebrate Christmas. The kids were also drawn one by one to get a present
    • Gingerbread party—for the kindergartners  Free afternoon—just like the title, it was free time for everyone
    • Alphabet party—for kindergartners  Faculty performance—The staff did lots of funny things for the whole school like the staff would dress up in garbage bags
    • Baking—a thing the kindergartners got to do
    • Themes—there was a theme for every year

    By Sam, Avery and Olivia 


    Michaela Artmstrong, Ann Holton, Donneta Knarr, Martha Schemmel, and Lorraine Turnipseed. "Former Penn Teachers." Personal interview. 9 Apr. 2012.

    History of Johnson County, Iowa, Containing a History of the County, and its Townships, Cities and Villages from 1836 to 1882. Iowa City: Iowa City Chapter of the Iowa Genealogical Society, 1883. Print.

    Johnson County History. Iowa Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa. Iowa City: Johnson County Superintendent of Schools, 1941.

    Julie Robinson, Theresa Schoen, and James Thomas. "Former Penn Principals." Telephone interview. 23 Apr. 2012.