Continuity and Change, 1950-1960
In 1955, Betty Balanoff, along with her steelworker husband and four (white) children, moved from Chicago to midtown Gary. The children enrolled in the Froebel school, still housing grades K-12, and Betty, a born activist, quickly became a leader in the PTA. With a predominantly black enrollment, Froebel's twenty-five hundred or so working-class students, heavily concentrated in the elementary grades (there were only 102 graduates that spring), were overflowing the classrooms. As she later remembered: "Froebel School became so crowded that the first four grades were put on half-day shifts. Portables, World War II quonset huts, were added to our campus. Rental property was used, and in spite of this some children housed in Froebel's main building had their desks in one of the larger halls. Class sizes were large. I recall that my second grader was in a class with forty-five students, and the same teacher who taught all their subjects in the morning had another group of similar size in the afternoon .... None of the Froebel children were allowed to take their books home because the books, too, were used by two sets of children." 1
Balanoff was eager for the school board to construct new schools, as were parents throughout the city confronted with similar circumstances. But-and this was quite unique-she also joined with her colleagues in the interracial Froebel PTA to have a new school built in Norton Park, located in an integrated neighborhood. After much resistance from the school board, the parents secured a new integrated school. Their agitation proved successful, highlighting the persistence of race and class as concerns during the 1950s. There were, of course, other issues, as the Gary schools struggled to survive swelling enrollments, administrative squabbling, structural changes, teacher activism, and various political pressures. By 1960, they would scarcely resemble Wirt's fabled work-study-play system, so carefully erected decades earlier.