In 1917 Father Edward Flanagan opened his revolutionary home for children. In the early months of the home’s existence the boys attended the public schools in Omaha. On average the boys had not been in school for three years and lagged behind their classmates. Often the boys were ridiculed for living at Boys Town and having shabby clothing. Father Flanagan had grown dissatisfied with the progress of the boys in the public schools, and made a bold decision. In 1918 he opened the Boys Town Schools to serve the boys in his care.
To determine the educational needs of each student he gave them simple tests and asked each about their likes and dislikes. From this research Father Flanagan was able to create an individualized education program for each student. Flanagan believed “…the teacher must be interested in every child individually, not just in the group as a whole…” Once he had his school program in place he sought out teachers to implement his plan.
The early teachers at Boys Town were volunteers and mentors Flanagan recruited amongst his core group of supporters. All of these early teachers and mentors were trained by Father Flanagan in his method of education. Flanagan described his ideal teacher as “…a capable person, one who is a fine example, after which the child should model his or her character…” The boys were treated as equals regardless of their race or religion, and there was no corporal punishment or verbal abuse.
The men and women who taught in the early Boys Town schools became a part of the ministry of Father Flanagan to change the way children were treated around the world. In the classrooms boys who had previously been in jails or reform schools were able to obtain an education and learn a trade. The teachers had to show compassion for the students, and not prejudge each child.
Father Flanagan often said his teachers besides having superior teaching skills must also be able to relate to the children’s backgrounds of abuse and neglect. Flanagan considered the teachers and mentors role models for the students, and at all times their behavior was to be beyond reproach. The teachers were expected to engage the students and make education fun. Father Flanagan stated “…If we can furnish them thrills in the arts, music, or physical education programs, we will not have serious problems among our children…”
Through the 1940’s and 1960’s the Boys Town schools expanded to meet the growing number of students which climbed to 900 by 1949. The teaching staff remained dedicated to serving the boys, and providing them with a quality education. Many former students described teachers gave them extra encouragement to complete a special task. These kind words of encouragement in the classroom were often some of the first the boys had received. Even after leaving Boys Town the students often kept in contact with their former teachers. For many teachers Boys Town became their life long career, and it was not uncommon to have teachers with tenures of 20 to 30 years.
The teaching staff of Boys Town has always been an unique group of people. Father Flanagan sought out individuals who would be able to show empathy to children society had turned its back upon. The resulting school system Father Flanagan created became a role model duplicated around the world. The thousands of graduates from the Boys Town high school prove Father Flanagan’s belief that if children are provide a superior education from dedicated teachers they would be able to succeed in life.