One-Room Schools Holding on in Rural America

Croydon Village School in Croydon, N.H. Credit: Neenah Ellis.

hide captionCroydon Village School in Croydon, N.H., is one of only three one-room schools left in the state.

Neenah Ellis
Map of one-room schools in the series. Credit: NPR. i i

hide captionIndependent producer Neenah Ellis and Morning Edition will be profiling one-room schools across America. The series runs from Dec. 2005 to June 2006. Enlarge the map to see the locations of schools in the series.

Map of one-room schools in the series. Credit: NPR.

Independent producer Neenah Ellis and Morning Edition will be profiling one-room schools across America. The series runs from Dec. 2005 to June 2006. Enlarge the map to see the locations of schools in the series.

Kids outside Lennep Elementary in Meagher County, Mont. Credit: Neenah Ellis.

hide captionLennep Elementary in Meagher County, Mont., is home to four students, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Neenah Ellis

One-room schools still exist in America. They are a legacy of a less mobile, more rural time in American history. Mostly serving isolated communities, the remaining schools require one teacher to educate children of varying ages at the same time in a single classroom.

In 1919 there were 190,000 one-room schools scattered all around the American countryside. Now there are fewer than 400 left.

Most of the remaining one-room schools are concentrated in a few states in the western part of the United States. Montana has the most — between 85 and 100. Nebraska is number two, with roughly 75 one-room schools.

In most one-room schools, there are few students. The result is a good student-teacher ratio. At Lennep Elementary in Meagher County, Mont., for example, four students, from kindergarten through fifth grade study at their own speed. All of them, the teacher says, are advancing at a rapid pace.

It's also not unusual for students to have the same teacher for many years in a row, a concept referred to as "looping" when it's used in larger schools. And in one-room schools, the older students often help the younger ones.

These qualities make one-room schools unique centers of learning, worth a second look from a world that has passed them by. But the schools are often more than a place to get an education. They are also important centers of community activity for the rural areas where they still exist.

Their days, however, appear numbered. De-population is forcing the closure of some one-room schools. Others are being lost as states and localities consolidate one-room schools into larger facilities in an effort to save money through "economies of scale."

Starting on Dec. 23, 2005, independent producer Neenah Ellis will profile one school each month for Morning Edition. The series concludes in June 2006. Ellis has been associated with NPR since the 1970s. Her most recent series for the network was "One Hundred Years of Stories," profiling American centenarians.

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