RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
There are only three one-room schools left in the state of New Hampshire, all in very small towns. The oldest one is in Croydon, in the western part of the state.
Croydon was once a farming village, now it's becoming a bedroom community. And the people there are worried about what that growth means for the school's future. For our series on one-room schools, independent producer Neenah Ellis visited Croydon.
NEENAH ELLIS reporting:
They love their one-room school in Croydon, and they're proud of the fact that it was built in 1780.
(Soundbite of children)
ELLIS: It's a brick, one-story building, forthright and plain. The walls are crackled from a thousand rainstorms, but they still embrace the youngest children of the town.
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
ELLIS: Seven hundred people live here, and many Croydon families have long school histories. Leida Gross(ph) keeps track of things. She's been town treasurer, clerk, bus driver, and now, historian. Her daughter and granddaughter studied in this building and her father-in-law, too, in the 1880's.
Ms. LEIDA GROSS (Town Historian, Croydon, New Hampshire): And he said that there's a brook over there. He said that they cleaned their slates in the brook, and they sharpened their chalk on the bricks themselves.
ELLIS: Inside, the school has two rooms, really--one for small groups, and the big room where years back, a woodstove warmed the children as they sat on benches against the walls. Harry Newcomb heard stories from his mother, a student a hundred years ago.
Mr. HARRY NEWCOMB (Resident, Croydon, New Hampshire): The floors underneath us, well, until they were carpeted, they were very well worn. I mean, that's why they had to carpet on them, because of the grooves worn into the floor from so many feet, especially along the edges where the benches used to be. I think they all stood there and scuffed their feet back and forth, and, of course, with the dirt yard out there, didn't take too long to make that gravel grind these floors away. There's been a lot of repairs to make the building up to code.
ELLIS: If it ain't broke, don't fix it, Harry says about the building and the style of teaching. First, second, and third graders are all together here. There are 18 kids now, and the room is always in motion. The teacher is Lynn Touchette, a Jersey girl with the moxy to make the most of this multi-grade beehive.
Ms. LYNN TOUCHETTE (Teacher, Croydon School): I'm not going to make a rule on the Weekly Reader. I'm going to let you decide that you want to buddy read or read in a little group, but I don't want you to alone. I want you to be able to talk about it.
ELLIS: Older and younger kids work together. It's the concept at the heart of multi-grade education.
Unidentified Child: Okay, Emmy(ph), you want to read this, or me?
EMMY (Student, Croydon School): Sure, I will.
Unidentified Speaker: Okay.
EMMY: All insects have three main body parts. The first main body part is the head.
Unidentified Speaker: Okay. Now, read that one.
EMMY: The second main body part is the thorax.
Unidentified Speaker: Thorax. And that's right there.
ELLIS: And when they're done, Ms. Touchette brings all 18 kids together.
Ms. TOUCHETTE: Now, a lot of you learned a lot of interesting facts about insects. Can somebody give me one interesting fact you learned today? Benjamin.
BENJAMIN (Student, Croydon School): Some ants are poisonous, because they have like a nose. It looks like a needle.
Ms. TOUCHETTE: Really?
BENJAMIN: And it's an ant.
ELLIS: Croydon kids go on to fourth grade in Newport, the next town, and they typically adjust well. The arrangement works. The town supports it, but the school is nearing capacity. It wouldn't take many more kids in this one-room school before there was chaos.
George Caccavaro has a kindergartener. He's on the school board, and he's worried.
Mr. GEORGE CACCAVARO (Resident, Parent, School Board Member, Croydon, New Hampshire): I have concerns that Croydon is going to grow, and it wouldn't take too many more families to move in to make this unmanageable, you know, impractical to keep this school open.
ELLIS: Croydon is growing. Two new subdivisions have broken ground, and people are wondering if new residents will have school-aged kids.
(Soundbite of crowd)
ELLIS: Growth issues are on their minds as they gather in mid-March for a town meeting.
Mr. WILLIS BALLOU(ph) (Moderator, Croydon Town Hall Meeting): Testing, testing, testing, testing.
ELLIS: It's standing-room-only at town hall. Willis Ballou is moderator.
Mr. BALLOU: We're all taxpayers, all in the same boat. We have one meeting a year to let the officials know where we want our tax dollars sent.
ELLIS: They are famously wary in Croydon of spending their money foolishly. Line-by-line they scrutinize the town budget for savings and waste, and after lunch they do the same for the school budget.
Unidentified Man #1: For the '05-'06 budget versus '05-'06 projection, why does it show under projection $57,600?
Unidentified Man #2: Federal government, special ed, they're not giving us what they're supposed to be giving us.
Unidentified Woman #1: You got down, you paid supervisors of the checklist $150. That was not done.
Unidentified Woman #2: The three and four-year-olds, if they qualify for the special ed services for preschool, does the town pay for transportation for those children?
Unidentified Speaker #3: I hate to beat a dead horse, but I don't like the way Article II was worded.
ELLIS: No one suggests closing Croydon's school, but its supporters worry about the disapproval of the seniors whose kids have grown, and those potential newcomers who may not want to keep paying for an old-fashioned school with cracking walls. But those voices are not heard today, and the school budget passes.
Mr. BALLOU: All those in favor of Article II, to see if the school district will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $1,028,415, signify by saying aye...
Mr. BALLOU: All those opposed, nay...
ELLIS: No one is opposed.
Mr. BALLOU: The aye's have it.
(Soundbite of gavel pounding)
Mr. BALLOU: Article II passes.
ELLIS: And then they approve another $35,000 for new school windows, and to fix up those old brick walls.
Mr. BALLOU: Is that it? There's a motion to adjourn. It is so done.
(Soundbite of gavel pounding)
Mr. BALLOU: Thank you very much everyone, and see you next year.
(Soundbite of crowd)
ELLIS: Next year, or maybe the year after that, the citizens of Croydon will have harder choices to make about the future of their school. They feel lucky to have it now, but if the population keeps growing, they'll be lucky to keep it. For NPR News, I'm Neenah Ellis.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: See the redbrick Croydon village school and the kids, and learn more about our series on one-room schools at NPR.org.