Nebraska School Shrinks to the Point of Closure There were just three students at the Glen School in Sioux County, Neb., during the spring of 2005. Now the one-room school is closed, the victim of a declining area population.
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Nebraska School Shrinks to the Point of Closure

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Nebraska School Shrinks to the Point of Closure

Nebraska School Shrinks to the Point of Closure

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F: eight.

NEENAH ELLIS: There were three students at the Glen School in the spring of 2005, three boys, all sons of ranch owners.

Unidentified Boy #1: See, to get up to our fort we had to cross a fence, go down a hill, go up a hill and then go straight.

Unidentified Boy #2: Go down another hill.

ELLIS: Luke, Travis and Nick, in grades 6, 7, and 8, wanted to show me a fort they built in a canyon. It was a school project closely supervised by their teacher, Moni Hourt, and inspired by book called Hatchet, about a city boy marooned in the wilderness.

MONI HOURT: In reading Hatchet, we'd talked a lot about survival...

ELLIS: So we made a fort here. It's a little dome shaped house made out of sticks and pine needles. We've done this quite a bit when we were kids, but I would say this is the best one that we've done.

HOURT: It took incredible teamwork to lay out the beams and to figure out how to weave everything through. They've really had a great time with it.

ELLIS: In just a few years, the boys will have choices to make. Do they stay and work on the home ranch or do they leave. And if they leave, can they ever return? Their teacher, Moni Hourt, knows what they're up against. She was raised here too and has known these boys since they were little.

HOURT: My job is to prepare them for those tough decisions. My own children had to leave. You know, they couldn't get a job here. Your goal on being a good mother is so that you raise a child and you've put everything in them that you can, so that they'll leave you and they don't need you anymore. And that's exactly how I feel about teaching.

ELLIS: Moni Hourt's plan for preparing the boys includes field trips, lots of them. One morning we packed into the crew cab of her pickup truck and drove 150 miles so the boys could do interviews for their history day projects, then turned around and came home that night.

LUKE PROSSER: Until May of 1877, the members of the Ponca Indian tribe, led by Chief Standing Bear...

ELLIS: This is Luke's entry in the National History Day competition, a documentary he produced comparing the press coverage of the trial of Chief Standing Bear and the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Luke is 12 years old.

PROSSER: That fall, newspapers warned that the ceremony called the Ghost Dance was whipping Indians into a bloodthirsty frenzy.

ELLIS: Glen students from a tiny one-room school always do well at History Day. For nine years in a row, students from Glen have advanced to the finals in Washington, D.C., and when they do, Moni Hourt fills every spare moment with educational side trips in Washington, too.

Unidentified Man: Okay. Washington, D.C., neither a state nor a territory...

ELLIS: It's a tour of the National Mall on an amphibious truck from World War II called a Duck. Moni Hourt and the boys have also been to the American Indian Museum, to Gettysburg, to the Holocaust Museum and The Kennedy Center. They've also learned how to ride the subways and how to hail a cab.

At this year's National History Day finals, which ended just a few weeks ago, Travis represented Glen School for the last time.


C: (Unintelligible) from (unintelligible) Washington, Audrey Christianson(ph).


ELLIS: Travis didn't win. And next year no one will represent Glen school, because this spring Travis Johnson and Luke Prosser were the last students. At one time, more than 100 families lived within walking distance of the school. But ranching being what it is, they're mostly gone.

It was a painful decision. After 120 years, Glen School was closed. At a Holiday Inn after the history ceremony, Mrs. Hourt looked for a lesson in the closing of her school.

HOURT: I think eventually education is going to have to stop and look at the examples set by a one-room school and say, oh, maybe if they didn't get to play sports everyday in a gymnasium, maybe that didn't effect their lives a whole lot. Maybe going to school and listening to the next kid's class and having to help that kindergartener when you're an eighth grader because the teacher was busy, maybe there's something to that.

Many, many things have been done correctly in one-room schools and the results are there.

ELLIS: Travis Johnson was the fourth generation in his family to go to Glen. Mrs. Hourt had been his teacher since kindergarten.

TRAVIS JOHNSON: I don't really know anything that we haven't done with Mrs. Hourt. We've done just about everything. She's gotten us prepared for the real world.

ELLIS: The real world being what?

JOHNSON: Away from Nebraska.

ELLIS: Do you see the rest of the world as an inviting place?

JOHNSON: I think it's kind of exciting and inviting. I've done mostly everything where I'm from and I think I need to move on.

ELLIS: For NPR News, I'm Neenah Ellis.


: And if you'd like to hear about the other one-room schools in Neenah's series, go to

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm John Ydstie.

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