Mont. One-Room School House Boasts International Diversity Melissa Block talks to teacher Shelly Hoisington. Hoisington teaches fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade at McCormick Elementary School — a one-room school in Troy, Mont. Hoisington recently convinced Gov. Steve Bullock to speak at the graduation ceremony for the five students in eighth grade.

Mont. One-Room School House Boasts International Diversity

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McCormick School is a one-room schoolhouse in the northwestern corner of Montana, with a grand total of 24 students in grades K through eight.

SHELLY HOISINGTON: It is a little red schoolhouse. It has a flag pole in the front. It even has a bell tower that we ring when school starts and at recess. All those pictures you see of the little red schoolhouses, every one of them could be ours.

BLOCK: That's Shelly Hoisington, who teaches grades four, five, six, seven and eight. Last Friday, the school hosted a distinguished speaker, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock for its eighth grade graduation. We called Hoisington today to find out how that tiny school managed to persuade Gov. Bullock to speak.

HOISINGTON: We have the largest graduating class in over 20 years and that's five students. So in December of last year, they had an assignment to write a letter and since nobody writes letters anymore, they were all sitting there saying, I don't know who to write to. I don't know what to say. So I told them all to write the governor to ask him to come to their graduation in May.

And we mailed it to the governor and I thought, well, that's over. And February 18, I think, we got a call from the governor's office who said he'd love to attend our graduation. And we're going, oh, wow. So we got him there.

BLOCK: Well, it worked. So the governor came on Friday, spoke to the five graduating eighth graders. What was his message?

HOISINGTON: He actually had a very inspirational message and just told them to remember where they came from because not everyone comes from money for affluent families. And also to wear their seatbelts and the third one was to always follow your dreams.

BLOCK: That's a classic graduating message. Never fails.

HOISINGTON: Absolutely, absolutely. But he made it very personal. He addressed each one of the students and the students were absolutely amazed.

BLOCK: Well, here's one of the striking things about this graduating class of five eighth graders and that's the international diversity. You have one student born in Panama, one born in Guatemala and another from Sierra Leone, which means all sorts of language issues at the beginning, I bet.

HOISINGTON: That is true. Three of the five have been here since they were in kindergarten and the one from Sierra Leone came here when he was in kindergarten as well as the one from Panama. So neither of them spoke the language when they actually first moved here to our country.

BLOCK: Well, 12 years ago, I read your school was down to just four students total for the entire school. How did you manage to stay open?

HOISINGTON: Well, when it was down to four students, I enrolled my four students in a double D enrollment.

BLOCK: You mean doubling the enrollment of the entire school with your own kids.

HOISINGTON: With my own children, yes. I had four elementary school children at that time and when I enrolled them, it went from four to eight and so that gave the operating income to continue and to stay open. You know, the small rural schools, obviously they're closing because of, you know, the budget crunches, but we're allowed to stay open because we're our own district. So we don't have to consolidate with anything.

We are our own district. We're our own school.

BLOCK: Well, it must've been a pretty exciting day to have the governor there at your school.

HOISINGTON: It was extremely exciting. It was really nice to have him there.

BLOCK: Where did he give his speech.

HOISINGTON: Right there in the school, yeah. I know. My husband was saying, well, where are you going to put him? Where is he going to sit? I said, he's going to sit where everyone else sits. We're a one-room schoolhouse. We don't have a whole lot of options here.

BLOCK: Well, Shelly Hoisington, it's great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

HOISINGTON: All right. Thank you.

BLOCK: Shelly Hoisington teaches at McCormick School, a one-room schoolhouse outside Troy, Montana.

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