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TROY – Along a forgotten stretch of Old Highway 2 in the Lower Yaak stands a relic from another era – the McCormick Schoolhouse.
While most people would assume one-room schoolhouses are a thing of the past, McCormick still opens its doors every fall. It is one of about 60 remaining in the state, according to the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Nearly 190,000 schoolhouses dotted the United States nearly a century ago. But even if thousands of similar institutions have closed, McCormick teacher Shelly Hoisington says hers is thriving.
“I think the (one-room schoolhouse) is being rediscovered,” she said.
This year, the tiny school just west of Troy has 29 students and in 2013 it will have its largest graduating class in a decade – four students. Located just two miles off U.S. Highway 2, the school is actually closer to Idaho than downtown Troy. Because of its location, eight students are from Idaho.
When Hoisington first came to the school 12 years ago, there were only four students. The addition of her own children doubled the school’s population. In the decade since, the number of kids has slowly risen, but with two teachers there is still plenty of opportunity for individual attention. Hoisington said it’s one of the school’s selling points.
“For a lot of parents, I think this is a great alternative to home school,” she said.
During the day, a movable wall divides the classroom. On one side, Hoisington teaches grades four through eight, while younger students are under the care of Nikki Eide, who started at McCormick just a few weeks ago.
Originally from Troy, Eide attended the University of Idaho at Coeur d’Alene and graduated in 2006. McCormick is her first full-time teaching job. When she told friends that she would be working at a one-room schoolhouse, they compared it to an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” She joked that the analogy was not far off, but she loves her new job.
“I’m very happy that I’m able to start a career here, not just a job,” she said.
It’s a career with unique challenges though. Because children of different ages and ability levels are grouped together, the lesson plan must be adjusted. In math and reading, the students are usually separated into smaller groups. But for other lessons, like social studies, everyone is grouped together. That means a first-grader is learning the same material as a fourth-grader. Hoisington said although it is challenging at times, many of the younger students are able to adapt and advance. Many of her former students have gone on to succeed in high school and college.
But with those challenges come advantages, too, Hoisington said. Because there are fewer than 50 students, the McCormick school does not need a principal and the two teachers handle all administrative duties. That means more of the school district’s budget can go toward the students and various projects.
Salvador Rodriguez, a seventh-grader, said the close relationship between teacher and student is both good and bad.
“It’s nice because you know what the teacher will do, but that’s bad too, because she knows what you’re going to do,” Rodriguez said laughing.
Terry Holmes attended McCormick in the 1950s, when it was known as the Central School, and said the tightknit atmosphere hasn’t changed. Today, he serves as chairman of the school board.
“Golly, it was just a great place,” Holmes said. “You knew every kid by name and you all played together.”
On the playground last week, that unity was on display. On one side, a group of middle school students played basketball, while nearby some younger children played on the swing set. It didn’t seem to matter that some were younger than others.
Although in many places the one-room schoolhouse has become a thing of the past, Hoisington said her school’s steady growth in the last decade means the Lower Yaak should have one for years to come.
“We’ll be in business for awhile,” she said.
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