The one-room school still evokes nostalgia in the hearts of folks in this country. From the very beginning, our history as a democratic nation is tied to the development of such schools in the country and early settlements of America.
Over the years, a number of surveys of one-teacher schools have been made by private, state, and national organizations. The results have revealed a mixed-bag.
The March, 1936, issue of the South Dakota Library Bulletin, reported that sixty-two percent of the children of the state attended rural schools. The rural school teachers went to the county library every Saturday to return books which had been borrowed previously and to pick up new books to supplement their upcoming lessons.
The rural schools at the time were spending almost no money to purchase library books. Their meager libraries were rapidly going to pieces as a result of constant use. The only money spent was the library fund of ten cents per child which amounted on average to $1.50 per year for each school.
Between 1921 and 1931, the number of library books per pupil in the rural elementary schools of South Dakota was eight. Money was not available to replace the books which were worn out and destroyed. Another source had to be found or they could not improve their library. This is when the Young Citizens League adopted as one of its projects the improvement and adding to the library in their respective schools.
These early one-room rural schools had no cafeteria or teacher’s lounge. Everyone brought their own lunch and ate whatever they carried with them from home at their desk. If the weather was nice, they would all go outside in the fresh air to eat their noon lunch.
None of today’s rural schools resemble those nostalgic images of the early one-room school. A satellite dish and the most modern playground equipment can be found in the schoolyard and the one room has been expanded to a campus similar to those found in town. Inside, computers, white-board, and other modern teaching tools are available.
According to information posted on the South Dakota Department of Education website for 2020 – 21, there are thirty-nine one and two teacher rural schools currently operating in the state. Thirty-six of these schools are elementary schools and three are high schools.
Thirty of these rural schools are “Colony Schools” located at twenty-nine different sites under the supervision and administration of the local school district. Instruction at the elementary level (K – 8) is offered by twenty-eight of these schools and two offer a high school (9 – 12) program.
One school district, Britton-Hecla, is the administrator of both an elementary and high school program at the “Sunset Colony.” The Kimball School District offers high school instruction (9 – 12) at the “Grass Ranch Colony.”
During the current academic year, classroom instruction is being offered by nine public school districts in the one and two teacher rural schools. Eight sites offer the elementary program and the high school program is offered at one location. The Colome Consolidated School District has a two-teacher elementary school at Wood.
The Elk Mountain School District in far western Custer County is offering the one high school program being provided by a public school district. It is a unique district of 310 square miles of prairie range and Black Hills National Forest land on the Wyoming border west of Custer. The 2019 census shows a population of one person per square mile.
The August 13, 2019, minutes of the Elk Mountain School district reported that they approved a cooperative agreement with the Custer School District for their students to participate in all SDHSAA activities and sports. Students can participate “. . . free of any cost to the student or district.”
The mailing address for the school district is Dewey, SD, in the far southwest corner of Custer County. Dewey is an unincorporated community less than one mile from the Wyoming Border and about six miles north of the Fall River County line. A sign along the gravel road (South Dewey Road) indicates a population of seven at an elevation of 3,714 feet.
Based on what they had available, those teachers in our early rural schools did the very best they could to provide their students with the best classroom experience possible. In 1913, a rural school teacher writing in the South Dakota Educator wrote: “The only disadvantage in putting life into things in a rural school, is that no matter how quietly I try to conduct classes, all the other classes want to join in, too!”
From before classes started in the morning until after they ended in the afternoon, they made every attempt to furnish memorable lifetime school experiences. Today, those teaching in the one and two-teacher schools of South Dakota still have that as their goal. That same goal is shared by those teaching in the town and city schools as well!
NOTE: Through what waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila? A ship going from England to Manila by way of the Suez Canal would pass through (perhaps) the English Channel, North Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay (possibly), Strait of Gibraltar, Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean, Gulf of Thailand (Gulf of Siam at that time), and South China Sea.
Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on April 21, 2021