Small, rural schools prove a perfect fit for some
By TETONA DUNLAP
ROGERSON, Idaho (AP) — To get to Three Creek Joint Elementary, drive 36 miles west of Rogerson, through seemingly endless fields of sagebrush and past the occasional ranch sign.
Just when you think you haven’t gone far enough, you will come to a blue-and-white, one-room schoolhouse on the side of road.
There are some teachers who might be hesitant about accepting a job in such a rural location.
But ask teacher Dena Pollock and she will tell you she loves it.
“It’s so remote. Telephones and power are not totally dependable,” Pollock said. “The atmosphere is definitely a perk. I like the solitude.”
Pollock is in her second year as the only teacher at the school, which has seven students enrolled, including two kindergartners. She is also superintendent, principal and secretary, which means she doesn’t answer the phone often during school hours. If she did, she said there wouldn’t be enough time for instruction.
Since about 1900, Three Creek School has served students in kindergarten through eighth grade, never growing larger than 18 students. Last year, the school had eight students, with four students leaving in the middle of the year. Four years ago, the school only had one student.
An additional classroom is being built by volunteers and when it is finished will replace the 2,100-square-foot, one-room school built in about 1971. The old building will then serve as storage, Pollock said.
Last year, the school upgraded to dry erase boards instead of chalkboards and installed an interactive Smart Board.
The school is looking to hire a teacher’s aide to work about 28 hours a week.
Early this month, Three Creek was one of two school districts that didn’t meet an Oct. 1 deadline for differentiated pay plans sharing a statewide $21 million pool for teacher pay and training.
“Department staff did work to contact each school district and charter school that had not submitted,” State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath wrote in an email to Idaho Education News.
“I didn’t even hear about it,” Pollock said.
Pollock said she is currently going to Twin Falls once a month to attend training to become a Common Core coach for other teachers. She said she will be certified by the state to do so in June.
In 2010, Three Creek School built a multi-purpose room — a half-gymnasium with storage, two bathrooms and a kitchen — attached to the west side of the existing school building built in 1971.
Today, the new gym often serves as a community center with more than 30 people attending events.
That is a high number considering the area surrounding the school has a population of about three, Pollock said. Less than a 100 people live in a 20-mile radius. The closest ranch is about three miles away from the school.
Though one-on-one instruction is one positive, Pollock said one of the downfalls of the small class size is little socialization.
Here, children of all ages learn from one another and often classrooms are comprised of siblings. Students bring their own lunches and parents drop off and pick up students.
“They have little interaction and are pretty easily overwhelmed,” Pollock said.
To combat this isolation, once a month, students go on field trips in Twin Falls or Boise. Because there is no bus system, parents drive and serve as chaperones.
“Out here, we all work together or it would not work,” Pollock said. “I know all the parents. The kids are much more respectful and the community supports the school and that’s how it should be.”
The three members of the PTO are also mothers of children in the school.
Shannon Thompson, a parent of two students, said if she didn’t have the option of sending her children to Three Creek, she would homeschool.
“I like the teacher-to-student ratio. I like that parents get to go on field trips,” Thompson said.
And when it’s time to go to high school?
Thompson said she isn’t sure yet, and will cross that bridge when they get there.