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Monday, April 27, 2015

Exploring the History of Montana's One-Room Schools

I came across this article on one-room schools (on Facebook, of course)--recently published in the Bozeman Chronicle. Larry Cebula, a professor who teaches public history at Eastern Washington University, commented on my friend's post. He mentioned a project he assigned one of his students: to map all the schools in Spokane County in 1927. The densely populated map provides a graphic representation that "reminds of us of the pervasiveness of this vanished institution." I was immediately enamored.

Check out Larry's student's map and then tell me if you think a similar project could be completed by high school students. Your County Superintendent of Schools should have a list of all the one-room schools in your county--and likely additional information as well (for example, how many books were in the libraries, what the school terms were, how much the teacher was paid, etc.) We have some of those records in the Montana Historical Society Archives as well. 

Another great resource is Charlotte Caldwell's beautiful photographic history, Visions and Voices: Montana's One-Room Schoolhouses.  100% of the net profits from the sale of this book go directly to the Preserve Montana Fund for the stabilization and preservation of Montana’s Historic One-Room Schoolhouses.

And speaking of ... Montana Preservation Alliance is working to document and preserve remaining one and two-room schools (active and inactive). You can share information about schools that are still standing here

I ran this project by Corvallis teacher Phil Leonardi to ask him what he thought--and what other sources he'd recommend a teacher using if s/he decided to take this on. Here's what he wrote: "Wow! I really like this but it doesn’t need to even be ‘ancient history” considering all of the consolidation taking place in Montana.  I like the idea of County Supts as a starting point…." He also recommended checking with your local historical society. "They usually have the photos needed which you need to really generate interest and recognition. ... Here’s another resource…. Nostalgia of old yearbooks.  What I’ve found is that there always seems to be a class in the last 70 years that will dedicate a section of their yearbook to “yester year” and school history…. generally around 1950-1960 since they are now recalling the educational experience of their parents from the 1920’s and 1930’s from the generation before consolidation or many of Montana’s rural schools." County history books almost always have sections on school histories too. (You can find these in your community--and many have been digitized by the Montana Memory Project.) Finally, make sure to check the National Register of Historic Places: many school buildings are listed.   

If anyone ends of trying this, let me know (mkohl@mt.gov) and I'll see what I can do to help! It would take time and work, but what a gift of scholarship a classroom project on one-room schoolhouses would be!

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