My parents recently attended the graduation ceremonies at the Canyon Creek country school, essentially the same one room schoolhouse my mother went to as a girl. Total enrollment is eight with a graduating class of two.
Following is a description of the event written by my father (sent electronically via AOL). I thought that in light of our recent discussions about education some of you might find it interesting:
Date: 93-06-04 03:49:41 EDT
Subj: Canyon Creek School Graduation
I thought I'd make a comment on the Canyon Creek School, its graduation ceremony, and the contrast with current urban schools.
The school has only one teacher, and 8 students. There were 2 graduates (6th grade). The school has three rooms and a teacherage.
One room is a gym with hardwood floor, a stage, one basketball standard to one side, and was set up for the graduation with folding chairs for the visitors and a bench on the right for the student body.
The second room is an activity center, I guess. It has posters of all types of whales, apparently a subject for current study, an aquarium (with goldfish), a terrarium (with some salamanders), glass case apparently planted with something not yet sprouted, and cages with a hamster, some black and white rats, and a floppy-eared rabbit. There is a schedule posted showing which child is to care for which animal, creature or organism.
The walls were covered with examples of the work of the various children, in crayon and pencil and well as attempts at art work. Since the students are in grades 1-6 the work is various. There was a coat rack with hooks at childrens levels. There was a blackboard, much used, with a box of colored chalk. The teacherage and restroom are off this room. There were two computers, an Apple II and a Mac with a group of mixed programs and a collection of music cassettes, both classical and popular. There were a couple of low tables, with chairs to match apparently set up for individual or small group use.
The third room was tacked onto the other two rooms via a short hall. Gloria tells me that it was the old Wilborn school, moved here some years back. This was the school building that Gloria attended when she was growing up. The hall had a series of photographs of previous student bodies, and some of the school taken in winter at various times. This room was apparently used as a more conventional classroom. There were tables (normal height) and a number of the seat-desk combinations of various ages and with the usual carved graffitti. This room was stacked with food for the graduation.
Outside there is a fence enclosing the school grounds, about an acre. There is a gravel lane and parking area in front of the school. There are a couple of trees showing some childish wear and tear. The rest of the area is grassed. There is a slide, and some swings and a couple of rings for swinging from. There was a smaller swing set nearby. There are two outhouses in back, their wood now greyish from weathering, but apparently still functional . To one side, there is a barn that the students used in the past to park the horses they rode to and from school. The stalls are still there and a place for hay, although the shingles on the roof seemed ready for replacement. During the graduation this barn held the grill for hamburgers and hotdogs.
The school is more than 100 years old, though apparently well taken care of, and it looks the part. The walls show evidence of several coats of paint and there are nicks and dents in the ceiling in the gym. It has that look of things cobbled together and made to serve rather than the uniformity of most urban schools.
The graduation ceremony was somewhat different from the ceremonies at schools I've attended or watched John and Joan graduate from. In place of the well regulated rows of parents in the urban school and rather sedate procedings, this graduation involved everybody in the community. The gym was overflowing with parents, mostly in clean ranchwear, uncles, aunts, grandparents and anyone who felt themselves part of the community. Children of most all sizes and descriptions were running about. The yard was overrun with pickups carrying covers, stockracks, rifles in racks and an occasional dog. Most were covered with road dust or ranch dirt.
Every family was expected to bring a dish to contribute to the common
food supply. These were as mentioned, laid out on the tables in the larger classroom. There were beans of varied types, some macaroni and potato salads, a variety of cakes, a pie or two. Someone had a large MacDonalds jug with lemonade and one of the commercial soda dispensers for Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and some variety of orange drink. You know the type with aluminum cans and a snakey collection of tubing running about. Outside the door someone had a keg for the strictly adult crowd. As also mentioned, they grilled hamburgers and hotdogs in the old barn. The day was a bit cool and a bit rainy.
Proceedings bagan about 12:30. The teacher, and someone else, probably a member of the school board, were standing up on the stage.
They called the two graduates up to receive printed forms of some type and the teacher carefully listed their accomplishments, grade points, math capabilities etc. They got a good hand from everyone attended. The teacher then called each of the rest of the students up to get awards, some for addition, subtraction, good attendance, or in one case for not being caught in a fight all term. Each one got a good hand.
The entire student body then retired noisily to another room to costume themselves for a skit they had prepared. The costumes were rather makeshift but allowed them to simulate, in pairs, the various peculiarities that society, outside Canyon Creek, had engaged in over the past fifty years. There included wartime, hippies, jazz exponents, etc. Thus loaded, they fired away to the applause of the audience.
The point appeared to be that in spite of whatever trend was popular elsewhere, Canyon Creek always produced cowboys. One of the graduates, a thin young lady in jeans, boots, cowboy hat, a plaid shirt and a big smile galloped back and forth in front of the audience riding a broom horse (I think) to demonstrate this after each aberration of the outside world was demonstrated. The whole graduation skit used maybe 45 minutes and there were no speeches of any consequence.
At this point, lunch was announced and most of the crowd headed towards the food. A few stayed back to clean up the gym room of chairs and to help a western style band to install its equipment. It took a while to combine the people and the food. Actually the food seemed to come out best since there was lots of it and it was in general the heavy duty variety. While the eating was underway the general noise level was raised by conversations in all directions. The visitors rehashed old times, cataloged the doings of those absent, dead, ill or with something in common.
We left about this time, but I understand that the eating and dancing continued until about 7PM. This really was a community occasion and a chance to get togather for residents in the area. People here seem to be happy with the one teacher school and feel the kids are getting a good elementary education. I suspect they are right. They mentioned that residents of some adjoining areas such as Marysville, an old mining area with a ski area are trying to get their children sent here instead of having them sent to larger more modern schools in Helena. They expected perhaps 15 students next year.