Sunday, June 12, 2011
As the sun rises over this lonely land, turning snowy Montana mountaintops a startling pink, the little school bus is already miles into its morning mission.
For an hour and a half, the door swings open at the end of gravel driveways and country road intersections, gathering children one and two at a time until there are nine — the entire student body of Spring Creek School.
Perched atop a hill, not far from where Gen. George Crook battled Crazy Horse in the 1876 Battle of the Rosebud, tiny Spring Creek is one of only 200 one-room public schoolhouses left in America. A semicircle of nine desks in the middle of the room represents grades kindergarten through seven.
This year there are no fifth- or eighth-graders. It all depends on who shows up. There have been as many as 12 students, as few as three.
Such a school seems impossible when stacked against the modern realities of budget cuts, school closures and overflowing classrooms. Yet in this part of the country, where elbow room comes measured in the hundreds of acres and the nearest public elementary school is 72 miles away, the "Little House on the Prairie" educational model is a logistical necessity.