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Nebraska School Shrinks to the Point of Closure

There were just three students at the Glen School when I visited Sioux County, Neb., in the spring of 2005. At one time, more than 100 families lived within walking distance of the school. But it takes ever larger ranches to make a cattle operation sustainable these days, so fewer people are left nearby.

The boys at the school -- Travis, Luke and Nick -- were all the sons of ranchers, their futures more secure than most. But still, in just a few years, when they graduate from high school, these boys will be faced with hard decisions: Do we stay and work the ranch, or do we leave? And if we leave, can we come back?

Moni Hourt, their teacher, grew up ranching in Sioux County, too. She knows well the kinds of decisions these boys will have to make. Her own children left the county for lack of the kind of work they wanted to do.

As the teacher at the Glen School, it's her job to get the boys ready to move on, whether that means high school, college or something else. Part of her strategy involves exposing them to the world outside Glen on one of her many field trips. Since there are so few students, they can travel long distances on short notice, and they do. One day while I was there, Hourt drove the boys 300 miles in one day so they could do interviews for their National History Day projects.

I met Hourt and the boys again in Washington, D.C., where they were competing at the national level of the History Day competition. All three of them had won on the state level. While they were in Washington, Hourt filled every spare moment with more field trips; not a moment was wasted.

This year, in the spring of 2006, Glen School was closed. There were only two students left, Luke and Travis. The school board made the painful decision. After 120 years, there would be no school in Glen. The boys would finish in town.

No one was surprised at the closing of Glen School. They'd all seen it coming for a long time. Hourt, who's spent her whole teaching career in a one-room school, was sad but philosophical.

"You know, I think eventually education is going to have to stop and look at the example set by a one-room school and say, 'Oh, my, maybe they weren't deprived,'" Hourt said. "Many, many things have been done correctly in a one-room school and the results are there to read in history, if you just turn the right page. "

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