One-room Montana School Also One-student School

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At a time when many schools are concerned about overcrowded classrooms, the Sunset school in this ranching community has a different problem — keeping its lone student at her desk so it can remain open.

There are other schools in remote rural areas around the West that have only one teacher and one student, but the situation is even starker here. Amber Leetch, age 11, makes up the entire Sunset School District 30.

And while many one-student schools elsewhere in the West are in far-flung, impoverished areas, the Sunset district — whose entire annual budget is about $83,000 — is in a prosperous, ranching corner of the state. One of the reasons there is only one student is that the cost of the scenic landscape here has risen so high that young, aspiring ranchers, the kind who would be likely to have school-age children, cannot afford to buy the land.

Amber, a cheerful sixth grader, attended the historic Sunset school last year by herself and most of this year as well, though she had a first grader for company for a few weeks. Once that first grader left, though, it was just Amber again and her teacher, Toni Hatten.

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