One-Room Schoolhouse Concept Alive and Well in
Hoffner, Josh. "One-Room Schoolhouse Concept Alive and Well in North Dakota." Forum, 14 November 1999.
Bowman, N.D. – As they head into the millennium, the five
students at the Cottage School don’t worry about shootings,
crowded classrooms, or a lack of attention from their teacher.
The Cottage School is a one-room, country schoolhouse in southwestern
North Dakota, surrounded by wide-open fields, pastures and gravel
roads. It’s an area of North Dakota, where cows are more common
Cottage, built around the turn of the century, is one of two schools
in Slope County. The other is a one-room schoolhouse in nearby Amidon
with seven students.
One-room schoolhouses were scattered throughout America’s
countryside at the turn of the century, but they are becoming rare,
even in North Dakota. The state has 10 one-room schoolhouses, compared
with 4,700 in 1918.
But that doesn’t bother parents who send their children to
“In a small, country school like this, it’s so easy
to instill good family values,” said Connie Gaebe, Cottage’s
only full-time teacher. “That’s why their parents send
their kids here.”
Dustin Freitag and John Wegner are the second graders at Cottage.
Samantha Holzer is Gaebe’s daughter and the school’s
only girl and third-grader. Thomas Burke and James McKitrick make
up the fifth-grade class.
Thomas comes from a long line of family members who went to country
schoolhouses. His father, Thomas, and mother, Twyla, were classmates
at Cottage. His four older brothers attended a nearby one-room school
before it consolidated with Cottage.
“We feel he gets as much or more than a classroom with more
students in it,” Twyla Burke said. “We get excellent
Country schoolhouses at the turn of the century didn’t have
indoor plumbing, heat or electiricity. Cottage School has all that
– and technology.
It has three computers with internet access, a television, a copy
machine and a microwave. Baebe hope to get a laptop computer with
a grant she is writing.
Cottage students receive plenty of individual instruction. Gaebe
taught Thomas and James math recently by telling them how important
weights and measures are to farmers. On the other side of the room,
Dustin, John and Samantha worked on art projects.
John and Dustin, working hard to stay in the lines with their colors,
discussed the enrollment prospects at the school.
“We know there is going to be at least seven (students) next
year,” Dustin said.
“We know two for sure – your brother and my sister,”
The family atmosphere is present at all levels of the school district.
When Gaebe interviewed for the job this year, she met with the students’
parents, who are the school board members.
“It just has to kind of rotate among the parents,”
Country School Superintendent Lois Anderson said of the school board.
The Cottage families are farmers and ranchers. John and Dustin,
the second-graders, say they want to follow in their parents’
“My dad might need the help,” said John, wearing cowboy
boots and already looking like a young farmer.
Parents haul their kids to school every day because the school
district doesn’t run school buses. The school doesn’t
serve lunch, so students bring Crock-Pots with hot, home-cooked
meals. They spend their recess breaks building tree forts, playing
football, frolicking on old playground equipment and cruising gravel
roads with their bicycles.
Gaebe regularly piles the students in her vehicle for field trips.
After completing a unit on sunflowers, students rode along with
an area farmer as he harvested his sunflower crop.
Gaebe and other parents aren’t worried that the school will
fade away as the number of children in rural areas continues to
“We have enough younger ones coming up in the neighborhood
that I think it’ll be open for a few more years,” Twyle
Tom Decker, North Dakota’s director of school finance and
organization, believes the number of country schoolhouses could
actually increase. Decker says some rural counties may eventually
be served best by one country school.
Reprinted with permission by The Forum.
|Cottage School fifth-graders, James
McKirtric, left, and Thomas Burke work on math lesson with teacher
Connie Gaebe last week in Bowman. Cottage School is one of nine
country schoolhouses in North Dakota.