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Washington’s ‘Remote and Necessary’ Schools Focus on Family, Community

December 3, 2017

The beautiful, often rugged terrain of Washington state can provide many challenges, including the education of children living in hard-to-reach areas far from traditional government schools.

In 1963, Washington state legislators recognized the “exceptional case” need for funding nontraditional schools educating children in remote areas. Today, there are nine ‘Remote and Necessary’ schools, located mainly along the Pacific coast, with the main mission of serving children living in permanent communities where travel time to the closest traditional government school is more than an hour each way, risky because of weather or topography, or would require travel across the Canadian border.

By necessity, each school functions on the one-room schoolhouse model of educating students in combined age groups. Every four years, each Remote and Necessary school is reviewed by a committee dedicated solely to that task.

‘There Are No Roads’

Holden Village School (K-12) of the Lake Chelan School District is located twelve miles into the Cascade Mountains, 3,200 feet above sea level, on the grounds of a former copper and nickel mine.

During the 1960s, the mine was deeded to the Lutheran Bible Institute. Today, the Lutheran Church uses Holden Village as a retreat center. The population can swell to as many as 500 during the summer, from a core of 100-200 staff who stay to maintain the facilities during the harsh winter months when as many as 12 feet of snow may fall.

“One year we had five seniors, two tenth graders, a ninth grader, two eighth graders, a sixth grader, a couple fourth graders, a second grader, a first grader, and a kindergartner,” said Kelly Kronbauer, Holden Village school principal and special schools program manager for the Lake Chelan School District. “Our biggest student population has been 22 to 24, and our smallest, one.

“There are no roads,” Kronbauer said. “You have to come to Lake Chelan and hop a boat which takes about three hours up-lake to get to a dock in Lucerne, where you get off and are picked up by one of the Holden Village buses.”

‘Collaboration and Coordination’

Yale Elementary School (K-5) of the Woodland School District is in the Yale Valley below Mt. St. Helens. Yale’s student population averages approximately 50, divided among three teachers and a two-room schoolhouse that dates back to 1962.

“At Yale, it takes a high degree of collaboration and coordination to ensure every student achieves grade-level learning,” said Asha Riley, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Woodland Public Schools.

‘An Extension of Their Community’

Though Yale and Holden Village have their geographical and population differences, they share a reliance on families and the surrounding community to support their children’s education.

Riley says Yale Elementary is a reflection of its community, where residents know one another and rely on each other in a rural setting.

“In a small community, people see the school as an extension of their community,” said Riley. “The school is somewhat of a hub for the community and hosts a number of after-school and community events. Traditions also play a large role, as many of our parents were once students. They love the traditions and events which have long occurred and wish to see them continue for their children. Thus they volunteer to ensure they happen.”

‘A Lot of Support’

In Holden Village, parents are very much a part of the school because of the living conditions in the village, Kronbauer says.

“Living is 100 percent communal,” Kronbauer said. “Every meal is eaten together. Eating and fellowshipping are done with everyone together. There is a lot of support from the village. They have cooks [and] accountants. The staff comes in and works with the kids. We have one student right now until January and that student is doing a book club with adults there.”

Successful Personalization

Though it’s hard to determine an overall “report card” grade for Washington’s Remote and Necessary schools because of their small, fluctuating student populations, Yale school reported nearly 90 percent proficiency for third grade English/Language Arts, with half the student population qualified as eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Holden Village, with a varying student population over the years, reports very few school statistics, though Kronbauer says students have access to personalized educational opportunities.

“One of the challenges we face is that Holden Village is a public school, not a private or homeschool, it’s a state school, and while we do give Smarter Balance Assessments, we also provide options for counseling or other services,” Kronbauer said. “The school psychologist will travel up-lake to test, but seniors also come down-lake for career counseling or special presentations. Students even go to southern Oregon for a major Shakespeare week, and they once took a trip to Washington, DC.”

‘Partnering with Parents Is Vital’

In addition to providing students with access to more varied and personalized educational opportunities than might otherwise be available in their rural setting, these Remote and Necessary schools also provide a lifeline to parents who want to take an active part in educating their children. Many Yale parents who work still find time to volunteer at the school.

“Partnering with parents is vital to student success,” Riley said. “They help us understand their children. They support our efforts to continue learning and establish its value for their children. When parents are involved, it makes a world of difference.”

Jenni White (jlwplusdmw@gmail.com) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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Jenni White is cofounder of Restore Oklahoma Public Education and a former public school science teacher.
jenni@RestoreOkPublicEducation.com @@RopeOK