Tiny school in rural Utah caters to ranching families

Wisconsin State Farmer
Two school buses drop off students at Park Valley School in Park Valley, UT.

PARK VALLEY, UT (AP) — At a tiny school in a northern Utah ranching community, all 38 students — from kindergarten to 10th grade — study in the same room, evoking memories of the old one-room schoolhouses.
Park Valley School gets by with two full-time teachers and some aides, The Salt Lake Tribune reported . One teacher handles kindergarten through fifth grade, while the other works with grades six through 10. A third part-time teacher oversees agriculture and career and technical education.

"'Little House on the Prairie' comes to mind because (people) don't understand it until they're here," said head teacher Melissa Morris, who acts as the Elder Box County school's administrator in lieu of a principal.

Melissa Morris, one of two full-time teachers at Park Valley School in Park Valley, Utah, works with kindergarten through second graders with penmanship and drawing the alphabet.

The school's existence saves its students hour-long trips to get to the closest school and come back home. Although the school offers less electives and extracurricular activities than schools in metropolitan areas, it offers virtual courses that are broadcast via videoconferencing from other schools.

Tenth-grader Derek Kunzler does not find it weird to share the same classroom, hallways and the lunchroom with 5-year-olds since Park Valley is only school he's ever known.

"You help them out as much as you can," he said. "We all know everyone so we're kind of friends, they're just a lot younger."

Park Valley recently adopted a four-day week to allow kids more time to work on area ranches. The school is hoping the change will prevent chronic absenteeism caused when students miss school for family ranching chores or go on trips out of the area for errands.

Despite adding 40 minutes to each school day, Mitzi Spackman, an eighth grade student, said the change is welcome.

"I won't have to miss as much school," she said. "We'll schedule our town trips and work on Friday."

Among the most difficult challenges the school faces is securing funding every year. Like other Utah schools, Park Valley's funding depends on the number of students who enroll. But enrollment declines are especially felt at small schools like Park Valley, even with supplement funding from the state.

The entire student body and staff eat lunch together at Park Valley School in Park Valley, Utah.

"Our numbers have been as high as 60, so we have dropped a little," Morris said. "Anybody who gets married or has a baby, we're so excited, just because it means the school is going to keep running."