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One-room schoolhouses survive in Michigan

Brian Widdis
Bridge Magazine

A one-room schoolhouse. One teacher. Kindergarten through 8 grade. Older students helping the younger ones.

That was how many Americans were educated in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


And Bridge writer Mike Wilkinson has discovered, the one-room schoolhouse is not extinct in Michigan.


About a century ago there were more than 200,000 one-room schoolhouses. Now, there are fewer than 400, with 23 in the entire state of Michigan, and 16 in the lower peninsula. Only 488 students in the lower peninsula attend these schools.


It used to be that travel and distance would make it necessary for rural children to attend these schools.


"What’s interesting about the ones in the lower peninsula is, they are in areas where these kids have other options…. They could easily go to much larger districts that are only a few miles away", Wilkinson says.


He says the established connections and relationships between parents, teacher, and students within these small communities make one-room schoolhouses an attractive prospect.


"You see the eighth grader sitting next to the first grader and the relationship that they have, beyond being siblings perhaps," says Wilkinson.


In a regular day, Wilkinson says, the children sit next to their siblings on adjustable desks designed to fit children of different grade levels.


At about 8:15, the teacher takes however many kids in a grade and gives them specific, individualized instructions.


“It’s just this silent orchestra of activity…. Everyone is moving in these pieces and in segments that are aligned to what the teacher’s going to do next."


Wilkinson says it's hard to evaluate whether these schools are effective. It isn’t useful to look at their MEAP scores because of how small the class sizes are.


However, he suggests that they teach some children leadership and independence. 


Larger schools see some benefits to the system, such as increased socialization, but many find it hard to employ teachers who have experience with so many different subjects and grade levels.


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