In Maybell, a blast from the past builds for the future
Maybell Elementary is Colorado’s last one-room schoolhouse
When most people think of one-room schoolhouses, an image of the past might be what comes to mind: a small house or shed with children dressed like characters from “Little House on the Prairie” running around it. However, close to the center of Moffat County, the only one-room schoolhouse in the state of Colorado still stands and teaches schoolchildren every day.
For the 19 students spread among grades kindergarten through 5th grade at Maybell Elementary, that old-style classroom setting is their reality. Their teacher is Kristin Allen, who has served mainly traditional classroom settings before coming to Maybell a few years ago. She covers all literacy and math content to each of the grades.
“We have a very fast-paced day with lots of movement,” Allen said. “The students get most of their what-would-be traditional, whole-group instruction from me in a small group. So normally, a teacher would have their whole class sitting in front of them, and they would do the teaching. But I do that here with just like three to five kids in each group. And then when they leave me, they go to a paraprofessional to have those concepts that they’ve just practiced be reinforced.”
This year, Allen said, is the first year that the elementary school has two paraprofessionals, Jamie Coupe and Corinne Coombs. The staff members of Maybell wear a lot of hats — from art teacher to P.E. coach to instructor. This school year is also the largest class they have ever had.
Because all of the students are in one classroom, they are often exposed to what each other’s grades are doing. First graders can overhear instruction about fractions or spelling words that may be one or two grade levels ahead of them. This, Allen said, makes learning much more flexible and personalized for each student.
“I feel like one of the biggest benefits to our environment here is that we can accommodate the students’ needs really easily. So if a student is behind, they can work with students in a lower grade level,” Allen added. “If they’re ahead, then it’s really easy for me to accelerate them because I have those other students in my environment. I’m teaching those concepts so they just jump right in with the grade if that’s appropriate.”
Coupe has had teaching experience in the past, but this is her first year back after spending six years at home with her children. Coupe’s children attend Maybell Elementary, so she serves them both as a parent and as an instructor.
“This is such a unique experience here,” Coupe said. “I mean, what kid can grow up saying, ‘I went to school at a one-room schoolhouse and was doing kindergarten within the same class with fifth graders?’ It’s just great how they all interact together. They help each other. Even the kindergartners help the fifth graders sometimes. It’s just crazy.”
In their classroom, several small tables are scattered around the room. Allen sits at a half-moon-shaped table in front of four small chairs. This is where she does her instructional time. Along the walls are various educational posters that range from a simple alphabet to elementary earth science. All of the students learn social studies, music and art together as a group. This can get challenging, Allen said, since she then has to find activities that can be done for every student ages 5 through 11.
Coupe said there are several sets of siblings at Maybell, as well, but despite spending their entire days together, there is not that much fighting between students, and it doesn’t disrupt learning.
“They just kind of all do their own thing, because I was worried about that with my own children, being in the same class together all day, and then going home being together, but they do really great,” Coupe said. “They push each other. They can go home and be like, ‘I heard you did this today at school,’ because they’re all right here in one place. They overhear it. My son will kind of give my daughter some of his spelling words. He’ll ask her, ‘Can you do this?’ And I don’t think that would necessarily happen in a traditional classroom.”
It’s common for Allen to have to switch quickly from one topic to another — from ABCs with kindergartners to dividing fractions with fifth graders.
“A good teacher is going to differentiate to meet student needs in any classroom environment, but I think that, in some ways, it’s easier for me to do that here,” Allen said. “You know, we have one student who is doing work in math and literacy that’s two years beyond his grade level. And everything he’s doing is two years beyond his grade level. That would be a real challenge to do in a traditional classroom environment. It makes it easier, I think, for me to meet the students where they are academically.”
The history of one-room schools in Colorado goes back about as long as the state has existed, but the biggest change in how schooling in the state works came first in 1908, with President Theodore Roosevelt’s Commission on Country Life. The commission found that education in one-room rural schools was less uniform than the school structure we see today, which prompted the change to larger, peer-separate classrooms.
Consolidation took place over a span of decades and began in Mesa County in 1912. Between 1912 and 1922, 168 consolidated schools were created out of nearly 500 one-room rural schools. Though the Great Depression slowed this process, eventually, a vast majority of schools in the state had been consolidated.
Because students at Maybell spend so much time together — and, for many of them, years together in the same classroom — the staff at Maybell said they become a community together. Many of the students do not live in Maybell (many of them live upward of 30 or 40 miles away), but the students still connect and form bonds with each other, no matter their grade level. They all play together and work together throughout the day. In the playground, Allen said, they all move as a group, and it’s not uncommon for there to be a leader or for the students to plan plays together.
“For the most part, all 19 of them are playing together outside,” Coupe added. “It’s really neat to see. They all care for each other so much. If somebody gets hurt, they all gather around them to see if they are alright. They’re all like, ‘Are you okay?’ to make sure no one is hurt.”
Leadership is another skill that students at Maybell Elementary learn through their schoolhouse environment, Coombs said. During her time as a paraprofessional, she has seen no bullying in the classroom despite the large age gaps between some students.
“Everyone gets along, and if you don’t, you won’t have friends here. So everyone gets along,” Coombs said. “In P.E., the big kids want the little kids on their team because they like being the example for them. And it pushes the little kids to try harder.”
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Come Jan. 27, Moffat County School District could be looking ahead to a new type of school week.