Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s November 2017 issue.
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In Billings, we are blessed with the juxtaposition of living in a city that still has a “small-town” feel. Thanks, in large part, to the people. We make up the community and shape it to be a safe, compassionate place for our children to grow up. Far from a perfect city, we do, however, have a true community feel when it counts. With a long history of hardworking farmers, ranchers, miners, and so on, our great state, and thereby city, is populated by people who believe in integrity, values and morals, respecting others, and instilling a good work ethic in future generations.
The legacy of bringing up young people in a secure community has been going on longer than Montana has been a state! Elder Grove School (one of many county schools in our area) is believed to be one of the oldest districts in the state. Founded in 1885, four years before the Montana Territory reached statehood, this historic school still uses the original schoolhouse and bell and serves as a prime example of true community.
According to Justin Klebe, Superintendent of Elder Grove School, it is “the essence of a small country school.” He explained the beauty of everyone having a relationship within his district, including the superintendent, principal, staff, and parents; all of the adults joining together to support their students.
This type of experience is why so many choose to forego sending their children to larger districts. The relationships kids have with many staff members and children of other ages are a true gift. Not to say children cannot experience positive relationships and the same effects at other schools. The smaller class sizes of many county schools and the inclusion of K-8 students make for a different academic setting. As a former Elder Grove Outlaw, I thoroughly enjoyed my early years there. I had former teachers and staff cheering me on all the way through my 8th Grade Graduation. I attended the same school as my younger siblings and got to know their friends during recess and lunch. The community feel filled our days with fun and encouragement, while we were still challenged in the classroom.
With the rapid growth and number of new subdivisions in our city, it is no wonder county schools are facing the same problem of overpopulation as School District #2. The idyllic days of small country schools are being tested. Klebe explained how, “In the last 4-5 years, Elder Grove has grown by 51%… this problem, though a good one to have, is a hard one to keep up with, and is currently being addressed by the staff and community.” Parents, many of whom were surveyed during Parent Teacher Conferences last year, provided feedback which Klebe and the staff have integrated into solutions for the future. Klebe believes that with these challenges they need to be “smart about it,” and look further ahead. This December, voters will have the opportunity to vote for a long-term solution by passing the Elder Grove School bond, allowing for much-needed expansion. Much like Elysian School, with its increased population and recent expansion and the passing of the Independent School levy, county schools will need more funding if families continue to move to these areas with the desire for a “small country school” for their children’s education.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” -Benjamin Franklin
about the author…Katie Jones Backer is a former History teacher with a passion for travel, history, writing, music, and helping others. She is happiest though when spending time with her husband, daughter, and two adorable Pomeranians!