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Rural US School Has Just One Student, One Teacher

2018-11-27

A rural area in the western United States has a very unusual school. The school, in the state of Wyoming, has just one student and only one teacher.

It is called Notch Peak Elementary. The only student is Corinne Gaby. Her teacher is Lisa Geary. Corrine has no brothers or sisters and lives with her parents on a large ranch in a mountainous area.

The school is based on the idea that every child in the U.S. has the right to a public education – no matter where that child lives. But no schools existed in the area where Corinne’s family moved. The closest public school is at least a one-and-a-half hour drive away. And that road is not considered safely passable during the winter.

Corinne Gaby, right, works with her teacher, Linda Geary, during class Oct. 17 at Notch Peak Elementary. The school is housed in a horse barn two miles from Gaby's home. (Shannon Broderick / Laramie Daily Boomerang)
Corinne Gaby, right, works with her teacher, Linda Geary, during class Oct. 17 at Notch Peak Elementary. The school is housed in a horse barn two miles from Gaby's home. (Shannon Broderick / Laramie Daily Boomerang)

Her parents also decided that teaching her themselves at home was not realistic. So when Corinne was old enough to start kindergarten, local education officials decided to create Notch Peak Elementary just for her.

A new, separate school was not built. Instead, a classroom area was created on the second floor of a horse barn. Large windows keep the room bright, and a wood stove provides heat.

The teacher

Several teachers were considered for this unusual teaching situation. The first lasted a year. The next left after two.

Then came Lisa Geary. In 2016 Geary was teaching at a small elementary school in the neighboring state of Colorado. She was excited to hear about the new position and in time was hired.

The other teachers had lived in the horse barn. But for Geary, the school district brought a movable home nearby for her to live in. Still, she says her first year was “harder than expected.” She faced lonely surroundings and severe weather.

In an interview, Geary told VOA her relationship with Corinne also got off to a rough start.

“It wasn’t easy in the beginning… [Corinne was] strong-headed, and it was tough.”

Geary said she became discouraged with their lack of progress. At first, she said it seemed like Corinne did not want to be taught.

“We really, really struggled that first year, so it wasn’t fun for me as a teacher who is waiting for her cup to be filled up.”

Corinne agrees that the start of teaching was difficult.

“No, we didn’t have a relationship right off. It was hard to start.”

But over time, Corinne said Geary’s teaching methods changed her mind about the unusual one-on-one learning situation.

“Now in fifth grade and fourth grade, Ms. Geary and I have seen lots of changes in ourselves.”

Corinne says Geary’s teaching has taught her far more than just what happens in the classroom. “She’s my everything teacher.” Corinne adds: “I don’t see why any kid would not want any other teacher that’s just like her.”

Geary adds that in every teaching situation, the relationship between teacher and student is very important. She says that her relationship with Corinne is now so close, the two are like family.

“It really is a really good fit. We know so much about each other, we can finish each other’s sentences sometimes.”

Corinne agrees that the two have a much deeper connection than most students and teachers. She describes Geary as the “greatest teacher in the galaxy.”

“Well, she gives me chances and she really believes in me.”

The two also spend a lot of time together outside the classroom. Sometimes Corinne even gets to sleep over at her teacher’s house, and they both love taking care of the animals on the ranch.

The curriculum

The day usually starts with English-related studies, followed by math before lunch. Additional studies include science, social studies, art and physical education.

Geary says the one-on-one relationship provides the chance for Corinne to learn with a greater “depth of knowledge.”

“We go to school from eight to three, and I’m often saying, I wish we had more time,” she said. However, Geary says she has learned to give Corinne some breaks.

“When I started teaching Corinne, I was one-on-one with her all the time, and I’m in her face, all the time.”

She says she had to learn to pull back a little from the teaching to “give Corinne time to regroup.”

The current situation will likely not continue when Corinne finishes the sixth grade. Geary would have to receive additional training and certifications. She says she sometimes gets sad thinking about this unusual relationship ending.

But in the end, she says she just wants to do what is best for Corinne. She believes it will be good for her to get “a new perspective” in high school and a different teaching environment.

But when Geary does leave Notch Peak, no one expects a permanent goodbye. “I will always be connected to Corinne,” she says. “Even after I leave the 6th grade, she will always be a part of my life. I’ll always be connected.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn reported this story for VOA Learning English, with additional reporting from the Associated Press. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

What are your thoughts on this very unusual school situation? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

ranch n. large farm where animals are kept

barn n. large building on a farm where crops or animals can be kept

discouraged adj. having lost \confidence or enthusiasm for something

galaxy n. a large group of stars held together in the universe

bond n. an interest, experience, or feeling that makes two people feel connected

certification n. proof or document proving someone is qualified for a particular job, or that something is of good quality

perspective n. a certain way of viewing things that depends on one’s experiences