GREENOUGH — At one time, there were about 2,600 rural and one-room schools in Montana. Over the years, many of those schools consolidated, closed, and became just another chapter in Montana’s history books.
Yet, Montana still has more one and two-room schools currently operating than any other state, according to the Montana Preservation Alliance.
Tucked away between the mountains and the forests of Greenough, Sunset School is a testament to Montana’s schoolhouse roots.
“It's not that we have never been on a brink of closure,” explained supervising teacher Toni Hatten. “There were many times where we had no students and if you go over a year or so of having no students, the school closes forever. It doesn't reopen.”
This one-room schoolhouse has withstood the test of time.
Since the early 1900s, the student body has dropped as low as one student.
A trip to Sunset School is a trip back in time, but it’s the relationships that keep the school moving forward and the doors open.
“This little school will not survive without that component. It is the basis for our existence, I believe, because people have choices,” said Hatten.
At the end of the week, they’ll celebrate two students whose families chose to send them here.
Graduating 8th graders Jade Stevens and Lucas Nygard will tell you that was the right choice.
“Just a very tight knit community,” said Lucas.
“You feel like a family almost,” echoed Jade.
Nestled into her seat and her routine, the intimacy of this classroom has helped Jade grow, according to Hatten, who doubles as her grandma.
“She just needed more time, more quiet, less distractions,” said Hatten.
Sometimes it helps when school is a family affair. Jade's mom also teaches at Sunset.
“There are so many things to miss you just can’t put into words,” said Jade.
“To see her blossom into the confident young gal that she is has been my pleasure,” said Hatten.
One row up, Lucas was once the only student enrolled at Sunset. He’s also one of the only students in recent years to have gone to Sunset School from kindergarten to 8th grade.
“I've been really lucky to come here,” said Lucas. “My nine years of coming here have been so great.”
“He's such a great kid,” said Hatten. “He and I have spent so much time together throughout the years. He’s probably a little sick of me, I don't know, but he's such a kind and caring person. He's like a son to me.”
Next year Jade and Lucas will start 9th grade at Hellgate High School. From less than ten classmates to hundreds, from one classroom to a block of buildings, school will never look quite the same.
“I’m looking forward to new opportunities and more friends and just more people to get acquainted with,” said Lucas. “I feel like I’m gonna get more involved with art because I really enjoy that.”
“I'm excited for a new variety of friends, new variety of classes and just a more open variety of places I can go,” said Jade. “I like tennis, so if they did ever have a tennis club I’d be a part of that.”