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Montana’s rural schoolhouses face unclear future

Tyrell and Shelby Schrepfer relaxed at recess. They are two of Polaris School’s four pupils.
Tyrell and Shelby Schrepfer relaxed at recess. They are two of Polaris School’s four pupils. Kathryn Haake /Associated Press

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DIVIDE, Mont. — The school day in Divide begins with the four students, ages 5 to 14, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance around the flagpole outside their little red schoolhouse on the outskirts of the southwestern Montana ranching town, population 161.

When they finish, all four sit at desks in the school’s one classroom before teacher Judy Boyle, who switches between elementary and middle school lesson plans.

Divide School and 60-some schools like it in Montana are still used to educate the small population of rural students, who are isolated from towns by weather and geography. National Rural Education Association Executive Director John Hill said these schools are fading fast. He estimates there anywhere between 400 and 700 schoolhouses left in the nation.

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