Vermont’s Granville Village School was already a quarter-century old when future author Laura Ingalls began her first teaching job in a one-room school in South Dakota in 1882.
Even then, schools were the binding force for the fledgling community of dairy and maple-syrup farmers. By 1896, nine tiny schools had sprung up around Granville, now known more for its traditionally produced wooden bowls and its proximity to the popular Mad River Valley ski slopes.
So intertwined are they, locals say, the town and its school share quarters and an identity.
The town has shrunk to just over 300 residents, but the Granville Village School, with its 18 pupils in kindergarten through 4th grade, stands firm. Its Web site proudly proclaims it “one of the oldest continually running one-room schoolhouses in the country!” And it is one of only three left in Vermont.
“You were like a family at the school—responsible for each other. When you started in the 1st grade, the other grades were supposedly thoughtful enough to look out for you, which they usually did,” recalls former Granville teacher Eulah Bannister, who taught here for 22 years and gave individually selected presents to each one of her students every Christmas “according to their needs.”
Pupils get two meals a day at Granville, including a home-style breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and orange juice are whipped up every morning in the school’s kitchen by one of the student’s parents, Carrie Turnbull. After class, the children sometimes return for punch and cookies during an evening event at the Town Hall, which shares quarters with the school.
The annual Christmas pageant is one such gathering, for which the whole town turns out. This past year, elaborate costumes of furry, patterned cloth, felt, and construction paper transformed students into a zoo-full of faux animals. The menagerie prompted a flurry of picture-snapping and boasting by proud parents—who were also the costumes’ designers, the stars’ transportation, and the event’s caterers—as well as neighbors, friends, and former students.
“There are so many other things that go around having a school like that in your community that make it important to everyone else in the community, not just the school- age children,” says Kate Strauss, a parent and member of the school board that has fought vehemently to keep Granville School functioning.
“A lot of little towns in this vicinity give up their one-room schoolhouses and join with other schools,” she says. “Those towns eventually disappear from the map because they become commuter towns. ... They’ve lost that sense of who they are.”
Granville’s schoolhouse is in no danger of being shuttered, at least not while teacher Peter Flaherty has a say. “Emotionally, we can’t afford to close it, because this school is the symbol of our community,” he says. “It’s all we have.”