Shaw Island Elementary

By Allison Shelley — May 28, 2003 2 min read
Shaw Island, Wash. | Population: 200 | Students: 23 | Founded: 1890

Vanishing Heritage: View an accompanying photo gallery.

Resounding among the playground’s giant pines, a thunderous crackle interrupts the day’s lessons. It sounds like a gunshot to teacher Lynette Trucco-Baier. “Deer season started yesterday,” she reassures anxious students, not reminding them that a hunter-restricted biological preserve surrounds the school.

To keep control of a classroom of students in four separate grades—a good number of them kindergartners—a teacher needs the fortitude that comes with 16 years of experience in an isolated one-room schoolhouse. The Shaw Island community is only about 20 miles from Canada’s bustling tourist destination of Victoria, British Columbia, yet the school here is as remote as that in nearly any other rural town, because it is reachable only by ferry.

With its remote locale and small enrollment, the school fosters strong ties between teacher and pupils.

Though 113 years old, Shaw Island Elementary, which began as a one-room, white wood-frame schoolhouse, now has three rooms and nearly a peak enrollment. The red-painted building also has the distinction of being listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Two full-time teachers, including the indefatigable Trucco- Baier, serve 23 students in grades K-8.

At first glance, Trucco-Baier’s style may seem nonchalant. Pupils get 15 minutes worth of teacher attention in small, unconnected segments throughout the day and are left to their own devices once an assignment is finished. But what might erupt into chaos in many classrooms turns into a lesson in personal responsibility at Shaw.

Children quickly learn that benefits come from completing an assignment during class time. By the middle of the day, half the school’s students—those who finished their work—are curled up in the book corner with stories that they may continue to read during “free-form time.”

Trucco-Baier swears by the order and routine that keep things humming at Shaw Island Elementary School. Each morning, days are counted off to the tune of a xylophone and handheld pairs of wooden sticks as the teacher points to squares on a calendar, beginning with the date when school began in September.

During show-and-tell time, pupils can show off a new cast, pass around a souvenir from a recent family trip, or cautiously strum a tune on their guitar. Even a seven-minute recess is finely tailored to each situation. Rain, for example, prompts a classroom game that Trucco-Baier calls “chalk-line jumping” in which youngsters challenge their own records of successive hops over freshly drawn lines on the classroom carpet. And when recess takes place outside, an antique brass bell summons pupils from the schoolyard, where each has mapped off his or her own plot of real estate.

Despite the no-nonsense way Trucco-Baier approaches teaching, there is no lack of love between teacher and students. When a pupil trying to get her attention calls out, “Mom ... no, Dad ... no, wrong ... Lynette,” the teacher can only smile.