Forest fire forces preschool through 12th grade under one roof

Forest fire forces preschool through 12th grade under one roof

11 September 2008

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USA — On a normal day, Toketee Falls Elementary is a unique piece of Americana: a one-room schoolhouse where Pam Smith teaches preschool through sixth grades.

“At one point we had four teachers,” said Smith, a teacher at Toketee for 26 years. “Now I’m the one teacher.”

These aren’t normal days in Toketee Falls. The Rattle Fire, the largest forest fire now burning in the Northwest, shut down the state highway between Toketee Falls and Glide, where the school district’s students attend middle and high school.

“Because of the fire right now I have another 10 kids that come and join us,” Smith said. “I just added their grades, and we’re doing their assignments from their schools.”

Toketee Falls school has become a one-room school where preschool through high school attend classes under one roof.

We’re just making due,” Smith said. “These kids need schooling, too.”

The Rattle Fire blew up last weekend, rapidly expanding from 900 acres to over 2,000 acres and jumping Highway 138 between Glide and Toketee Falls. As of Thursday morning, the fire was only 10 percent contained and had burned more than 2,800 acres.

Highway 138 remains closed due to logs, boulders, debris and other dangers.

Superintendent Don Schrader cancelled school Monday and worked with the U.S. Forest Service to determine whether students could safely follow an alternate route through the mountains.

“I went up and did it both days and realized it is kind of hairy,” Schrader said.

So he drove middle and high school textbooks to Toketee Falls school Tuesday and Wednesday and helped teach class.

“It was really fun yesterday working with them,” Schrader said, “seeing them interact with the litte guys.”

The district may send another teacher to Toketee Falls if the highway remains closed into next week. The district owns a duplex near the school where staff can live while helping out at the school.

Meanwhile, students in all 13 grades — preschool through 12 — are riding the bus to Toketee Falls and attending classes together.

“All the kids who live at Toketee and Diamond Lake, we can get them back and forth because that part of the road is open,” Schrader said.

For the Glide School District, this is the second adjustment they’ve had to make this year due to fire.

A fire this summer at Glide High School interrupted construction oand remodeling of classrooms paid for by a voter-approved bond. 

Schrader tried to put a positive spin on the unfortunate situation when the school year started by hosting a staff retreat with the them “Fired Up About Education.”

“I didn’t think this would happen,” he said.

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