By LYNNETTE HINTZE
The Daily Inter Lake
Along the Yaak River Road some 40 miles north of Troy, the Yaak School has served the rural community there since 1932.
Home of the Bobcats, the log Yaak School is one of 25 one-room schools in Montana showcased in a new book, “Chasing Time: Last of the Active One-room Schools in Montana.”
University of Montana photojournalism professor Keith Graham wrote the text, while Graham and Missoula photographer Neil Chaput de Saintonge, founder of the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, photographed the many far-flung outposts of public education. The book contains more than 240 color photographs and interviews with teachers, students and parents.
Montana has more than 60 one-room schools, the most of any state in America.
The schools welcomed Graham and Chaput de Saintonge to observe and photograph candid moments during the school day, from flag-raising to reading lessons and recess.
“I admire everyone who keeps these schools open, active and engaged,” Graham said. “My hope is that they don’t vanish altogether but remain a strong, viable presence. I cannot imagine Montana’s landscape without them.”
The writer-photographer team visited the one-room schools during the 2013-2014 school year.
The day they visited Yaak School, it was Kameron Ledbetter’s eighth birthday on a beautiful September day, and all six students were enjoying chocolate-chip ice cream sandwiches.
Yaak teacher Julianne Fitzgerald started a second career as a teacher after working at Hughes Aircraft for 15 years, the book notes.
“One-room schoolhouses, I believe, are really important to these rural areas because ultimately, it seems to me, kids would not go to school without them,” Fitzgerald says in an interview with the author. “They are important, vital in their education and hopefully they go on.”
In an effort to expand her students’ horizons beyond the Yaak, Fitzgerald organized a trip to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York.
“It did what I wanted it to do,” she says in the book. “They saw the world.”
The book also quotes Kristie Ledbetter, a mother of three of the school’s students.
“I think living in the Yaak and having the Yaak School I feel is extremely important,” Ledbetter said. “I came here as a child and so did three of my sisters. So, it’s really near and dear to my heart.”
“Chasing Time” includes information about the history of Montana schools, noting that the first school for settlers in Montana opened in the winter of 1861 at Fort Owen in Stevensville.
While Montana still has the most active one-room schools in the U.S., it has only half of the number it did a decade ago.
In 1913 there were 212,000 one-room schools in America; in 2013 there were just an estimated 200.
A list of Montana one-room schools in the book shows only one remaining one-room school in Flathead County, at Pleasant Valley west of Kalispell.
“Chasing Time” is published by Riverbend Publishing of Helena. It sells for $33. Go to www.riverbendpublishing.com for more information.