- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

ALMO, Idaho (AP) - When the bell announcing the end of recess rings at Almo Elementary School, it’s done by pulling a long white rope dangling from the ceiling in front of the main entrance.

In many ways going to the K-3 school is like stepping back decades. The school will be 100 years old in 2016. It was built in 1916 after the original red-brick building burned down.

The charm of the polished hard-wood floors and the combination lunchroom, music room, library and art room aside, the school is wired for the 21st century and has a one-to-one ratio of students and electronic devices.

All 13 students have their own iPad, paid for by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization. The PTO also purchased the school a supplementary reading program.

“The kids from this school are well-prepared for the future,” said Gaylen Smyer, Cassia County School District superintendent.

Smyer said the district keeps an eye on test scores, so if there are deficiencies they can be quickly addressed.

The students are on track with Common Core goals, do well on assessment tests and transition easily to Raft River Elementary School when the students are ready for the fourth grade.

The smattering of students who attend the school, nestled at the base of the City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park, come from a wide span of rural countryside dotted with cedar trees and sage brush.

Head teacher Audra Gilbert, one of two staff members at the school, said families have strong ties to the school and the teachers develop close relationships with them.

“I had a parent who did not understand some of the homework I sent home text me the other night,” she said. “With a class of 32, you may not be as willing to give out your cell phone number.”

The school is the district’s smallest and one of the smallest schools in the state, said Debbie Critchfield, spokeswoman for the Cassia County School District.

The school has to get permission each year from the state department of education to operate the school, because of its size.

The building itself is in good shape. It recently received a new heating system and is on track to get new bathrooms next spring.

The bathrooms were put out to bid, but came back too high, Smyer said. The project will be rebid again this spring.

After a session of learning how to write complete directions for making a peanut butter sandwich and a few tense moments when one student realized his two pieces of lavishly slathered bread would not be flipped together for lack of instructions, therefore delaying the eating of it, the class of 8 lined up and marched dramatically to the cafeteria for breakfast.

The school’s breakfast and lunch are brought each day from Raft River Elementary school.

The students are divided into two classrooms, kindergarteners and first to third grades. The teachers then switch back and forth between the groups.

For Gilbert, who drives 70 miles to work each day from Sublett, one of the biggest values of attending the school is the young students avoid 4 hours a day on a bus traveling to and from the Raft River school.

Another perk are the close bonds that are formed between the students, students and teachers and the teachers and parents.

“They are our children,” Gilbert said. “I refer to them as my kids.”

Teacher Laura Jones has taught at Almo for six years after teaching secondary education at Oakley.

“There is more one-on-one time with the students,” Jones said. “Problems don’t get big before you find out you have one and we have tons of parents willing to come in and volunteer.”

Along with all the demands other teachers face, the Almo teachers are charged with the duties of serving breakfast and lunch, being the librarian, music and art teacher along with the nurse and janitor, as needed. They also must be able to pull off a “huge Christmas production” that includes stage sets and costumes.

The production is such an important part of the school’s history it is actually one of the questions asked during job interviews for a teacher’s position at the school.

Jones is also a relief bus driver.

Critchfield said finding teachers willing to come to the school is a bit harder than at other schools in the district.

“But, the ones we have hired have worked out really well,” she said.

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Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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