- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - In the old days, the teacher at a one-room country school would scoop the walks, make sure the furnace worked and serve as nurse and counselor, as well teach the “three R’s” - reading, writing and arithmetic.

Now, a passionate preserver of country school history wants to add another label: “hero,” the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1NAeymc ) reported.

Betty Stukenholtz of Nebraska City, who has faithfully preserved the one-room school she attended, is seeking nominations of outstanding teachers - both past and present - who served in country schools.

The “One Room Heroes,” as she calls them, will be honored during a first-ever Nebraska Country School Conference, scheduled for July 8 and 9 at Peru State College.

The recognition is being done through the Otoe County Genealogical Society, of which Stukenholtz is president.

There are just a handful of one-room schools still operating in Nebraska, but Stukenholtz, a 78-year-old former University of Nebraska-Lincoln employee, has tried to keep their legacy alive by organizing “country school reunions” at Harmony School, the school she bought and preserved south of Nebraska City.

Recognizing the teachers, she said, is an idea that grew out of her latest project: writing a book about the 109 one-room schools that used to dot the hillsides of Otoe County.

“Preserving the history of country schools is my passion,” Stukenholtz said. “After I’m gone, there aren’t going to be many people who know what a country school was.”

How passionate is she? Her mother gave her $25 to attend the auctioning of Harmony School and its contents in 1999. She ended up winning a bidding war for the school building. Price: $20,500.

“Something came over me,” Stukenholtz said. “I just couldn’t see someone buying it who didn’t go to that school.”

She now uses Harmony School to store records and do research on her country school book. Students from Nebraska City Lourdes Central Catholic School also visit each fall for a pioneer day.

Stukenholtz isn’t alone in her love for old schoolhouses.

Iowa has been holding annual country school conferences since 2000, and drew nearly 100 people to its conference last year at Madrid, Iowa.

Bill Sherman of Des Moines, who calls himself an “Iowa country school preservationist,” said there’s been a surge of interest in one-room schools in recent years. People are writing books and trying to save the old school buildings, he said.

Sherman is a founding member of the Country School Association of America, formed in 2006. That group is planning to hold its national conference in Nebraska in 2018, at Homestead National Monument in Beatrice.

He said that one-room schools are still having an impact on education. Private Montessori schools, Sherman said, borrow many of the same concepts: every student advances at his own pace, students receive individualized instruction from teachers, and older students help younger students.

Iowa has about 60 operating one-room schools, mostly in Amish and Mennonite communities, Sherman said.

Nebraska has six schools that have only one full-time teacher or fewer, and three of those are alternative schools located in city limits, according to the State Department of Education.

The demise of country schools in Nebraska was hastened by a 2005 law that required the Class I school districts to merge with larger districts in nearby towns. The expense and dwindling number of students combined to close down the one-room schools.

About 20 former one-room schools have been saved and repurposed as homes or storage sheds in Otoe County.

Stukenholtz said it’s not too late to preserve the memory of a lot of great teachers who worked in the country schools.

The teachers, she said, will be recognized at the country school conference, and their names will be placed on a plaque at Peru State.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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