A PROJECT OF RURAL SCHOOLS COLLABORATIVE & NREA

The Modern One-Room School - Amanda McCraw, Paicines, CA

Panoche Elementary School is a one room school house in San Benito County, California. Amanda McCraw is the sole employee, and this is her story.

January 19, 2022 |
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Surrounded by serene trees, rolling hills, and grazing cattle, Panoche School is nestled in rural Paicines, California. Not only is the locale rural, the school itself is uniquely small - a modern one-room schoolhouse.

Amanda McCraw, the school’s sole K-8 teacher, lives and works in this idyllic valley, where she says there's almost always a gentle breeze blowing by. Although she grew up in a small town, coming to Paicines totally changed Amanda’s perspective:

“Compared to where I am here…[my hometown] looks like the big city. It was definitely a surprise! I kind of fell into the rural school situation, but I ended up falling in love with it and I can't imagine myself teaching any place different now.”

Through her nine years of teaching, Amanda never planned on landing in a school of this size. While the one-room schoolhouse was once a common sight in rural areas, today few have ever seen one still standing, let alone actively educating students. Yet Amanda mentions that a few one-room schools continue to serve her area, and she doesn’t miss a chance to share what Panoche School has to offer:

“The school has beautiful wood beams, and it looks very warm and inviting. We tell people we're like Little House on the Prairie but with wi-fi.”

“The school has beautiful wood beams, and it looks very warm and inviting. We tell people we're like Little House on the Prairie but with wi-fi.”

Amanda's landline phone
Amanda's landline phone

However, people living in the valley often don’t have cell service or access to high-speed internet, relying on landline phones to communicate with each other:

“We have satellite…but it's expensive and it's not great. Once you hit that throttle amount…it won't even load an email…our number one communication is just the good old landline. I was able to go on eBay and score a really cool Mickey Mouse landline and I was pretty excited!”

Amanda lives right on the campus, and she considers her 15-step commute to be the best in the state. Because there are only nine students in the district, and they each come from miles around, Amanda has the enormous task of acting in almost every role.

“I am the K-8 teacher, I'm the superintendent, I'm the principal and the secretary…I'm actually the only employee of the district, so I wear many many hats! But it's a fantastic, fantastic school. Because it's such a small setting, I'm able to really tailor the instructions to each student, which is, you know, every teacher's dream come true.”

“I am the K-8 teacher, I'm the superintendent, I'm the principal and the secretary…I'm actually the only employee of the district, so I wear many many hats! ... I'm able to really tailor the instructions to each student, which is every teacher's dream come true”

This school year, Amanda is teaching students at every grade level except fourth and fifth. Having to create lessons for each age group and each subject is a challenge Amanda enjoys.

“It's like a choreographed dance. Our students do have to learn to be independent because there are some subjects that are very specific to the grade level or the ability level of the student. As much as I can, I combine lessons…but there are some times that I just have to work with one or two students in a small group. We have a very, very colorful schedule worked out with different magnets that I put up every day…[and] there's a bitmoji picture of me so they know when they're having time with me.”

Sometimes Amanda finds switching between age groups a challenge, especially when it comes to teaching style.

“I definitely get a range of lesson plans…for example, today I was teaching my youngest students... basic counting, one through ten, and I was working with my eighth grade student on square roots and cube roots. Sometimes that switch over is a little tough. I always find myself kind of being silly and laughing and being that kindergarten teacher with my older students…and they look at me like ‘Mrs. McCraw, just tone it down…we're big kids now.’ But I've just come off of dancing and singing to a five or six year old student! You can't turn that down.”

Panoche Students, from the Panoche School Facebook page.
Panoche Students, from the Panoche School Facebook page.

Many of the challenges she faces stem from the fact that she does everything herself.

“It can be an advantage to just be by myself but it can also pose a challenge. I'm still working on making sure that I…schedule my time well so that I can meet the demands of the students, and then of course the demands of…the county and the state. But I think that's also an asset… I get to form these fantastic relationships with these kids…I have this wonderful sense of their learning styles and their likes and their dislikes.”

Luckily, her students pitch in as well.

“We also have a lot of support between our middle school students and our younger grades. They really love working together and it helps reinforce…the concepts from the older kids and it's brand new teaching for the younger kids…there's a lot of collaboration and community. Because they are here together for such a long period - you know, K-8 - they really develop this great sense of community and family and support one another.”

The rural location of Panoche School creates some unique challenges for Amanda when it comes to planning guest speakers or involving the greater community. However, she makes every effort to give her students a diverse experience and include community members in the school experience.

“In San Benito county alone, we have many rural schools. We actually meet together once a month to share strategies and meet deadlines and, you know, commiserate…we are really spread out geographically. I try my best to make sure that people in this area look at the school as kind of the community hub. God forbid there was ever a major…disaster or something out here, I want people to know that Panoche School is the place that you would come for support assistance.”

“I try my best to make sure that people in this area look at the school as a community hub... I want people to know that Panoche School is the place that you would come for support assistance.”

Amanda continues to strengthen the bonds between the school and the broader community by ensuring everyone participates in school events.

“We have a fantastic music teacher who comes out once a week and works with our kids, and we…put on concerts every winter and spring, and I make sure that I invite not just…moms and dads and grandmas and aunts and uncles, but the people who own the dairy…our local Cal Fire station…just to make sure that everyone feels that that they're involved in the school.”

The unique opportunities Amanda has in her role allow her to engage with students in a way that many teachers - rural or otherwise - dream of. All in all, Amanda’s outlook is overwhelmingly positive, and she is genuinely passionate about her work in Panoche School.

“I think being rural…now that I've lived it and taught it for as long as I have, means that I get to be the kind of teacher that I wanted to be when I decided to take up teaching… Being in a rural school means that I get to have that dream, where I'm reaching the kids and forming real authentic relationships with them, and creating a space where they feel is kind of a second home.”

We are grateful to Amanda for sharing her story with us as an insight into the modern one-room school. If you would like to share 30 minutes of your time for an interview, please reach out to us at info@ruralschoolscollaborative.org. The I Am A Rural Teacher campaign is a collaborative effort with the National Rural Education Association and made possible through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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