Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Micah Drew

Sunset School Hosts Reunion


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Sunset School in Greenough welcomes everyone to join them for their 100-year celebration July 1 from 12-4 p.m. at the school, 5024 Sunset Hill Road.

GREENOUGH- A mere mile from the banks of the Blackfoot River, Sunset School sits tucked away on the property of the Paws Up Resort.

For a century, the tiny two-room schoolhouse has educated the children of Greenough. From an enrollment high of 26 students in 1967, to a single student-teacher combo from 2010-2012, Sunset has remained a staple in the educational diet of the Blackfoot Valley.

This weekend, students, teachers and supporters of the school from decades past will descend upon the schoolyard to pay homage to its past and herald in the future.

Sunset School is hosting a 100-year reunion this Saturday, July 1 from 12-4 p.m. The reunion will celebrate a century of rural education.

"I love history and I happened to notice our [clerk] books, every so often I'd go back and look at them," said Toni Hatten, the current supervising teacher at Sunset. "I saw there was a deed in one of these-the property said 1917."

Hatten, who completed her sixth year teaching at Sunset, decided that there should be a 100-year celebration when the school reached that mark. Three years after the idea was planted in her head, it's finally happening.

* * * *

According to a 2012 New York Times article, there are roughly 200 one-rooms schools in America, and 62 of them are in Montana. Schools this small constantly fight to remain open.

"It's kind of ironic," says Hatten. "If there's enough kids, transportation's the same today."

During the 2011-2012 school year Hatten taught a single student, Amber Leetch. This last year, there were eight students enrolled.

There have been a lot of changes to Sunset School in the last century. The original building, built in 1917, was a log cabin that was located a few miles away from the present location. Sometime in the late '50s or early '60s, depending on who you talk to, another one-room schoolhouse, the Clearwater School, was moved and attached to Sunset to make the existing 'two-room' building that is used today.

Recently, the playground was refurbished, the bathrooms have been remodeled and the classroom filled with technology.

Last year, at the ripe old age of 99, Sunset School got a school bus-the first time transportation was ever provided.

Hatten is expecting a solid turnout for the reunion, despite the difficulty getting in touch with alumni.

"It's been a real challenge," she said. "Most of these people have dispersed into different parts of Montana and the United States."

One former student, Eloise McNally, began mailing letters to her former classmates and let the effort snowball from there.

"I was so proud of that school," said the 1958 graduate. "In my graduating class there were three of us. I thought it'd be kind of fun to see who I could get in touch with."

It won't just be former students who show up to the reunion.

Patrick Zentz and his wife Suzie each taught at Sunset for two years in the early 1970s.

Zentz remembers his compensation package for teaching the upper grades. He earned $6,000 a year, was given housing near the Blackfoot River and received a slaughtered hog each year.

Back then, there were enough students to require two full time teachers-one for the lower grades and one for the upper.

"That was one of the most amazing communities we've ever been a part of," said Zentz.

Zentz designed his own curriculum when he taught at Sunset. One semester everything revolved around dissecting a cow-biology, geometry and social sciences were all tied in. Another semester he based everything on a project surveying a nearby gulch.

One of the biggest standouts from his time in Greenough was the students he worked with.

"I learned way more from them than I could have ever taught," Zentz said.

Everyone who learned something from Sunset School is invited to join the festivities and share their memories and stories.

"A lot of good friendships were built out there," said McNally. "Kids who left out of there did well. They had a sense of responsibility and respect and good manners. It was a good start for us."


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