Of the Baker City Herald

KEATING Hosting Back to School week at a school like Keating Elementary may be a lost cause. After all, at this one-room schoolhouse, the parents never really leave and you cant go back to a place you never left.

Nevertheless, first-year teacher Stacy Gambleton and teaching assistant Debbie Radle did just that Tuesday morning, opening up their facility and serving snacks to the people who spend almost as much time there as they do parents and grandparents.

These kids love having visitors, Gambleton says, moments after reading her 11 students Marcus Pfisters classic story about sharing, The Rainbow Fish. She then got them started on making rainbow fishes of their own by dyeing scales with food coloring and gluing them to fish outlines. They live so far out here that having visitors is a big deal.

The two readily acknowledge that the Keating school experience where students benefit from a small teacher-to-pupil ratio is greatly enhanced by the parents and friends who provide goods and services the teachers cannot. Once a week, parents cook for the children; it is the only day the children enjoy a hot lunch. Ebahard Eichner stops by weekly to provide art instruction. Gambleton herself is the schools self-appointed music teacher. Even her husband, Paul, finds his way to Keating from Baker City once a week to serve up a P.E. unit.

The parents are at our beck and call, Radle said. Its 100 percent parent participation. This is the best start a kid could get.

Radle ought to know. A daughter, Ashley, has already matriculated through Keating School, and her son Travis is one of the schools four kindergartners.

For special occasions, parents go all-out, Gambleton says. School grounds need mowing right before last weekends big spaghetti feed and fundraiser? No problem. Parents Deena Phillips and Candi Lay crank up their push-mowers and take care of the vast schoolyard themselves. For good measure, the two planted flowers by the front door.

A bare wall needs painting downstairs? Eichner and the students are busy each week designing a mural that depicts the four seasons. To plan the project better, students have used an adjacent classroom to tape the floor in a grid that lines out where each panel will go.

In fact, it is strong planning that helps make the one-room classroom go. Students range from kindergarten (in the mornings) to third grade; next year, the two third-graders may stay on for their fourth-grade year.

Once theyre finished at Keating School, students generally go on to North Baker Elementary School, Radle said.

Reading, language arts and math are stressed in the morning. Teachers take students through their science and social studies paces in the afternoon.

And the students are responding. Radle said that all the kindergarten students are reading already, and most students are performing at least one grade level above the one theyre in.

Radle, who is in her second year as a teaching assistant, is like having a second teacher in the classroom, Gambleton said. She wears so many hats like everybody else here.

But this day, it is Gambletons skills that are the most readily apparent. As she reads The Rainbow Fish, she asks students questions designed to get them thinking about how the action will unfold: What do you think the octopus will say to the rainbow fish? Any ideas? How do you think it made the other fish feel when he gave away his scales?

Like those fictional fish, students here appreciate all the things being done for them, says Lori Southard of Medical Springs, who is considering sending her granddaughter, Jazzmine Yates, to kindergarten at Keating School next year.

We love the smaller schools, and love the one-on-one attention they get here, she said. Just look around. Its older kids helping the younger ones. Its something you wont see in any other classroom.