FORDVILLE, N.D. -- Warm greetings, hugs and grins welcomed Fordville-Lankin Public School students back to their first day of classes Wednesday, Aug. 21. With just 41 students in preschool through 12th grade, camaraderie in this Grand Forks-area school district is obvious as a new school year begins.

“Good morning, how are you doing?” Michael O’Brien, Fordville-Lankin superintendent, asked from his post outside the door of the brick school built in 1912. Students returned O’Brien’s greeting, some stopping to share a few moments of conversation with him before they went inside.

Fordville-Lankin Public School, located about 50 miles northwest of Grand Forks, is among the state's smallest districts. Its students, teachers, administrators and support staff know one another well.

“We are like family,” said Darlene Christianson. “The kids are like my own.”

Christianson, who teachers fifth and sixth grade, is one of 15 teachers at Fordville-Lankin Public Schools. After 22 years of teaching at the school, Christianson remains enthusiastic about her job and looks forward to the first day of class, she said.

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“We’re excited to get back together,” she said. “We miss each other.”

English teacher Rachel Smith was meeting her students for the first time on Wednesday. After teaching for five years at other schools, this year she accepted a job teaching at Fordville-Lankin.

“I’m really excited to start,” Smith said.

Her father, Larry Grossman, taught many years at Fordville-Lankin before retiring. He encouraged Smith to apply for a job there, she said.

“He always told me the kids are really kind here. They’re passionate about being successful,” she said.

Kirby Erickson, who began his 31st year of teaching at Fordville Lankin on Wednesday, can attest to that. Over the years that he’s taught science and math and coached sports teams, he’s met many parents and students.

“You get to know everybody in the community and become friends,” Erickson said.

Though the school is small, students have access to the classes they need, O’Brien said.

“If there’s something we don’t have someone to teach, we can have it on ITV,” he said. Meanwhile, the school has up-to-date technology to deliver students classes such as virtual welding, he said.

Student Dylan Rasmusson said he has been able to take the classes he’s needed to pursue a university degree in computer science. He believes attending a small school has afforded him some opportunities he wouldn’t get in a larger one.

“Sometimes we’ll go outside and have classes,” Rasmusson said. But the best part of being the lone senior at Fordville-Lankin may be the attention he gets from faculty.

“One-on-one with the teachers,” he said.

While it is the beginning of Rasmusson’s final year at Fordville-Lankin, it was the first day of the first day of school for preschooler Cooper Moen. Moen was taking a twirl on the merry-go-round before following his third-grade sister, Charley, and his parents, Colt and Kylie Moen, into the school.

Kylie Moen, a 2005 graduate of Fordville-Lankin, is glad her children can attend her alma mater, she said.

“We love it. We love that it’s small and the kids get lots of attention and it’s a safe place,” Moen said.