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Grafton School will soon be brimming with kindergarteners

Kindergarten at Grafton School will have 76 students when school opens Thursday, which could be the first sign of enrollment resurgence or a one-year anomaly.

Kindergarten at Grafton School will have 76 students when school opens Thursday, which could be the first sign of enrollment resurgence or a one-year anomaly.

The unanticipated kindergarten count puts the K-12 enrollment at 825, compared with 807 a year ago. It's the first increase in Superintendent Jack Maus' six years -- and likely many more years long before that.

"In recent years, we've been graduating classes numbering in the 70s and adding kindergarten classes in the 50s and 60s," Maus said. "Our enrollment history has been a long, slow, gradual decline."

It's been that way for decades for most rural school districts in North Dakota and Minnesota. Grafton's enrollment peaked at 1,770 students in 1967. That means an average annual enrollment drop of about 20 students over the past 44 years.

The unexpected increase was a financial boon for Grafton as North Dakota schools receive $3,900 per student from the state.


Kindergarten surprise

After Kindergarten Roundup this spring, school officials were expecting yet another enrollment decline. Back then, 55 kindergarteners were anticipated.

So, why 21 more first-year students than expected? Maus isn't sure, but he has one possible explanation that's based on anecdotal evidence.

"The bad economy has something to do with it," he said. "People are moving back home to Grafton and finding jobs in the area. I personally know of four to five families coming back to farm or run a local business."

Chris Suda, 36, a 1993 Grafton High School graduate, is one of them. He and his family of four purchased Pop's Bottle Shop from a friend this year.

"The job market in the Twin Cities was terrible when we lived there and it's still bad," he said. "I thought this was a better opportunity.

"There seems to be a lot of changeover in business here, with families moving in and taking over for long-time owners. The trend seems to be people my age and younger taking over."

Ryer Stark, 29, said he sees the same change. He moved home six years ago to take ownership of the Westside Drive-in, where he started working at age 14. He and wife Katie were high school sweethearts.


"A lot of kids my age have moved back for farming, but there are other opportunities here," he said. "If you open up the newspaper, you can see there are a lot of jobs available.

"Kids realize after a while that it's not all that bad to live up here and it's a great place to raise a family. A lot of people my age are starting families."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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