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School remains a constant amid Emerado's changes

EMERADO, N.D.--In the dedication in Emerado's centennial book "to Pioneers past and present," Delores Moore wondered, "how long will there be others to follow? What of the future?" The year was 1982, "the nuclear age," she wrote. Although she lik...

(Left to right): Chris Gelinas, Caden, Sarabeth, Dolores, and Kayla Gelinas pose for a family portrait in their home in Emerado, N.D. on July 29, 2016. The family says they moved to Emerado in large part because of the school available there for the kids. Sarabeth, in 4th grade, was on both the basketball and soccer teams last year. Caden will be in 1st grade and Dolores in Kindergarten. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)
(Left to right): Chris Gelinas, Caden, Sarabeth, Dolores, and Kayla Gelinas pose for a family portrait in their home in Emerado, N.D. on July 29, 2016. The family says they moved to Emerado in large part because of the school available there for the kids. Sarabeth, in 4th grade, was on both the basketball and soccer teams last year. Caden will be in 1st grade and Dolores in Kindergarten. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)

EMERADO, N.D.-In the dedication in Emerado's centennial book "to Pioneers past and present," Delores Moore wondered, "how long will there be others to follow? What of the future?"

The year was 1982, "the nuclear age," she wrote.

Although she likely did not have the idea in mind, her statement speaks to the semi-transient nature of Emerado's population-414 according to the most recent census. Residents of its trailer park come and go, as do people associated with the Grand Forks Air Force Base less than 5 miles away.

Because of the turnover, Sara Bilden, principal of Emerado Elementary for the past three years, said that they test incoming students and group children by reading and math levels, though students attend their other subjects and activities grade by grade.

Annie Hunter, a staff member who attended Emerado Elementary 15 years ago, remembers how the student class would shrink and grow in the years when she was there.

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"I had friends who followed the potato harvest," she said.

Even with the turnover, the atmosphere at school is like one big family, Bilden said.

She said the school offers many of the children some stability in their lives, and they respond to that. They give her hugs in the hallway and thank the cafeteria cook for a delicious lunch, she said.

"And we have such fantastic teachers," Bilden said. "They feel needed here. The kids love them."

Hunter likes the school so much that even though she does not live in Emerado, she said she is enrolling her son there through open enrollment.

"I think we have a lot of active community members who are doing things to improve (the school) and help it grow," Bilden said. "And there's a real bond because of that."

For example, she said, the Emerado Presbyterian Church down the street started a community garden for the summer school students to tend. Curtis Hagert, a retired farmer and congregation member, tills the soil each year before the students start planting. A sign in front of the garden welcomes anyone and everyone to pick the produce at will.

New growth

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And what of the future? Moore asked 15 years ago.

The student population is growing, Bilden said.

Last year, there were 108 students enrolled, but "we're just busting out," she said.

The cafeteria doubles as a gym, the library and the computer room occupy the same space, and reading groups are sometimes held in the halls, Bilden said. If and when the school expands, she said she hopes to add a pre-K and a kindergarten classroom, as well as a new library and music room.

Chris Gelinas, whose three children attend Emerado Elementary, said he and his wife, Kayla, moved from Grand Forks to Emerado because of the school.

"The kids are actually looked at as kids and not numbers," he said.

The teachers are very concerned about the kids' home lives as well," Kayla said.

Chris said that when his youngest daughter was in pre-K, he received a daily report from her teacher about her school day.

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"It's a very hands-on school with parents because we can do what we want in terms of helping," said Andrew Smith, who has a third-grader and a ninth-grader.

He said that he has been on several field trips with his kids and that if he wanted to, he was welcome to sit in on his kids' classes.

Smith was full of praise for Emerado's history and band teacher, but he said he expressed concerns to the school about some of his son's homework assignments. His son's class was asked to write an essay entirely in emojis, he said, as well as write their obituaries.

Later, students were given the option not to finish the second assignment, he said.

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