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Students say 'goodbye' to closing school

BISBEE, N.D. -- Zero anger, a small sampling of sadness and a huge dose of acceptance. That's the difference between the final day at Bisbee-Egeland School on Thursday and most school closings in recent years. Several people used the same two-wor...

BISBEE, N.D. -- Zero anger, a small sampling of sadness and a huge dose of acceptance.

That's the difference between the final day at Bisbee-Egeland School on Thursday and most school closings in recent years.

Several people used the same two-word bottom line: "It's time."

Bisbee-Egeland's final K-12 enrollment was 42, with the seven seniors comprising the largest class. It's the latest rural school to be shuttered by shrinking enrollment caused by bigger farms, smaller families and fewer jobs.

The ease with the closing was partly because of familiarity. The school essentially has been slowly closing for more than a quarter-century. Bisbee and Egeland schools combined in 1980, with the high school located in Bisbee and the elementary in Egeland. In 2002, the elementary was closed, and all students came to Bisbee.

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The final step arrives next year, when the B-E students go to Cando to form North Star Public School.

The student erosion is shown on the class composites on the hallway walls. When Bisbee was alone, it was graduating classes of 25 in the 1960s. The early 1980s, graduating classes, that included students from both towns, also were in the mid-20s. This year's average class size was 3.2 students.

No formal commemoration

Except for ice cream and door prize drawings, the last school day ever was treated like any last school day of the year. The only memento of the occasion was a chalkboard covered with the paint handprints of students and school employees. There was no speech, no ceremony and no group hug.

Tonight's graduation will carry the same tone. The emphasis will be on the seven graduates, not the red-brick structure with a 1951 original construction and its 1963 "new" addition.

"I'll mention the Egeland school closing as one of our class memories," Christine Knudson said of her valedictory address. "I figure if I talk too much about it, I'll cry. And I'm determined not to cry."

While Knudson is in the last B-E graduating class, her mother was part of the first one in 1981. "It will make it tougher emotionally to have both my school closing and my baby graduating at the same time," Tammy Larson said.

Seniors Knudson, Samantha Hendrickson and Reston Westemeier are the third generation of their family to graduate here, so the sentimental attachments run deep. But reason trumps sentiment, said Reston's father, Dana Westemeier.

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"No one wants to see a school close, and we probably could have kept it open a couple of more years," Dana said. "But the education value goes downhill when you get this small. A lot more classes will be available to the kids next year."

Dana is in the vast majority. B-E patrons voted 189-16 in October to consolidate. While not by the same lopsided margin, returning students agree.

While economics and expanded curriculum are at the root of the decision, emotion played a role in 2008 being the closing date. There are no members of the Class of 2009, so no student will have to spend their last year on foreign turf. And no B-E employee lost their job because of the consolidation.

One last memory

The returning students have mixed feelings, reflected by the words of fifth-grader Karly Held. "The school is like one big family, so I'm kinda sad," she said. "But I'm kinda happy because this needs to be done. There aren't enough kids left to do anything."

With Cando 18 miles from Bisbee and 15 miles from Egeland, it will be mean more travel. Freshman Katie Bonn lives in Mylo, 32 miles from Cando.

About a half-hour before the end of the school day, Principal Michelle Keller urged the students to take a trip through the school for nostalgia purposes. That trip was detoured when 14-year-old Hayden Larson donned the old basketball jersey and the short shorts that he won in the drawing. The uniform was several sizes too small, resulting in a waddling Larson, mass hilarity and camera phones pulled to document the moment.

That probably wasn't the type of memory that Keller had in mind for the seniors who have been Panthers, Wildcats and Bearcats during their high school years. But it was in keeping with the more light-hearted feel of the last day.

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When the elementary closed six years ago, this year's seniors were the last graduating class there, too. They were uniformly unhappy about that decision.

Knudson was quoted in that 2002 story as saying: "We're going to be the class to close down the high school, too. I just know it."

She's so tired of being reminded of her prophetic words that she declined any speculation about the future. But parent Dana Westemeier did.

"I see some day that our kids will have to drive to Devils Lake to school," he said. "Either that or we're going to have to build one school in a central location to serve everyone up here."

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

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