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October 2, 2014

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Tiny Goodsprings school doesn’t miss big-city life

GOODSPRINGS -- Six-year-old Daniel Wise doesn't mind being the only first-grader in the smallest and oldest school in Clark County. The freckle-faced tot merely shrugs at being alone in his grade in a building with just 18 students.

"We had another kid, but he's gone," Daniel said. "Now I'm it."

Modern-day life marches on 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas at Goodsprings Elementary, in a town where a mining boom once sparked far more activity. IBM computers, handicapped-accessible rest rooms and new carpeting have replaced the old pot-bellied stove, outhouse and hardwood floors.

But in many ways, the school is still clinging to its Old West past. The 18 first-through-sixth graders take turns ringing the school bell that still hangs in the belfry. Teacher Julie Newberry still leads the Pledge of Allegiance around the flagpole.

The past and present collide inside the two-room, one-teacher operation, and that's just how the people of Goodsprings seem to like it.

"We don't throw out any of the old library books," Newberry said. "Every so often, the children will see their parent's names on one of the check-out cards."

Goodsprings Elementary was built in 1913 as the copper, lead and zinc miners built up their town around it. A small library was added in the 1930s. The school installed indoor plumbing in the early 1950s.

Two summers ago, the building underwent major renovations, complete with new wiring for computers and other technology. Workers even installed a security system, which makes Newberry laugh.

"As long as I've been here, we've never had a break-in," she said.

Newberry earnestly describes the school as a large family, where the younger students say they get help from "the big kids."

"We can share reports without being embarrassed in front of each other," said 11-year-old Bill Burke, a sixth-grader.

The close-knit group of students even suffers "sibling rivalries," they said.

"Sometimes people pull my hair," said second-grader Adam Miller. "I pull it back."

Students understand they are far from attending a typical crowded urban school. They said they appreciate the small-town, slow-paced lifestyle they lead just outside of Las Vegas.

"There's just not many kids," said Adam's 10-year-old sister, Shannen. "You don't get lost."

The pale yellow school, nearby Boot Hill and the Pioneer Bar, a dilapidated watering hole, are about the only notable landmarks in Goodsprings, an unincorporated town that straddles Nevada Highway 161.

Students say they love their town, where the population now hovers between 100 and 200.

"You can get to anywhere in five minutes," said 11-year-old Tara Loftis, who attends Goodsprings with twin sister, Tera.

Goodsprings residents say they are proud of the school and its history.

The school's 29-year-old custodian, Stephanie Stephens, who attended the school, plans to send her 3-year-old there.

"You get a better education here, rather than in town where there's just not the same personal attention," Stephens said. "I'd never live in Las Vegas -- too many people. I like it here. It's nice and quiet."

Stephen's grandmother, Christine Stephens, said many of her childhood memories live inside the walls of the schoolhouse. Her six children, 12 grand-children and now two great-grand-children, Adam and Shannen, attended the school.

"It's lasted so long," Stephens said. "There used to be desks where my sons carved their names."

Students say they are now the caretakers of the school's lore. They repeat one story about how the school's boys used to pelt the girl's outhouse with snowballs during the winter's few snowy days, trapping the girls inside until recess was over. Another tale sends a teacher scurrying into the closet after students released a snake in class.

"I think the old stories I heard are true," Adam said.

Students, some of whom have always lived in Goodsprings, said they rarely longed to be part of a bigger, newer school in a fast-paced city. Only occasionally does it get lonely, they said.

"Sometimes when I'm in the room by myself I wish there were more kids around," said 11-year-old Alisha Lewis. "In a way, it's weird being the only fifth-grader."

Newberry, who commutes 50 minutes from Las Vegas, says she plans to stay in Goodsprings until she retires. Until then, she says, she will continue to welcome visitors who wander in, curious about life inside the smallest school in the county.

"I like being able to come to school, breathe the fresh air and have some peace and quiet," Newberry said. "Everyone knows everyone here."

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