Four siblings, a single classroom

Verona Township ‒ Paul Starcher is a byproduct of a large suburban Ohio school district near Akron, where he was around hundreds and later thousands of students every day. He knows that reality quite well.

But Starcher, a retired Army major who is a nurse, also knew about one-room school houses: His grandmother taught in one in West Virginia and he heard stories about her experiences there.

So when he and his wife Jeanine, who live east of Bad Axe in Michigan’s Thumb, were looking for a school for their adopted quadruplets, Dan, Neil, Rose and Stephanie, now first-graders, they took a look at the larger Bad Axe district as well as tiny Verona Mills school, a one-room schoolhouse of 25 students, just over a mile away. Verona Mills is one of six one-room schools in rural Huron County, and one of 16 in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

At Bad Axe, the children were tested for their readiness for kindergarten. They were told that one of their children would benefit from being in a separate class for students not fully prepared for kindergarten. On day one of school, the quadruplets would be split up.

It helped the Starchers make up their mind: The four would all go to Verona Mills, whose student performance exceeds averages for Huron County public schools in reading proficiency and student academic growth, but is behind in the percentage of 3-8th-grade students who are deemed proficient in math and reading.

MORE COVERAGE: Michigan’s one-room schoolhouses make one last stand here

Even if the one child was eventually held back, the siblings would still be in the same room together, the parents reasoned.

Indeed, the four are an active part of the classroom of 25 students in grades K-8, with a teacher and three aides who divide and conquer the room, with the children rotating through stations throughout the building.

It’s been quite a different atmosphere from the one Paul Starcher experienced as a child.

“After we went and saw the big kids and the little kids interacting, it was certain for me,” he said of sending the children to Verona Mills.

Starcher is one of a handful of Huron County parents, and parents across the state, who are shunning bigger districts for the more intimate experience of a one-room schoolhouse.

And though there may be no shortage of experts who’d consider a one-room school with nine grades of students sitting shoulder to shoulder an academic step back, the Starchers note that their children have access to multiple instructors – there is a teacher and three aides, art and music teachers come in for weekly sessions and a speech pathologist from the county’s intermediate school district visits regularly as well.

“They’re getting everything,” he said.

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