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Imnaha Bridge School sees population boom

Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on October 31, 2017 2:52PM

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainThe great big student body at Imnaha School District, eight students, eight different grades. Left to right front: Gabe Neveau, 7, Bella Cervantes, 7, Waylon Witherrite, 7, Avery Morgan, 5, and Aaron Lopez, 6. Back row: Librarian Keith Kirtz, Adam Loez, 11. Not pictured: Shawndra Kirkpatrick, 11 and Jesse Kirkpatrick, 8.

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainThe great big student body at Imnaha School District, eight students, eight different grades. Left to right front: Gabe Neveau, 7, Bella Cervantes, 7, Waylon Witherrite, 7, Avery Morgan, 5, and Aaron Lopez, 6. Back row: Librarian Keith Kirtz, Adam Loez, 11. Not pictured: Shawndra Kirkpatrick, 11 and Jesse Kirkpatrick, 8.

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Imnaha School District teacher Shari Warnock is stretching her abilities this year, preparing eight lessons plans for eight students — each at different grade levels.

It’s challenging, but it’s fun.

“I almost canceled free kindergarten when I learned I was going to be having eight students,” said Warnock. She didn’t cancel kindergarten, but preparing her day requires some help.

There is a lot of help, Warnock said. Not only does librarian Keith Kirtz help out, but Joseph Charter School’s Spanish and Jr. High Science teacher, Tim Bombaci, starts his day with the Imnaha students before driving the 30 miles on to Joseph.

And there are the volunteers. “The Grandmas” include Randie Guthrie and Barbara Warnock who come any time they’re needed and bring homemade cookies.

It’s been 11 years since Warnock has had this many students. Back in 2006 she had nearly a dozen students. If you go back 20 years, you’d be in the heyday of Imnaha school. Back then two teachers worked full-time in two rooms with 22 students. Teachers who traveled to Imnaha stayed in the attached studio apartment teacherage.

For most of its history, Imnaha was the school for ranch kids. Ranches in the remote valley were owned by the folks who worked them, and families were raised there. Some still are, but more and more ranches are being purchased by absentee owners who hire a farm manager and some ranch hands. There are fewer families and so, fewer kids in the school.

It’s not surprising that kids raised on ranches with plenty of open space are used to a lot of independent time and solitude. This year’s crop of Imnaha school kids said they like their school small. They visit Joseph several times a week so they can meet the classmates they’ll have when they begin high school, but they find classes in Joseph “noisy.”

“There are more friends to play with,” allows Adam Lopez, 11. “So, there’s good and bad.”

Lopez is the Imnaha school veteran, having been a student there through both thick and thin – thin being a year when there was just two students in the school. Now, his brother Aaron has joined him along with the other students.

Among those other students is Waylon Witherrite, 7. Waylon gets the award for being the continuation of the longest line of students from a local family. One of the families that still remain in the valley and stretch back for generation. Warnock is pretty sure Waylon’s great granddad went to Imnaha back in the day.

There are plenty of joys to teaching at a small school which offset the challenges of the range of grade levels a teacher must master, Warnock said.

“When you teach years in a row you’ve taught students almost since they were born — that brings a lot of joy,” she said. “When you get down to the end of the month or quarter and see how far they’ve come — that’s a joy.”



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