By John L. Braese
JUNTURA – The school bus, or rather the Chevrolet Suburban, pulls up to the school and the students pile out, ready for class.
Taking their boots off so as not to scuff the floor, Colt Kopcrak, a fourth grader, and Rebekah Joyce, a fifth grader, don house slippers and sit down to begin their day at the Juntura School.
The two take their seats at a table at the front of the classroom. Walls around them are adorned with posters showing the learning of colors to upper division math problems. The books in the case range from Dr. Seuss to teen novels. Both grab a laptop and begin the school day.
Outside the school’s windows, a falling cabin sits across the fence. Last year, a doe and fawn took up residence in the home once occupied by an elderly woman and her son, the lady long since dead.
Kopcrak and Joyce are friends, classmates and the remaining two students left at the school as the school year comes to an end.
Both live near Beulah Reservoir and share the half hour ride to school.
“This is a great school,” Joyce said. “I do kind of missing not having other girls around to talk to though.”
“We have to get along,” said Kopcrak. “There is nobody else around.”
They make adjustments being the only students.
“There are times we just go to opposite sides of the playground,” said Kopcrak. “She likes to shoot hoops and I don’t so I just rebound the ball and give it back to her.”
The school started the year with five students, but then two families moved in the middle of the year. Only Joyce and Kopcrak remain as the year comes to a close.
Last year, 13 students filled the hallways.
“It was loud here,” Joyce said.
The two come from very different backgrounds, but have come to appreciate each other.
Joyce descends from a long-time ranching family. Numerous members of the family, including grandparents, attended the school and walked the same hallways.
Kopcrak went to a large public school in California and did some home schooling before his family moved to the Juntura area for a ranch job.
The two, outside of school, also have very different interests.
“I am really into medieval stuff,” said Kopcrak. “I just think it is so cool people used to fight using swords.”
“I help my dad fix fence and play a lot of basketball,” Joyce said.
Kathleen Schram is head teacher and a former student in the 1914 building.
Schram, who attended the school from first through fifth grade, returned to teach in Juntura after teaching in Adrian, Payette, Ontario, Parma and Ontario.
“My family homesteaded a ranch above Beulah Reservoir,” she said. “The ranch was in the family’s hands for 99 years.”
Schram said she was supervising a student lab in Parma when she saw the advertisement for the position in Juntura.
“I started reminiscing about coming back here and put in for the job,” Schram said. “One oral interview later and I was back where I started school years ago.”
With a home and husband in Ontario, Schram lives the school week next to the school Sunday through Thursday. After the big bell on top of the school rings on Thursday, Schram heads to Ontario.
Before returning to Juntura on Sunday, Schram shops for the week’s lunches. In addition to store goods, the district has been supplied with half a beef.
“We eat well,” Schram said. “Everything is home cooked and the kids help with it all.”
Schram said her job is made easy by local support.
“This whole community cares about these kids,” she said. “I have great backup from the school board and the Educational Service District. Whenever this school has something going, the whole community shows up.”
That was evident as Joyce and Kopcrak put together a production for the school Christmas play.
Before a packed house, the duo designed the sets, played multiple parts, and alternated running the curtains.
Like other schools statewide, Schram teaches a full day of classes to her two students. She also makes use technology and attempts to coordinate activities with students from Drewsey.
Schram explained the community is in a lull. On one end of the spectrum are families who have raised children. On the other are young people moving back to family ranches, newly married but not yet with children. She expects the school population to pick up in the next few years as these families grow.
There are perks for the two students. It is not unusual to be picked up for the morning commute with the bus driver having homemade muffins for the trip. Or the bus may stop for cocoa along the way.
The two share a belief they are not exactly alone in the old school.
“It is haunted,” Joyce said. “We both know it. Things fall off the walls when no one is in there. Things are moved around and no one has been in the room.”
“I think it is cool,” Koprack said.
After their time at Juntura, the two may part ways.
“I really want to go to Crane for high school,” Joyce said. “Most of my friends will be going there and I want to be around them.”
For Koprack, his choice leads toward Vale.
“I think it would be cool to be a Viking,” he said.
Joyce and Koprack will have fond memories of the school in the town of 41 people. Both will soon join the class pictures that hang on the walls of the school though not in the attire of those 100 years ago.
Both will miss ringing the massive bell on the roof. Both will miss the time in the school’s greenhouse growing plants for the annual sale.
Both will miss each other. One or both may stay in the area, raising a family of their own on a ranch outside the main area of the café and small motel.
And both will treasure their unique education in this time of crowded classes and mandatory testing.
– Oregon has 1,304 public schools serving 543,800 students.
-The Portland District comprises more than 100 locations with more than 49,000 students, the largest in the state.
– This year, Juntura has the smallest enrollment in the state.