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Two Harbors, One Room, 15 Smiling Faces

September 10, 1987|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

Six-year-old Trevor Odin asked his mother if he could go to bed before his 8 p.m. bedtime. The first day of school, he reasoned, would come much quicker that way.

When Wednesday morning finally came, the boy rushed around his yard in tiny Two Harbors on Santa Catalina Island, picking a bouquet of flowers for his new teacher.

Trevor and the 14 other grade-school children in this waterfront hamlet of 120 people have thought of little except school lately, ever since their new, bright red schoolhouse arrived by barge in July.

When the children stepped inside Wednesday, they made local history as the only pupils in Los Angeles County to attend a one-room schoolhouse, bucking a national trend that has seen such schools dwindle from 150,000 to only a few hundred today.

"When my mom told me I would be going to school just like 'Little House on the Prairie,' I couldn't wait," said Shawnna Ryan, 6, the only newcomer among the children. And does she like school so far? "I don't know," she giggled, blushing. "It's my very first time."

Was 1 1/2-Hour Bus Ride

It was a first time too, for the children raised in Two Harbors, who have for years weathered a grueling 1 1/2-hour bus ride each way on a dirt road to Avalon to attend school.

Exhausted, the children arrived home at 4:30 p.m., sometimes later if the roads were bad. But the town had no money to build a school, and the Long Beach Unified School District had always said that it could not build a school where there were so few children.

Then last year, Long Beach yachtsman Cliff Tucker, a frequent visitor to Two Harbors, said he "got fed up with all those little ones having to take that long ride every day," and donated the $75,000 prefabricated school building for kindergarten through sixth grade with the help of several other yachtsmen.

"All those little kids like me, so heck, I want it to be the best damn school in the country," Tucker said.

For sixth-grader Britain Bombard, the new school means not having to get on the bus at 6:30 a.m., "a whole hour before I like to get up," and best of all, "I'll have almost two more hours to play after school."

When the bell tower's big brass bell rang promptly at 8:24 a.m., the children said goodby to their mothers and a few fathers, stowed their shoes in the foyer and wriggled into their brand-new desks in their stocking feet--an attempt by the teacher to protect the new carpet.

News crews crowded into the room, and the younger children squealed with delight at finding their names, drawn in large black letters on big tags on each desk. The ruckus was soon quieted by Aileen Earl-Wood, the school's new teacher, who took the children on a walk around the room to show off the art supply area, calendar corner and library area.

Earl-Wood, 27, who taught kindergarten in Long Beach last year, said she found out about the teaching position very suddenly and moved to the island last month. "I'm delighted to be here," she said.

"It's funny because I had just read an article saying we need to get back to one-room school ideals--the smaller class sizes and students tutoring younger students," Earl-Wood said. "We're really going to have that opportunity at our new school."

One of the first orders of the day was a drawing assignment, and she told the children that it was really her way of testing their fine motor coordination. "Can you say fine motor coordination?" she asked the class. "If you can say it, you can tell mom and dad tonight and they'll really be impressed."

'Five Motor Crayons'

The older children managed the tongue-twister, so tiny Bon Kuhlman--at 5 years old the youngest student--watched a nearby fourth-grader grappling with it, and tried it himself. "Five motor crayons," he said brightly.

Earl-Wood was an immediate hit with the children, who told school visitors that their new teacher was "really, really, really nice," and "really, really, really pretty."

The school was a big hit too. Bon said that while he liked recess and the idea of eating lunch with his friends, "we like having a real school of our own the best."

And Paul Ermatinger, 6, obediently ran to his place in line after recess, squirming with anticipation while waiting to file back into the school. "Can we go back in the school soon, please?" he called out shyly to the teacher.

But perhaps the biggest fans are the parents, who raised $17,000 to buy equipment for the school and to set up a foundation that will protect the school from closing if enrollment dips below the 14-student minimum set by the district.

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