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Lessons of Winter Produce One of State's Tiny Schools : Kirkwood: This ski resort town has a year-round population of about 100.


KIRKWOOD, Calif. — It's one of the highest and one of the smallest public schools in the state.

A sign on the front door says: "Welcome to Kirkwood School. Elevation 7,800 feet. Pop. 7."

The seven are Jeanne Reuter, 56, the teacher, and first-grader Cori Niemann, 6; second-graders Ashlee Graham, Trenton McManus and Blake Myers, all 7, and third-graders Andrew Burns, 8, and Taylor Hawthorne, 9.

The tiny school was formed a year and a half ago because of the miserable weather and dangerous roads. The closest schools are 25 miles one direction, 55 miles the other direction.

Kirkwood, a 1 1/2-mile-high ski resort straddling Amador and Alpine counties, has a year-round population of about 100.

Three students from fourth through eighth grade and two high school students from Kirkwood ride a school bus every day over 8,573-foot Carson Pass to Woodfords 25 miles to the east.

In winter, blizzards are common in the high country here. The road over the pass is often covered with snow and ice and is treacherous. Students get up between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. to board the bus for Woodfords, which leaves at 6:15.

Students get stuck on the other side of the mountain during storms that hit during the school day, and must stay with classmates in Woodfords, sometimes for several days.

"We get very nervous about the kids during winter storms. That's why a group of Kirkwood parents worked hard to get a separate school established here for the kindergarten through third graders," explained Vicki McManus, 36.

Kirkwood School opened in September, 1988. That first year there were six students. From last September to the end of January, there were only four students. Now enrollment is back up to six.

"Parents of students work for the ski resort in one capacity or another," said teacher Jeanne Reuter, who was Miss San Francisco in the Miss USA contest in 1955. Her husband is Dick Reuter, manager of skiing activities at Kirkwood.

Her students ski to school. They cross-country ski at recess.

Kirkwood School is in the basement of a condominium across the road from the Kirkwood Ski Lift.

Earlier this year, when it was 3 below zero outside, the six students took time to demonstrate their science projects for a visitor.

Trenton McManus was measuring Andrew Burns, who was stretched out on the floor as the other four students looked on with amazement.

"See, Andrew is two centimeters longer lying down than he is when you measure him standing up," said Trenton.

"Is it because we live so high up in the mountains?" asked Blake Myers.

"Naw," replied Trenton. "It's because when you stand up your vertebrae compress."

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