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Lauren Donovan, Bismarck Tribune, Published May 20 2012

Classrooms packed in ND Oil Patch fringe towns

RHAME, N.D. – Lindsey Fossum is everything the small town of Rhame could hope for in a daughter.

She’s winsome as a rodeo princess and educated to boot. She moved back home and recently, she and her husband added one of the town’s most welcome residents, a baby girl, born in February.

In the blink of an eye, that baby – her name is Tommi – will be old enough to go to Rhame Elementary School. It’s where her mom teaches a combination classroom of energetic fourth- through sixth-graders. She’s so proud to teach where she was taught herself.

Tommi Fossum will be among a small tide of children who are reversing a longtime trend in Rhame. A town and school that have been shrinking for two decades or more are slowly rebounding.

There were just 22 students in the elementary school during the 2006 reorganization with Bowman, when junior high and high school students were absorbed there into a countywide school. Today, there are 35 students.

In the fall, to make room for a stand-alone kindergarten, Lindsey Fossum’s class will move to a room that’s been unused for years in the old high school building.

It seems like a miracle that dark shades will be opened to the sunlight, jumbled furniture straightened into neat rows of desks and the room filled with children once again.

“It’s a good surprise that I can be here. I lived here, I grew up here and now I get to teach here,” Fossum said. “It’ll be nice to use that building.”

Other schools like Mott, with 20 more students than two years ago, and Halliday, with 11 more than last year, also are seeing a small swell of new students after years of shrinking enrollments.

Like Rhame, they are outliers, not bull’s-eyes in the oil patch. Some people move there to find housing and commute to the oil field for work. Others, like the Fossums, are moving home again.

In South Heart, school Superintendent Riley Mattson will bring in four portable classrooms for two kindergartens, and first and second grades this fall.

“I couldn’t tell you if there ever were two kindergartens before,” Mattson said last week.

Many of the newcomers in town are 20- and 30-somethings with younger children.

South Heart now has a preschool and Mattson said he could easily add a dozen more to that program based on the phone calls he gets every week.

It wasn’t long ago that Mattson and the school board were talking about laying off teachers. Now, with 30 more students than last year, more teachers are needed.