Nothing Tells The Story Of Rural Colorado Better Than A High School Graduation

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7min 45sec
Photo: Lone Star Grads 1 | 4 Students - JBrundin
From left to right, the Lone Star School graduating class of 2017: Zach Hamar, Daydra Parker, Jessica Bassett and Austin Kuntz.

Can I introduce you to the entire Lone Star School graduating class of 2017 in less than 40 words? Are you sure you want to take that bet?

Meet Zach Hamar, self-described as “definitely loud,” Jessica Bassett, who opts for “pretty shy,” Austin Kuntz says he’s “hardworking,” and Daydra Parker describes herself as “the more productive one out of all of us.”

Now you know everyone. All four of them.

You’ll find Lone Star School in the middle of a cornfield, just a little more than 23 miles from the eastern plains ag town of Yuma, Colorado. Lone Star is K-12, with about ten kids per grade. There are 17 students in high school — total.

The first thing you notice inside Lone Star is that the school lockers aren’t living up to their name. Nobody locks them. Some students don’t even close them. That’s the kind of place this is.

Soon-to-be-graduating Austin Kuntz hasn’t closed his locker “since junior high.” He also says he’s related to half the kids here, so if something went missing, he’d know pretty quick who it was.

Photo: Lone Star Grads 3 | School Lockers - JBrundin
Lockers at Lone Star are often left open and never locked in this small school with a high school population of just 17.

Having a senior class this small is unusual, but maybe it's not all that different from the high school you went to.

Do they have a class president?

“Kind of, not really, we’re all presidents,” says Daydra Parker.

Is there a student council?

“I am vice president of the student council,” says Jessica Bassett, “but we haven’t had any meetings for it exactly.”

There is a yearbook and the four seniors will get their own page. They had a senior trip, visiting Galveston, Texas to see the ocean (even though Zach Hamar didn’t know how to swim). Senior prom was another story though.

“I mean it would be no fun if it were just us four being senior prom,” explains Bassett, so the prom had all the classes and it was free of charge. Kuntz says there were about ten couples. Hamar disagrees, saying it was more like 15, with most opting to escort out-of-town dates from nearby small towns.

Sports are probably a little different for the four seniors than they were the last time you wore a letter jacket. Any club, any sports team they’re interested in at Lone Star, they can do it. No need for try outs.

Jessica Bassett quips that last year, it was “just Sandra on the track team.” The girls’ volleyball team finished the season, squeaking by with the mandatory six players. For larger sports teams, Lone Star students travel to other schools.

Photo: Lone Star Grads 2 | Street Signs And Cornfields - JBrundin
Lone Star is located in the middle of corn fields near this country road marker. Silos are the closest neighbor. Tiny Otis, Colo., population 475, is just 20 miles away. The next nearest city is Yuma, Colo.

Rodeo champ Zach Hamar says the school’s real sport is Future Farmers of America. The four seniors are super-proud of FFA, where they learn everything ag-related: livestock and milk judging contests, mechanics, welding, sprinkler operations, flora-culture and parliamentary procedure in running meetings. The school just won the state championship in soil analysis.

The seniors say there are some distinct advantages to a small, isolated school where teachers really get to know each student. Parker says some schools don't care if you hand in your homework. They’ll just give you a zero.

The teachers at Lone Star though are going to get on you if you don’t have your homework, she says, asking “‘why didn’t you do it, how can we help you understand this so you do it? What can we do to help you?’ ”

In sum, says Zach Hamar, the teachers “care so much, it’s ridiculous.”

Lone Star principal Mike Bowers points out that every student is on an “individualized learning plan.”

“We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses, we know their family life, we know things that are happening that might affect learning.”

Photo: Lone Star Grads 4 | Teacher Susan Samber - JBrundin
Zach Hamar looks expectantly at government teacher Susan Samber as they go over a quiz on the novel Animal Farm. Austin Kunz, Daydra Parker (dark hair) and Jessica Bassett round out the senior class.

They have the time to have conversations and really get to know each student’s needs.

In fact, 31-year veteran teacher Susan Samber has known senior Austin Kuntz since he was born. She began teaching Kuntz’s father in the 7th grade and later on went to his wedding. He now sits on the school board.

“And actually, now all of the school board members are former students of mine,” she laughs. “It’s crazy.”

Teachers and students alike use the word “family” to explain what it feels like being in such a small class. The four admit they probably wouldn’t be friends at a larger school. They are quite different and can even annoy each other a lot. But, they’ve probably helped each other grow. Parker says she likes to keep to herself and at a bigger school, she says she probably wouldn’t have many friends.

“So when I’m with them, they make me not be myself, they’re like ‘come on, you know you want to talk to us, they make me pop out of my bubble,’” she says.

Hamar admits Parker’s probably been a good influence on him and Kuntz.

“Yeah, she kinda brings us back down cause Austin [Kuntz] and I will get pretty out of hand,” he laughs.

There are downsides to being in a small class with four students. Austin Kuntz says there isn’t diversity that you’d find in a big city.

“Everybody’s farm kids … it’s kind of eye opening to go to Denver to see the different cultures out there that we don’t have at your school, it’s a downfall, ‘cause you don’t know what to do.”

Another downside is a well-known trait of small town life.

“Everyone knows your business, if you get in trouble, everyone knows,” Parker says.

So what are their plans for their future, this close to graduation?

Photo: Lone Star Grads 5 | Principal Mike Bowers - JBrundin
"I have 18 8th-graders... So I next year I will double my numbers in high school, which is very exciting," says Lone Star principal Mike Bowers with a laugh.

Zach Hamar has won a full ride rodeo scholarship and will study agricultural science in Border, Texas. Austin Kuntz will head to Cheyenne, Wyoming to study diesel mechanics, where he’s worried about being in a class of 20 instead of four. Daydra Parker is headed to Denver, possibly to a community college. Jessica Basset wants to study business administration.

“I think it’s going to be sad because even on your grumpiest days you come to school, they always know how to brighten your day up, not being able to know that they are here, I think it will be hard,” Basset says. “It will be sad.”

Hamar is clearly uncomfortable with the topic, in his typical jovial way.

“I don’t really want to talk about this frankly because this is my school, this is my family,” he laughs. “I don’t want to think about me graduating!”

Photo: Lone Star Grads 6 | Grads 2 - JBrundin
The four soon-to-be graduates of Lone Star standing in the fallowed cornfield outside the school.

These seniors have grown up in front of each other and in front of much younger kids at Lone Star. It’s a little aggravating Hamar says at times being in the same hallway as the little kids, but he says it shapes the high schoolers into adults, makes them build character. It gives the little ones something to look up to and strive for.

“We all put our differences aside when it comes to the kids, when it comes to the next generation, when it comes to the school, everybody puts their differences aside to work for the greater good, and that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” he says.

Their graduation will be pretty traditional, but with only four Lone Star seniors, each will get a gift from the superintendent and will each get to share their own personalized slide show with the audience.

From there, it’s a step into a much larger world.