Next to an apiary, horse field, and solar farm is Trinity School, Canyon Creek’s elementary school, located northwest of Helena.
Students of all grades are outside on the playground for a physical education class surrounded by mountains, hills and the peaceful charm of Montana.
Jennifer Kueber teaches second and third grades and has 11 students in her class. She has been at Trinity School for 14 years and is now the supervising teacher.
“I was interested in a small school. I had taught multi-age classes before. I started when my daughter started kindergarten (at Trinity School) because I stayed with them when my kids were little,” Kueber said. “…I just love the country vibe and you can have kids for so many years that you’re part of their family. You love them.”
Kueber said Trinity School is the “oldest continuously operated school” in Montana and has been in operation since 1893. Today, the school is the largest it has ever been physically and in number of registrations.
People also read…
The school, located at 7435 Duffy Lane, Canyon Creek, serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The largest class is kindergarten and the first grade class with 18 students. There are three teachers, including Kueber, and two paraprofessional educators. Everyone teaches in multigrade classes.
A school day for Kueber’s class begins with journaling. In the morning, students focus on math, reading, and time sharing. They have time for snacks, lunch and recreation. In the afternoons, the class works on science, social studies and/or a special activity such as physical education, library, music, counseling and more. They also choose an article of the day to read and write in class, and the article of the day for September 23 was about thunderstorms and weather safety.
“We are growing so much. I think we were at 19 the year before COVID, and we’re at 38 now,” Kueber said.
Growth is nice, but Kueber doesn’t want Trinity School to grow so big that it loses its small-school charm. Sometimes she finds herself missing the days when school was a bit smaller.
She told the story of a time when the school had eight children, and she took her class on an impromptu field trip to watch her son play football for Capital at a state game in Helena.
“I called all the parents and said, ‘Can we go and watch the game tomorrow?’ and they all gave me permission to drive the kids, and that was awesome,” Kueber recalls. “We were able to go and watch the soccer, and the girls, it was four girls, we just played and had so much fun, and they cheered on the boys in the capital. I took them to Costco for lunch, then we came back to school and ended our day.
“(The growth) is good, but at the same time, it’s kind of a bittersweet reflection,” Kueber continued.
By the end of fifth grade, students from the Trinity School District typically feed into CR Anderson Middle School and then Capital High School, but this is not always the case.
“We had three kids…two years ago, one went to Helena Middle School, one went to CR and one went to St. Andrew,” Kueber said. “Everyone went somewhere different, and it was just the parents’ choice.”
With all this growth, Montana’s oldest running school needs a facelift. Trinity School received a direct allocation grant of $112,000 from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – $62,000 for water and sewer upgrades and $50,000 for two new halls of class. Trinity School will provide local cash matching funds totaling $25,000 for the project, pursuant to the Lewis and Clark County Funding Sub-Recipient Agreement.
Currently, water is distributed to Trinity School because the well needs to be upgraded to provide drinking water. The school’s septic system was installed in 2013 with a capacity of 25 people in mind. Now he needs a Tier II system that will accommodate 100 people for continued projected growth.
When completed, the two new classrooms will house the fourth and fifth grade classes, which now have eight students, and Kueber’s second and third grade classes. The kindergarten and first grade class will move into Kueber’s former hall, freeing up the gymnasium they currently use as a classroom for school-wide use.
Construction is underway at the school. Kueber said the estimated end date is early December, but she thinks it will be around Christmas.
“(I have former students passing by) or I just see them outside. A few years ago, I had this kid come over (to the annual Chili Feed fundraiser at school), and he was like, “Hi, Mrs. Kueber” and he gave me a big hug.” , she said, “…Everyone is growing up with us. They’ve been stuck with us for so long. I feel like they have good memories, I hope.”
Megan Michelotti can be contacted at [email protected]