On Monday, we visited Barnes County North, a preK-12 school serving nine towns in Barnes County, North Dakota.
We thought it strange when we crossed the county line about an hour before we arrived but later learned from our host, librarian Beth Undem, that the county is 30 by 60 miles at its widest.
The school was built in 2013—and it’s beautiful. Previously, the county had three schools spread throughout the district, and the new building was an effort to pool resources through consolidation.
The school serves families from a wide range of economic backgrounds—some big farmers and many others who work for those farms. Free meals are available to those who need them.
Our visit was wonderful. We were greeted by a huge banner featuring our family in the bus, handmade by members of the Kindness Club.
One of the teachers commented how nice it was we visited “on a warm day.” It was 21 degrees. I asked what a cold day looked like. The answer was “40-to-60 below.”
For the sake of flexibility and economy, their school bus fleet includes a few shorter ones that don’t require a CDL to drive. For example, the elementary principal has had to drive a bus on occasion. At breakfast, I chatted with Marshall, a school bus driver of more than three decades and got a few insider tips.
The kids were so excited to meet us. They told us about farming (I learned all about silage). One boy suggested we swing by his father’s diesel shop, and another gave us step-by-step directions to his house. My two favorite responses for how to make a better world: “More books everywhere,” and “Punch a robot and say ‘no’”.
Many thanks to Beth Undem for hosting our visit and painting North Dakota on the side of our bus.
And to Melanie Pratt for handling the logistics and providing the world’s finest homemade cookies.
You’ll probably never visit Barnes County North. It’s not really on the way to anywhere else. But we’re so glad we had a reason to be there for a day.
It may have been cold outside, but I’ve seldom felt more warmth inside a school.
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The Busload of Books Tour is a yearlong project to promote literacy and raise awareness of the challenges facing our nation’s public schools.
Author/illustrator duo Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (that’s us) and our four kids are spending the 2022-2023 school year traveling the country in a school bus/tiny home, visiting Title I schools in all 50 states (plus DC), and giving away 25,000 hardcover books to students and teachers from underserved communities.
Along the way, we’ll be conducting a major research project, making a picture book about America, and inviting our followers to join us on a yearlong exploration of our country’s unsung wonders and off-the-beaten-path communities.