4 students’ entry saves small mountain school

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4 students’ entry saves small mountain school


Principal of Heoin Middle School Lee Eue-hyun, center, and four freshmen pose for a photo at the school in Boeun County, North Chungcheong, on April 10. The school was saved from closing down thanks to the new entrants. [KIM SUNG-TAE]

BOEUN, North Chungcheong — Just when everyone thought a middle school in the mountains of North Chungcheong would close down, four freshmen entered the school in March, bringing relief to the villagers.

Hoein Middle School was the only middle school in the province to skip the school entrance ceremony last year because no one entered the school. After this year’s graduation, there were only ninth graders left, which caused villagers to worry that the school might have to close down in the coming year when the remaining students graduate. However, as four new students registered, the 52-year-old school avoided being closed down.

The key player to saving the school was Lee Eue-hyun, the principal of the school, who was appointed to the post in March of last year.

“I put my effort into attracting freshmen for a year,” Lee said, “after receiving a promise from the superintendent of schools in North Chungcheong that he will maintain operation of the school if we could secure at least two students per class.”

Most Hoein Middle School entrants are graduates of Hoein Elementary School. Some are from Hoenam Elementary School, which is about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) away. However most Hoenam graduates avoided entering the school because there were only five bus services a day going there.

After being appointed principal, Lee began researching recent graduates of nearby elementary schools. One of two Hoein Elementary School graduates wanted to enter Hoein Middle School, but three graduates of Hoenam Elementary School were not very optimistic about the idea.

“After taking office, I participated in monthly meetings held by village leaders and told them if they choose to send their kids to our school, we will be sure to teach them well,” Lee said. “To parents of Hoenam graduates, I assured them I will guarantee the safety of their kids to and from school despite the substantial distance.”

In March of last year, the middle school signed into a partnership with the Hoein police substation so police officers can drive students home in their patrol cars. Currently, six of the 10 students at the school are escorted home by police officers, while the rest are accompanied by teachers. For graduates of Hoenam Elementary School who live farther away, the school pays for their bus tickets to school.

The school also opened up an after-school studying class last year. The program has received positive responses from students who were unable to take private tutoring classes because there were no academies nearby.

All students at the middle school take customized tutoring from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the school, which offers the students dinner so they can stay late and study well.

“Teachers help students with subjects after school so they don’t have to take private lessons,” Lee said. “We started the program because many of the children have to stay home alone as their parents come back late after farming and some live only with their grandparents.”

Last July, the school held an event called “Come Visit Our School,” inviting fifth and sixth graders of Hoenam Elementary to the middle school. The soon-to-be-graduating elementary school students teamed up with middle schoolers to cook, play games and participate in performances.

“We published a school newsletter and sent it to the village’s government office and to 25 parents and village heads to promote our school and the event,” Lee added.

The middle school also runs special training programs apart from regular curricula so students can learn to play musical instruments and bake cookies. The special sessions are operated using a 20 million won ($17,560) budget supported by the local scholarship association.

BY CHOI JONG-KWON [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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