Summer Storm Damage and Lack of Teachers Halt School at Big White
The Big White School house, 30 minutes north of Wall sits empty this year and the eight students from the past year have moved to the Wall school or are being homeschooled. If only those walls could talk, would we be able to know how much learning, growing, and self-confidence was taught by the teachers there the past 100 plus years.
In 1920 the schoolhouse was built to educate children of a country community north of Wall. At the time it was merely called White School, or by the legal designation of the school district, White 67. It later became the Big White Elementary School.
The building was designed by Gustav Willuweit and originally sat on Willuweit land. The building was moved to its current location in the 1950s. It has been renovated and updated multiple times, including indoor plumbing in 1982. The school has been a social destination for the community for over 100 years. The building has hosted school functions such as Christmas plays, 4-H meetings, card parties, and even political elections have been held within those walls.
Two main objectives that stood in the way of education in the Big White was staffing and storm damage. “It came down to two reasons this fall that we couldn’t continue school at the Big White School,” said Wall School District Superintendent Pandi Pittman. “We tried, and pushed advertisements locally and on the internet,” said Pittman, and there were no applicants sent to us for the job.”
The other reason for not opening the school was a June storm which brought hail and wind that hindered the opening of the schoolhouse. “We had an estimated $46,400 in repairs and replacements on the building after the storm went through,” said Pittman. “The problem was that the district didn’t receive the estimate of damages until mid-August.”
Between a lack of teachers to work with the students and the storm, the Big White had to stay empty, this year. Many local and statewide businesses are feeling the same pain in our rural communities and shutting down has become the normal. The Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls wrote in the July 29th issue, that in late July there were nearly 300 teaching positions open within the state That was approximately 100 more openings than the previous year. “The elementary was the second largest group for the openings,” stated Pittman. “Once there is an applicant, the qualifications and background information have to be gone through before the interview process begins.”
Last year’s students included: Blaizy Nelson, 6th grade, Bridger Nelson, and Johnny Moon, 3rd grade, Allie Scott and Aaron Willuweit 2nd grade, Ole Moon, 1st grade, Bostonn Nelson and Tate Scott, Kindergarten.
“We will miss the Big White school,” said mom, Mari Willuweit. “It had its own unique ways of teaching the kids of different ages to work together and learn from each other, improving their social and leadership skills, and teaching them how to be independent as well. We will especially miss the Big White’s Christmas plays and the students’ musical performances.”
When we started our kids going to Big White, our daughter Nora was one of two kindergartners,” said Megan Hoffman. “There were five kids in the entire school and all of them girls. Two years later her brother Coy started and was the only boy that year.”
"My children didn’t attend the Big White last year, but I did intend on sending three there this year,” said Hoffman, "but with the school not open, we decided to homeschool this year. If I could choose any school for my child, it would be a country school. Both my parents and both sets of grandparents and great grandparents attended rural schools as children. It makes me very sad that Elsie and Chet will never attend one, and the cycle will be broken. The individual attention a child gets at a rural school, along with the camaraderie with other children with similar country values are impossible to duplicate. Homeschooling is really as close as I can get to that,” stated Hoffman.