One Room University, a Modern Day Schoolhouse
Along Route 219 and the winding roads it leads to, you can find a number of one-room schoolhouses in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Though each building has its own unique history, they all represent a time when education was different, when all the learning happened in one room.
These days in the town of Marlinton, you can find a modern day version of those historic schoolhouses. Called One Room University, the campus is a branch of New River Community and Technical College. According to Coordinator Elaine Diller, students have the chance to learn through a kind of distance education known as Interactive Video Networking (IVN), where they take courses without having to leave the county.
“The people who envisioned this space as a college started looking at a delivery system through IVN, Interactive Video Networking, which is the main way that we provide the courses, as under one roof or in one room,” Diller said, “that you could actually start and finish your degree program under one roof.”
One Room University is now in its fourth year, with continued support from the Pocahontas County Commission and City National Bank.
“Through the years, we’ve just brought with us students who are going part-time, and so they’re still taking their courses,” Diller said. “They might have started with developmental courses, but through that process of taking these courses, they’ve been able to interact with us and get advice and counseling on a one-on-one basis consistently, so that they have a goal now.”
“They’ve started talking to each other and networking with each other in a really positive atmosphere, and they’ve gotten into a groove of going to college, that this is really a college and it will take them somewhere,” she said.
While Interactive Video Networking is a contemporary form of education, much of what happens at One Room University is reminiscent of the way students learned in Pocahontas County years ago. Diller and Assistant Coordinator Alicia Tallman work one-one-one with each student, providing administrative support, career advice, technological oversight, and sometimes even snacks. As both a mother and an educator, Diller feels that ORU is important to Pocahontas County, because it gives people the option to experience college without the overwhelming and sometimes debilitating task of going away to a big school.
“There is a population of kids who feel like they would never even envision going to college,” Diller said. “Sometimes I look around and I’m seeing these people blossoming and how smart they are, and for one reason or another, they would not have gotten this opportunity if we weren’t here.”
“I think just beyond an education, if they at least try it and see what’s available, they might come back to it later in life,” she said. “You can revisit. You can go back. But you can at least have been given the opportunity to have a college education and see what that means so you’re not going out and saying ‘Oh, that’s not for me’ without even having experienced it.”
Many of the one-room schoolhouses in Pocahontas County have gone on to take on new roles, becoming residences, music venues, and even bookstores. Some of them remain largely unchanged since the days their doors closed. But the doors at One Room University are open, inviting people from all walks of life to learn under one roof.
“When I stop long enough to get the feeling of community that’s here, it’s just a really good feeling, and I feel privileged to have seen and gotten to know these young people,” Diller said, “and to see it succeed and see them succeed is just such a privilege. It really is.”
The One Room University is located at 300 8th Street in Marlinton, WV. They can be reached at 304-799-4950.