“Class of Zero”
Project info

Not uncommon to most small towns in rural America, schools become like the stitches of a patchwork quilt holding together the fabric of the community. As the population shifts in Eastern Colorado, the school in Karval, Colorado, remains the heart of its community. There is no diner; no gas station. The only places open are the school and a small post office. Just a handful of people remain in town, and most live on farms and ranches spread throughout Lincoln County.

The school has become more than a place where kids come to learn. It has become a community center, a place where people gather to celebrate or even mourn the loss of a neighbor. However, Karval School’s main function remains its students…all 35 of them. The school’s students, kindergarten through 12th grade, are all under one roof in a school building built in 1956. Little has changed to the school throughout the years, but for the first time since it was built, there wasn’t a graduation at the end of the 2015 school year.

Instead that May, Nelson Taylor watched his grandkids compete in the field day activities in a gym full of families also there to watch the events. The crowd was sitting on wooden bleachers that looked like they were pulled from the set of the old movie “Hoosiers” while students competed in three-legged races, sack races, and other games. It was the last school event for the 2015 school year. There was no graduation to signify the end of another school year. There was no graduating senior, no class of 2015.

Taylor has lived all but two years of his 74 in Karval. Painted in the school’s colors on the wall behind him reads the word ‘home.’ Further down the wall to his right, the word ‘visitors’ is also painted. “I alway sit on the home side,” said Taylor, joking. These days, there aren’t many visitors to the school. It has gotten so small that the students have to drive to neighboring towns play in activities such as basketball, baseball, volleyball, and football.

In 2016, five students, including one foreign-exchange student, walked down the aisle to get their diplomas.
“This is a big day for me… I didn't think I’d ever get here,” said Clay Mayo, a senior who was putting on his cap and gown before walking into that same gymnasium to graduate with his four classmates in 2016. The graduates all had different plans for their futures, but Mayo, like a few others, planned to stay. The day after graduation, he went to work on his family's ranch. It's people like Mayo who are the future of Karval. He hopes someday to sit on those very bleachers and watch his own kids graduate. In 2017, only one student will be graduating.