North Dakota Oil Boom Crowding Schools

    25 June, 2014


    This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.

    The oil industry is growing fast in the American States of North Dakota and Montana. Removing oil from the ground has made a lot of money for the area and provided many jobs. The industry also has brought thousands of people to rural towns that once has small populations. Williston, North Dakota is a good example.

    The United States Census Bureau says the Williston area was the fastest growing place of its size and description from July 1, 2011 to July 1, 2012. It said the population growth was 9.3 percent. Adding many people means increased demand for roads, emergency services and other systems, like electricity, heating and water. And more children attending schools can mean crowding in the community’s classrooms.

    North Dakota Oil Boom Crowding Schools

    John Monger was born and raised in Williston. He is taught at the city’s Hagan elementary school for 24 years. For the last three years he is taught in a temporary structure called a trailer, the classrooms are smaller than usual. He started the year with 16 students. Now Mr. Monger has 18 in the small space.

    Viola LaFontaine is the leader of Williston public schools, that area of schools is the smallest in North Dakota, but it is also growing the fastest. She says the schools increased their population by more than 1000 students during the past four to five years. The majority are elementary school children. In addition, she says the students come from all over the world.

    "I believe its seven different languages that we have spoken in school now. A majority are Spanish, but we have Cantonese, we have French," LaFontaine said.

    Ms LaFontaine says it’s difficult to deal with the continuing changes in student population.

    "The greatest challenge is the students coming in and out and throughout the entire school year, which something different as well as students leaving throughout the entire school year," LaFontaine said.

    The official says it is also hard to hire qualified teachers and to pay for larger and more modern schools. She notes that the state is receiving a lot of money from oil. She has asked the North Dakota government for education assistance.

    "North Dakota’s always been conservative. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But now that you’ve got ample resources, let us have some of it. Whether it’s grants or loans or preferably grants that you could use to really support your schools," LaFontaine said.

    Voters in Williston District 1 recently approved a measure to build a new high school. The measure will increase property taxes. But education activists say Williston's taxes are less than those in similar North Dakota communities.

    And that’s the Education Report from VOA Learning English. You can listen to our reports at our website or download them. You can follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and on our YouTube Channel, all at VOA Learning English. I’m Jerilyn Watson.