By KATIE WATTS / Petaluma Correspondent

The smiling woman is Sandy Doyle, for the past nine years the human principal, and teacher, at the oldest, continuously running one-room schoolhouse in California, Lincoln School on Hicks Valley Road, just off the Petaluma-Point Reyes Road.

This year, Lincoln, which dates to 1872, has eight students. Doyle, 51, says she’s taught students “whose parents, grandparents, great-grandparents attended the school.”

Lincoln is the oldest of the three one-room elementary schools that, although part of the Marin County Office of Education, send their students on to Petaluma schools, though some do continue in Marin or Tomales. All three – Lincoln, Laguna and Union – are one-school districts as well.

Luca Boggio tries to concentrate on finishing his homework at Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Doyle speaks warmly of the supportive ranch community that surrounds Lincoln. “So many of the old families, the foundation of Petaluma, live out here.”

One advantage of a one-room school, she says, is individuality. “Children hear things several times by being in the classroom. If a third-grader can move ahead, understand fourth or fifth grade work, I allow that to happen.”

She says she “loves the impact I can have on a kid.”

Doyle doesn’t work alone: five other teachers and aides are with her: one daily. She also says that, though students use computers, “I have old-fashioned standards.” She believes in “manners, etiquette and integrity.” But “there are few rules in my classroom. Children need to problem-solve themselves, though we guide them.” And she tries to make lessons as hands-on as possible.

Another pleasure of one-room schooling, she says, is that “on a beautiful day, we can go out the back gate, up the hill and have class where we can see as far as our eyes can see.”

Although she’s the teacher, she admits she’s still a kid at heart. “Sometimes we have to stop class because a cow has gotten onto our property.” Once, after they’d herded the cow back to its ranch, “we made a game out of throwing the cow patties out of the yard.”

The boys at Lincoln Elementary School enjoy recess in the sun and the pastoral setting around the Petaluma school on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Every day, she believes, “a kid has to go home, happy, focused, having had one-on-one time with me, and dirty! That’s what kid life is all about, and it should never stop.”

Principal and teacher Pam Brambila has been at Laguna School in Chileno Valley for 17 years. She’s 57 and says she’s sure that when she retires, it will be from Laguna.

Laguna School dates to 1906. This year, she says, there are 12 students, but they’ve had as many as 40.

Like Doyle, she has worked in larger schools, but prefers the one-room atmosphere. “Here you have the ability to get to know your students really well, often since kindergarten.” And she also enjoys the family aspect, teaching students from the same families, “some for fifteen years.”

In addition, with fewer students, resources are more plentiful. And Brambila said that at schools this small, “kids seem to stay innocent longer,” a thought Doyle echoed.

Brambila teaches six students, another teacher takes the other half-dozen. “You have to be organized, and know your curriculum. But another advantage,” she adds with a laugh, “of having the kids longer is that we  have them well-trained.

“I love this location, this little school,” she continues. “There’s something special about this place.”

Max Boggio pets the classroom dog 'Cooper' while finishing his homework. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Union School, out D Street Extension on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, has been in the education business since 1895. Principal/teacher Cynthia Pick, 40, has been teaching 16 years: six of them at Union.

This year, she says, there are 10 elementary students and one transitional kindergarten students. “That gives us a grand total of 11.”

What she enjoys about her job is the connection with the students, and their families. “One student this year,” she says, “is a fourth-generation Union School student.

“Here, I’m able to be with the students for seven years, watch them learn how to write and read all the way up to reading novels and writing essays. It’s the steps of the connection that draw me to this school and make my job more fulfilling.”

Riley Wester takes her shoes off after getting back from recess at Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

The education itself – language arts, math, history, social studies, physical education – is the same as at a larger school because one-room schools are still state public schools, Pick explains, “but here we’re able to do it in more depth.

“The depth is so much greater than in a larger school. I can make that one-on-one connection, and have more opportunity to work with the children on academics because of the small school environment.”

A fundraiser for Lincoln School happens from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, April 15 at Lagunitas Brewing Company, 1280 N. McDowell Blvd. Tickets are $25 and the evening includes dinner, music by the Dixie Giants, raffle and silent auction. Call 763-0045 or e-mail sdoyle@marin.k12.ca.us.