There are more students attending Bozeman High School than there are people living in the entire town of Harlowton, population 997.
Urban Montana and rural Montana can seem like different universes, with different cultures, different outlooks and different economies.
To bridge that divide, the nonprofit group OneMontana is working to create cultural exchanges, starting with Bozeman and Harlowton and starting with high school students.
Nine students from Harlowton High spent Friday visiting 1,909-student Bozeman High School. Next week, several Bozeman students will visit Harlowton High, which has fewer than 100 students.
“I think it’s really cool,” said Riley Reed, 14, a Harlowton freshman. “It’s important that our rural and urban communities are connected, because they’re the future generation.”
She noticed several differences between the two high schools.
“The people – there are so many of them,” Reed said. “The school is very lax. Classes are a lot bigger; you break into groups. It’s more interactive, less lectures.”
Harlowton school counselor Sandy Woldstad said at her school, teachers “not only know your name, they know your parents, your grandparents, where you live, your brothers and sisters…. You can’t get away with much.”
Harlowtown sophomore Zach Wright said he enjoyed visiting the advanced biology class taught by Bozeman teacher Paul Andersen, last year’s Montana teacher of the year.
“He made time to address the whole class and the individual students, where they struggled,” Wright said.
“Our school is so much bigger,” said Peter Obermeyer, 17, a Bozeman High senior. “In a way it’s a lot more impersonal, but it has a bigger range of classes.”
Lizzie Gill, 17, a Bozeman senior, said though it’s only a two hour drive away, she has never been to Harlowton. “My dad hunts there, is all I know.”
Lisa Grace, executive director of OneMontana, said she plans to expand the Bozeman-Harlowton exchanges to include people in city governments, business leaders and others. This is a pilot project to see what works. In the future she plans to create similar exchanges with other Montana communities.
OneMontana grew out of conversations between Jim Peterson, state Senate president from the Lewistown area, and Bill Bryan, founder of Off the Beaten Path, a Bozeman tourism company, Grace said. They were concerned about the growing division between Montana’s rural areas and its seven cities.
The goal of OneMontana, Grace said, “is to create a vibrant Montana by connecting rural and urban communities, and at the end of the day to (help) people connect and collaborate, for economic development.”
The decision to pair Bozeman and Harlowton as “sister cities” was made because they already have connections. TicketPrinting.com has manufacturing in Harlowton and offices in Bozeman, and Yellowstone Grassfed Beef sells to a lot of local restaurants, she said.
In addition to visiting Bozeman High, the Harlowton students on Thursday visited Montana State University, Gallatin Valley Botanicals, the Community Food Co-op and Zoot Enterprises.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.