ROY – Audra Rivera has sent out about 300 invitations to her high school graduation, which will take place in the school gym Friday night. After the ceremony there will be a dinner and dance.
The ceremony itself should be short and sweet: Audra is the only member of the Roy High School Class of 2014.
“In seventh and eighth grade I actually had classmates,” Audra told me as she showed me around the school where she has been a student since the first grade.
The other kids moved away – a common story in Roy – and Audra was left as the only member of her freshman class. “I was the last one standing,” she says.
Over the next four years, no kids her age moved into Roy – another common story – and so she went through all four years of high school as the solo member of her class.
There are some perks to being the only senior. Audra was elected prom queen, no surprise. The prom was overloaded with boys by a 4-to-1 ratio, so she got to dance to nearly every song.
An array of dozens of photos of her life and high school career takes up an entire hallway wall just outside the school office. “My shrine,” Audra says.
Of the 88 lockers that line the high school hallway, she got to choose locker No. 1.
And she got to pick the themes of the class of 2014. Class color: maroon and white. Class flower: the blue rose. Class song: “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. Class motto: “It’s really long,” Audra says. “I can’t really remember it.”
Roy sits at a highway crossroads in northeastern New Mexico, just south of the Kiowa grasslands and about 60 miles west of the Texas state line. The trend in isolated ranching communities is decampment. The U.S. Census counted 304 people in Roy in 2000. Ten years later, the count was 234. (Audra has made friends in a wide swath of Harding County, which is why her high school graduation invitation list outpaced the village’s population.)
The village educates all its children under one roof. Elementary school has 34 kids this year, including five kindergartners. Audra is joined by 13 classmates in grades 7 through 12.
“I bet you can name them all,” I venture.
“I can,” Audra says. “Do you want me to?”
In the list she rattled off, there were only two other girls and only a few boys of appropriate dating age. Not a problem, Audra says.
“I basically get along with anybody. I’m easy-cheesy,” Audra says. “A lot of us have grown up with each other. Here we’re just like a family.” Her boyfriend last year was one of the school’s only three seniors.
As Audra was giving me the grand tour of her school, she was supposed to be in English class, which meant her English teacher, Kathy Martinez, was sitting alone.
Martinez has been at Roy for more than 20 years, and she teaches all the English classes in seventh through 12th grades. “When I first came, I had 64 students,” Martinez says. Now, with 14 students, she’s accustomed to having classes with only one or two desks filled. That allows her to work one on one. But, she says, “I think it would be exciting to actually have students in the desks.”
Audra, who struggles with reading comprehension, has benefited from the individual attention.
“The teachers, they’re great,” she says. “They work with you until you get concepts down, and they never give up.”
The downside is that shrinking schools sometimes offer shrinking opportunities. With fewer than five girls in high school, Roy couldn’t fill out a girls basketball team. So in her junior and senior years, Audra and her friend, Kasandra, played on the boys team, the Roy Longhorns.
And, as a solo student in a tiny school, Audra could never even consider skipping class. “The superintendent knows your parents, and everybody knows you,” she says. Anyway, her mom, Betty Martinez, is the school secretary, and her dad, Herman Martinez, is the Harding County sheriff.
Audra has thrived in the close-knit, peaceful atmosphere. “You get a lot of attention,” she says. “It’s different, but it’s cool. I love it.”
Audra was accepted to both Eastern New Mexico University and New Mexico Highlands University, but she thinks she might try easing into college through a community college. Her ultimate goal is a degree in early childhood education.
She might even buck the demographic trend and stay in Roy.
“I’m wanting to leave, but I think I’m going to end up staying a little longer,” she says. “It’s pretty great to know everybody.”