This is a reading comprehension exercise for children. It is written by Susan Fineman, a reading specialist in the New Haven, Conn., school district.

BEAR VALLEY, Calif.--The computers hum; Rascal the cat owns the couch in front of a spectacular fireplace; and a gaggle of children pore over textbooks.

The setting looks like a ski chalet, but it's the modern descendant of the rural, one-room schoolhouses that have dotted California's outback since the 19th century.

Although most of California's 4.7 million public school students are taught in conventional classrooms, about 500 students are learning in 36 one-room schoolhouses from the Mojave Desert to the North Coast. The oldest, Lincoln Elementary School, in Marin County, was built in 1872; the newest, farther north in Mendocino County, opened this year.

"They are mostly in isolated areas," said Jim Bush, a top official in the state office that decides where schools are built.

That's something of an understatement.

Here in the tiny Sierra Nevada town of Bear Valley, 200 miles east of San Francisco and 7,000 feet above sea level, nine youngsters attend class in a room more akin to a spacious mountain lodge than a school.

In addition to the single classroom, Bear Valley also has a gymnasium and cafeteria, not to mention an emergency generator--all necessary to withstand the frequently miserable mountain weather.

In deep winter, the town itself is known as the "anthill" because of the intricate array of snow tunnels that connects buildings.

"During the winter, we'll get 20 feet of snow," said teacher Trisha Fedderly. "Maybe just 10 feet, if there's a drought."

Students at Bear Valley School are like those anywhere--spending their time reading, talking, playing, writing. But there are differences.

The youngsters here take 11 weeks a year of skiing--downhill and cross-country--as part of their required physical education program.

"The classic quote we all remember was from an eighth-grader who came in one morning and said, 'Hey, is this a downhill day or an uphill day?' " Fedderly said.

Quiz

1. How many of California's public school students are taught in one-room schoolhouses?

2. When was California's oldest one-room school built? Where?

3. Why are most single-classroom schools found in isolated (out-of-the-way) areas?

4. The mountain weather is described as "miserable." Do you agree or disagree with this description? Explain.

5. In the middle of winter, why is the tiny Sierra Nevada town known as the "anthill?"

6. Why does Bear Valley School look so much like a ski lodge?

7. How are the youngsters at Bear Valley like those at other schools?

8. Name the two types of skiing taught to the mountain-dwelling students as part of their required gym program.

9. How might students benefit from learning in a single classroom with children of different ages?

10. If you could ask teacher Trisha Fedderly one question about Bear Valley School, what would it be?

Answer key (wording may vary):

1. Of California's 4.7 million public school students, 500 are taught in single-classroom schools.

2. The oldest rural school, built in 1872, is Lincoln Elementary in Marin County.

3. Answers will vary.

4. Answers will vary.

5. During the winter, Bear Valley is known as the "anthill" because buildings are connected by snow tunnels.

6. Bear Valley School resembles a ski chalet because it has a large room with a couch and an impressive fireplace.

7. Students at the rural school read, talk, play and write.

8. For 11 weeks a year, the youngsters must take classes in downhill and cross-country skiing.

9. Answers will vary.

10. Answers will vary.