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'It's a nice place to grow up, but....'

High school seniors Justin Pedersen and Bobbi Farnsworth are quick to enumerate the benefits of their intimate academic setting (84 in the entire high school, with exactly 16 in the senior class.).

"You get lots of one-on-one with teachers" (Justin). "There's no violence" (Bobbi). "You don't have to worry about trying out for sports - everyone gets to play" (Justin).

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But ask if they expect to settle down in Big Springs (population 495) or Brule (population 411) - the Nebraska towns the school serves - when they graduate, and both hesitate.

Justin says he wishes he could, but the shortage of jobs in the area makes it unlikely. Bobbi expects to head for a larger venue, somewhere with "shopping centers and stuff." A small town is a nice place to grow up, she agrees, but adds that its chief virtue is also its chief drawback: "You know everybody and everybody knows you and your business."

Still, there are aspects of small-school life that might delight other teens. Bobbi and Justin express surprise when asked about cliques. "Everybody pretty much gets along," they insist. No separation of "nerds" and "cool" kids in the lunchroom? "The senior class all eat at the same table," they explain.

Classmate Lindsey Peterman says she loves living in a close-knit community like Big Springs, where her dad is the town mailman and her mom is church secretary. "I've always been happy to be here." But, she says, "Once in a while on a Friday or Saturday night I wish I lived in a big town." As for the future, she plans to try life somewhere else for a time. But someday when she starts her own family, "I definitely want to be in a small town again."

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