According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2010-11, of the 100,000 public schools in the United States, one-third of them were located in rural areas, which was more than in suburbs, cities, or towns. Rural students made up 24% of the total enrollment in public schools in the country; that’s 12 million students! This is no small number and certainly not one that should be overlooked by state policy makers. But according to a report from the Rural School and Community Trust, “the invisibility of rural education persists in many states. Many rural students are largely invisible to state policy makers because they live in states where education policy is dominated by highly visible urban problems.”
You often hear in the media and public forums about issues in city schools and the challenges districts and students there face, but many times the issues—for example, lack of access to high-quality early childhood programs and a high number of students coming from economically disadvantaged homes— are the same in rural districts as they are in the city.
So what can we do to improve education in rural areas and make these students visible? Spread the word!
Co-producer Sam Chaltain of the documentary film 180 Days: Hartsville from PBS is doing his part to shine the light on rural students. In his article posted on The Edvocate, he explains that the film is about “a year in the life of one small [rural] Southern town, two schools that work primarily with low-income children, and one family’s efforts to break the generational cycle of poverty.“ He also says that the film indirectly shows how the typical strategies of school reform, like charter and online schooling, are not feasible options in rural areas where money and other resources are scarce.
GrapeSEED is also helping by promoting literacy development in young students in a remote area of Pennsylvania. Southern Huntingdon County School District is a rural district where 40% of students come from economically disadvantaged homes and 33% of students had no prior experience in a classroom. They began using GrapeSEED last year, and they were so pleased with the results that they decided to implement the program district-wide in preschool, Head Start, Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms to help achieve their Literacy for Life goals.
Photo courtesy of Southern Huntingdon County School District
We can all help bring attention to rural districts, their struggles, and their need for educational improvements. And it’s something we should do because it affects so many students in this country, their future, and the future of our society as a whole. Talk to your congressman, talk to educators, and talk to anyone who will listen. High-quality early childhood education is a necessity for every young child, including those in the rural towns we hear so little about. All kids matter, so let’s work together to make sure every one of them is visible!
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