Today I was looking at my draft rural research dissertation and I was thinking about the times I spent working with my students in one of my former schools. These students, at a school which no longer officially exists, had lived their entire careers as students in one school, grades K-12. From the minute they entered kindergarten until they graduated, the students were surrounded with friendly faces who greeted them each day. From the bus drivers to the cafeteria staff to the teachers, the principal and superintendent, everyone knew each other. Mara Tieken, in her book Why Rural School matters, talks about the school as the center of the community. She explores two districts in Arkansas that are subjected to consolidation and state take over. What is a key point in her phenomenal text is the length the schools go to in order to do right by their students.
As an outsider who became part of the inside, I found the rural communities to be places of unique tightness. The formation of the community through the shared school experience is something which Peshkin, DeYoung, Theobald, and Schafft have all written about to a greater or lesser extent. While thinking about how the rural became part of me, I wonder how my research can help rural communities survive and thrive.
I feel that in New York State, a policy shift needs to happen. The state should allow regional specialized schools like Tech Valley across the state. If each BOCES area could specialize in one or two type of 21st century prep programs, New York could see a Renaissance in economics and academics. I propose that each BOCES explores not a P-Tech school, but a specialty based upon its area’s resources. Back in my little school which no longer exists, it would be amazing to have a geo sciences based school. The area was originally one of the most petroleum rich areas. AS we move away from fossil fuels, we still need the petro for chemicals. The Geosciences program at the BOCES would allow students to research and earn a AAS in geosciences from the community college, their high school diploma, and launch their learning into a hard science which we need.
Time to use our rural resources correctly. This may include allowing students the opportunity to transfer to a rural school for safety and program magnets. If most of our colleges are in rural areas, why can’t our advanced high schools be centered with those schools?