There are some amazing rural educational practices that happen on a daily basis in the American system. Why don’t more people know about the amazing happenings which are daily events at our smallest schools? Mostly our press and our attention is devoted to what is going wrong in schools. It is easier to find problems in the schools than to see what is right. Some of our hardest working teachers live and ply their trade in public, small, rural communities. Day in and day out, these superheros of the classroom devise lesson plans that are engaging , creative, and thought provoking. These lessons see students studying the core areas of ELA, social studies, math, science, physical education, art, language, and technology. So what are these engaging practices?
Our first practice is the integration of curriculum. teachers from different grade levels and different content traditions work together on a daily basis to ensure the students get to learn beyond the disciplines and into the integrated learning experiences. When I was working at Sidney CSD, an ELA teacher and I worked together to ensure that ELA and social studies students in 9th and 10 grades were seeing the two curriculum working in harmony. Why did we do this? because we shared the same students. The kids saw me first period, and saw Angela second period. If we would have expanded the efforts to science and art and music as well, the students could have experienced a schedule that would have looked like this:
1st period: social studies- history and culture of the middle east
2nd period: ELA- the literature of the middle east
3rd period: earth science: The geological formation of oil and water bodies in the middle east
4th period:The music or art of the middle east
5th period: foods made for lunch that are a middle eastern menu
6th period: Math using middle eastern concepts (algebra, zero theory)
7th period: physical education the athletic events invented in middle east
8th period: technology- studying the technology of saltwater desalinization
9th period: elective class
The integration discussed here is only one example of how a small school could invite cross curricular integration into their school and help students see a place from many different angles.
Best practice two: Knowing each of your students. Small rural schools take Harry Wong’s advice to heart: greet each of your students by name and know something they are interested in. When I taught at Little Valley CSD, we had small classes, and we knew each students name. We knew their families. We knew their hopes, dreams, and greatest fears. One student wanted to go to Fredonia, my alma mater. We worked hard as a school to try and get her to open house day. She would have made a great Fredonia student. We also knew how hard it was for students to live in the fishbowl of the community. They were the 250 students who were enrolled in the district grades K-12. On Saturday, we supported the sports team, we went to the play. We attended graduation. Did we do this because it was in our contract? No. We went as a faculty because the students were ours. The students and their parents were our neighbors. Hope Casto, an Assistant Professor at Skidmore college just wrote a fascinating piece on parent involvement in a semi-rural community. The paper has some excellent insights into the difficulties administrators have in balancing parent involvement and running their schools. Dr. Hal Lawson, a Professor at SUNY Albany, in his school and community relations class reminds pre-certification administrators to not do everything alone-including working with parents and community members. Rural school teachers help make sure that parents and community members feel welcome in the school.
Best practice 3: STEM in the community.
When I was teaching at Sidney, three teachers won a grant to monitor the Susquehanna river from its source in Cooperstown NY to the Pennsylvania Border. Our students were measuring flow, quality, and a variety of hydro-logical and meteorological characteristics for one of the greatest water systems east of the Mississippi. This project took students into the field to conduct the monitoring activities, and the write-ups for the NOAA and other weather related groups. This activity helps students see value in the work they do, especially considering the Sus is connected all the way to the Chesapeake and is one of the original reasons why the village was settled.
I invite you to continue to read my blog, and to examine the roles that rural schools play in their communities. Examine the Ruraledchat on twitter for more information. Follow the work that CASDA does with its partners. Find out what the NYS Center for Rural Schools is up to at Cornell University. All great places for research on rural education and the work in which we invest in our students on a daily basis!
Casey T. Jakubowski is a PhD candidate at SUNY Albany in the Education Administration and Policy Studies Department. He has previously served as a rural social studies teacher in the western and eastern portions of the southern tier of New York State. After teaching college in Western NY, Casey transition to school improvement at the New York State Education Department. There he was responsible for oversight and monitoring of school improvement grants, intervention visitations, coaching district, building, and department level leaders on improvement strategies. After six years of that work, Casey became the State’s Social Studies curriculum coordinator, developing the ground work for the Common Core Aligned social studies frameworks. Following State Ed service, Casey served as a district level administrator for almost two years. Now Casey is a faculty member at the Capitol Area School Development Association, serving as the Distance Learning Coordinator and social studies content expert for the 100+ clients of CASDA.