Rural Schools' Links With Communities Can Be Asset in Curriculum, Study Says
Faced with the stress of ongoing economic and social change in their communities, some rural schools are embracing and using such evolution to their advantage, a new study has found.
The report offers examples of how schools can draw on local needs and resources in an effort both to improve their curricula and to help their communities.
The study, "Accommodating Change and Diversity: Linking Rural Schools to Communities," was published last month by Kansas State University's Rural Clearinghouse for Lifelong Education and Development.
Schools can use a variety of techniques to shift from a traditional curricular approach and establish a relationship with the community, the study asserts.
The report notes that one school, for example, bred pheasants to stock nearby woods and to attract hunters and tourism; another school enlisted volunteers to teach programs for gifted students that had fallen victim to budget cuts.
In the most frequently used methods, the researchers found, schools contributed to community-development projects; served as the focus of social-service efforts; or functioned as lifelong learning centers.
The study, paid for by the Ford Foundation, also maintains that the special characteristics of rural schools may help ensure the success of such programs.
"Rural schools offer an educational environment in which change can occur more easily, adult-child linkages are more visible, and school-community linkages are more natural," the report states.
In the report, a case study of Belle Fourche High School in Belle Fourche, S.D., illustrates the success of one school-community relationship.
School officials, realizing that students were not only leaving the town of 4,500 after graduation but were also failing to take with them any cultural identity, decided to make a change.
During the past two years, the school has introduced entrepreneurial concepts into the curriculum:
In one new course, called "Research and Development," students conducted a survey that revealed an interest in establishing a student store, which the class then built and incorporated as a business.
In a journalism class, students do not write for a school paper but for the town paper.
Photography students take pictures and art students make drawings of downtown buildings for use in a "Main Street" project, designed to renovate and revitalize the downtown business area.
The Belle Fourche projects have been so successful, officials say, that the local school board has rewritten the district's mission statement to include the need for a curriculum that links the community to the schools, including incorporating entrepreneurship and experiential learning.
Many of the programs explored in the study represent the ultimate in hands-on learning, said one of the report's authors, Jacqueline D. Spears, co-director of Kansas State's rural clearinghouse.
"Why memorize [facts about] the political process and government when you can go out and be a part of it?" she said.
Many schools and educators are "trapped in a paradigm," Ms. Spears said. "We have this image of schools that is very, very much entrenched."
The problem, she said, is that the model "is not as productive as we might like it to be."