Educators from rural communities in Maine, Louisiana, and Tennessee gathered July 19-21 at the Sugarloaf Mountain resort in Carrabassett, Maine, to share ideas on how to incorporate “place-based” learning into an array of academic courses in their schools.
Teams began developing projects designed to help students connect their learning to strategies for improving their communities. Workshop speakers also addressed ways to assess the quality of such projects, and how to incorporate technology and community-development techniques into school curricula.
The larger project that brought the participants to Maine, called “Learning With Public Purpose,” is financed by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that offers grants for service-learning efforts.
Edd Diden, the superintendent of the 2,200-student Cannon County, Tenn., schools 60 miles east of Nashville, said some of his teachers came to Maine to look for ways to build on their oral-history project and a related booklet that students produced and sold to raise money for scholarships. “There’s a real need to reinstill pride in place in our community,” he said.
Maine educators from several rural school districts picked up other ideas for place-based learning and ways to link their work with community development, said Gerry Crocker, a senior partnership associate with the Southern Maine Partnership, an education organization based at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham that’s working to improve schools in the state.
Maine schools already are developing local historical and nature trails, planting and maintaining greenery and flowers in one town, and creating a school-based living-history museum, she said.
“We are trying to push the notion of service learning a bit beyond individual projects,” said Julie Bartsch, who helped organize the Maine institute and is a co-coordinator of the place-based learning project for the Arlington, Va.-based Rural School and Community Trust.
Rural communities in many parts of the nation are facing economic decline, and their most important asset for renewing themselves is their young people, she said.