A new center established to research rural education is starting work on studies that could improve the ways rural educators engage their students in learning and help them to stay in school.
The National Research Center on Rural Education Support, financed by a five-year, $10 million federal grant, is beginning its work here at its home on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
Among other projects, the center will train teachers and other educators this summer from participating rural school districts as “intervention specialists” to help students with academics and behavioral and social skills.
School psychologists and education professors Thomas W. Farmer and Lynne Vernon-Feagans, the co-directors of the center, said in a recent interview that the center’s work will help rural educators incorporate techniques gleaned from psychology and related fields into helping rural students do better in school and aspire to higher levels of education.
The National Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, chose the UNC professors’ proposal last year over those of leading organizations and service providers for rural schools.
The choice of the UNC scholars reflected the federal government’s focus on scientifically based education research. But the decision made waves among some national leaders on rural education, who argued the professors lacked an adequate record of work on rural issues. (“Critics Question Research Center on Rural Schools,” Nov. 17, 2004.)
Now that controversy over the grant has cooled, Mr. Farmer said he has met with leaders of rural education organizations and expects to find ways to work with such groups as the project proceeds.
Mr. Farmer, who grew up in tiny Belle Spring, Va., said his own research into students’ transitional years at the start of middle school and high school also has led him to create an early-adolescent support program for 6th graders.
The professor said that the program has trained 10 educators from rural schools in ways to support such youngsters in academic study and social skills, and that researchers will monitor their work.
The center’s scholars will consult long-term with educators in the participating schools.
Later, the center plans to launch research studies on the effectiveness of online learning in rural schools. Mr. Farmer said that the center also will offer Web resources and plan national conferences.
Ms. Vernon-Feagans, who spent much of her childhood in Columbia, Tenn., said the center’s goal is “to make a difference for rural schools.”