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School & District Management Photos

When Schools Close in Rural Communities

By Education Week Photo Staff — August 07, 2017 1 min read

Schools across the country close down each year for a variety of reasons. In rural areas like Hughes, Ark., it’s often because they are serving smaller numbers of students and it no longer makes economic sense. More than 60 districts in Arkansas have consolidated or merged since a 2004 state law required at least 350 students to keep a school open. But research suggests that such closures sometimes have a disparate–and disruptive–effect on communities. Photographer Karen Pulfer Focht and Education Week reporter Denisa Superville recently visited the rural town to document the disruptive effects that students and families now face as a result of these school closures.

A sign welcomes visitors to Hughes, Ark., which is 37 miles from Memphis, Tenn. When schools are closed in rural areas like Hughes, they are less likely to be replaced, according to research.
Lawrence Harden, left, and Eugene Williams sit in an abandoned building window front in Hughes.
The town and businesses have struggled for many years. Jobs and agriculture that once sustained the area are gone, and businesses are boarded up and vacant throughout the town as a result.
A cat peers out from a broken window in a deserted storefront in downtown Hughes.
After a lengthy ride from her school in West Memphis, Ark., Zion Robinson, 7, heads to her home in Hughes.
Like many school-age children in this rural town, Zion Robinson, 7, gets on a school bus around 6:30 a.m. for the ride to school in West Memphis, Ark. and gets off the bus around 3:30 p.m. In the winter, Hughes students can both leave home and return in the dark.
The Hughes, Ark. school district consolidated with the West Memphis school system in 2015. Now, the Hughes High School buildings sit closed, vacant, and in disrepair.
Closed in 2015, the Hughes High School still stands, littered with remnants of its past, and marked by graffiti from vandals.
Mildred Jackson Elementary School was among those closed in Hughes last year as a result of Act 60. Today the school sits covered with vines and trashed rooms.
Discarded books and supplies in the vacant Mildred Jackson Elementary School.
Children lie down during naptime at a preschool program in a building near the now-shuttered Mildred Jackson Elementary School in Hughes. The parents of these children must decide in a year or two whether to put them on a school bus for the hourlong trip to West Memphis schools or move closer.

A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.

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