The Rural School-Community Partnership Research Consortium involves stakeholders and researchers focused on the intersection of community development and the education of young people growing up in rural places.
The consortium includes teams of researchers in education at William & Mary, the Pennsylvania State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Idaho, the University of South Carolina and at other educational institutions and research entities in the U.S. But the consortium is about more than research, and involves partnerships with rural schools and communities across the nation to understand and address their needs, learn from local innovations, and provide a forum for their experiences and voices.
Current issues in rural community sustainability and education
At the center of this consortium are the concepts of future and diversity. Many rural communities, schools, and students are at a critical juncture in terms of answering the questions “what’s next?” and “what do I do today to prepare for tomorrow?” Leaving the farm, the countryside, or the small town has long been a core aspect of rural demography as well as the growth of the United States. However, in the past several decades the stability of rural schools and communities has become especially precarious, with many rural schools facing consolidation and closure, and many rural people leaving their home communities for opportunities elsewhere.
Historically, rural youth could simply look back at their parents, grandparents, and prior generations to identify their own career opportunities and lifestyles. This has changed as traditional rural jobs have been lost, restructured, or reduced in terms of status or economic power. Many rural communities are seeing the outmigration of families and youth who have the means to move to communities with greater economic opportunity and resources. Thus, the life of rural communities is linked to the opportunities for young people and the capacity of schools to prepare them for these opportunities.
The second concept, diversity, goes well beyond racial and ethnic differences, although these constructs are an aspect of rural diversity. The critical feature of the concept of rural diversity is the recognition that each rural place has its own unique culture, resources, strengths, and constraints that operate together to contribute to the educational needs of students and the communities in which they live. The offshoot of this recognition is that we need to approach each rural community and school on its own terms. In this respect, the partnerships of this consortium rest most strongly between the community and schools. As researchers, we are most likely to enter into relationships with rural schools and communities as visitors or guests, then perhaps as facilitators or resources. True partnerships are likely to emerge over time when we engage with community stakeholders in a supportive and reciprocal manner and become a part of their vision and mission.
Initiatives and topics of interest
From this background, a variety of educationally related topics is of high interest to consortium members. These include: professional development, place-based education, STEM education, instructional support, social and emotional support, preparing youth for post-secondary education and lifestyles, community economic development, community-based schools, teacher workforce development, and the delivery of school and community services to students with diverse learning needs.