A Small School Nurtures a Big Heart!

Putting the "special" in Rural Special, Arkansas

December 21, 2018 |

Mary Islahi and her family. "The world is a small place."

Renee Carr recently retired from many years of public service with our good Arkansas partners, the Rural Community Alliance. Renee is also a former and founding board member of the Rural Schools Collaborative. Besides her advocacy work at the state and national levels, Renee and her family are ardent supporters of Rural Special School, which serves the tiny hamlet of Fox, Arkansas and nearby environs. So it should be no surprise that Renee has a keen sense of story and an intuitive understanding of the power of narrative.

Recently, Renee sent us the following:

"I heard recently from a 2003 graduate of Rural Special School who has in the past 15 years since her graduation lived internationally and now lives in Michigan, married a Muslim man and adopted his religion, had four children, earned her college degree in Physics and working on a MA, and teaches international students online. Her reflections about how attending a small rural school prepared her and helped her to succeed."

Well, as usual, Renee is right, and it is our privilege to share Mary Islahi's thoughts on her Rural Special School experience.

"I think attending such a small, student-oriented school has had an invaluable impact on my life. I grew up with an understanding of closeness to people, where I felt that each one of my teachers personally cared about my success. I have carried this feeling of closeness to people, and I have learned that the world is a small place. No matter where you go, there are children with families who need a sense of community.

I currently teach English as a Second Language. I began teaching at a university in Saudi Arabia, where I lived for 5 years. I have also lived in Pakistan for about 1 year. I am now living in Michigan, but I still teach at the same university in Saudi Arabia, online. I also teach English to children in China. I enjoy teaching ESL because I understand the impact that a teacher is capable of having. I love learning about different cultures and communities, but one thing always remains the same--the strength of a community is in the bonds that people share.

Growing up at Rural Special has taught me that every contact with others is meaningful. Even something as simple as a friendly smile at the post office can change a person's day. The recurring interaction that I have with my students, even online, is greatly enhanced by the personal attention I give to each student, and I have Rural Special to thank for that. My courage to travel the world and see to the heart of the communities was made possible by Rural Special, where I learned that all people have the same needs and desires for meaningful connections."

"The strength of a community is in the bonds that people share." Thanks, Mary; thanks, Renee. We can't think of a better holiday message.

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