Classrooms as Catalysts

Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt stresses the importance of rural schools

September 18, 2019 |
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Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt recognizes that strong public schools are essential for thriving rural communities. His recent essay, Classrooms as Catalysts, was published in the August edition of the Monmouth College Magazine, an issue dedicated to the College's outstanding effort to support purposeful teacher education, school improvement, and regional collaboration. The Rural Schools Collaborative is proud to partner with Monmouth College as part of our Illinois Hub, an effort supported by the Galesburg Community Foundation. In fact, RSC is working with the College to establish a national office in support of this shared work

We want to thank President Wyatt and Monmouth College for allowing us to publish this essay.

Classrooms as Catalysts: Rural revitalization begins with strong local schools

By Clarence Wyatt

We find our highest purpose in serving the larger societies in which we live. Over many generations, Monmouth College has done this most powerfully through the lives of works, service, and leadership that it prepares its students to lead.

One of the most exciting current examples of such service is the TARTANS program—Teacher Allied with Rural Towns and Neighboring Schools.

In recent years, the news media has been filled with stories the distress or rural and small town America. They detail the decline of business opportunity, the increase in poverty, the exodus of young people, the deterioration of the fabric of community, and the slow, stifling end of a sense of possibility.

Some of this is, tragically, true. Such characterizations of small town and rural America, however, do not give the full story. They miss the resilience and determination bred in the face of Mother Nature. They miss the sense of hope and renewal that comes as surely as a new crop. They miss the creativity, the inspiration, the entrepreneurship. The desire and effort to make a better town, state, nation, and world go unreported. These stories miss the belief in creating and seizing opportunities for oneself, and helping other to do the same.

Study after study—and plain common sense—tell us that small communities that survive and thrive share important attributes. Affordable housing of good quality is important. Access to good healthcare is also key. But most important are strong schools. Good schools attract talented young families, increase property values, support higher quality in other public services, and serve as magnets to new businesses that create jobs.

Strong schools also serve our rural communities and small towns (and our larger communities, for that matter) in so many other ways. The faculty and staff at these schools are often leaders in other activities. These schools often provide services to the families of their students and to the wider community. They reflect and celebrate the diversity of the town at large. Their arts and music programs and athletic teams enrich the quality of life and provide points of pride to the entire town.

By encouraging and supporting exceptional young people to go into teaching in rural and small town schools systems, TARTANS is helping to strengthen these schools as catalysts in their communities. TARTANS is also leading as a national model for the activities of the Rural Schools Collaborative, a nationwide initiative to support rural and small town schools.

This effort, which is the result of the creativity and innovative spirit of our faculty and staff, is a powerful example of the College’s service to the greater society. The cooperation with the Rural Schools Collaborative is also an example of other partnerships the College is developing to provide teaching and learning opportunities that combine classroom work with hands-on experience, providing a powerful intellectual and personal experience.

TARTANS stands as a shining example of how our College can help strengthen rural and small town America by graduating students who are prepared to be teachers and leaders in their communities.

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