The "power of place" is more than classroom curriculum, though it most certainly is that as well. When we talk of working to recognize and embrace the power of a unique place, it also means breathing the air, seeing the land, and understanding the people and spaces that comprise a locality. Building that holistic comprehension of a place is essential as much for sustaining authentic work as it is for planting or nurturing lasting relationships. Recently, John Glasgow, Rural Schools Collaborative's Partnerships Manager, had the opportunity to travel up into the Great North to visit partners in North Dakota and Minnesota, and cultivate those perspectives with some of the organization's longest-standing and most engaged collaborators.
At the generous invitation of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, John traveled first to scenic Brainerd, Minnesota to attend MREA’s annual Greater Education Summit and share about the work of Rural Schools Collaborative over the past three years on I Am A Rural Teacher.
At the event, John was able to lead a session about engaging rural teachers through storytelling, networking, grantmaking, and intentional preparation at the college level. Kicking off the whole event was a showcase of four exemplary educators and two innovative school programs defining the power and impact of rural education for students and community members alike.
MREA Educators of Excellence Awards
MREA presents the Educator of Excellence Awards to recognize, reward, and promote excellence in education that achieves the highest outcomes for Greater Minnesota students. This award honors inspiring educators who demonstrate positive impact on students and student achievement; leadership in the school, district and community; innovative and creative instructional practice that impact all students; and collaborative efforts with fellow educators, parents, families and the community.
After the MREA Conference, John hopped across the Red River into North Dakota to make a grand tour of numerous partners across the state, beginning with the newest Catalyst Initiative Grant Recipients at the University of Mary in Bismarck. Crowning the snow-covered top of a bluff overlooking both Bismarck and the Missouri River, the University of Mary’s brand new online Elementary Education program is just as breathtaking as the view from campus.
As shared earlier, the UMary program has kicked off strongly, energizing the team at the University to make quick strides into developing the next layer of surrounding support for the program. Growing from the University’s legacy in dedicated service through education, the UMary team shared during the visit that they’re looking to further grow the program’s mentoring, outreach, and engagement components.
A major highlight of this Great Northern trip was to visit Mike Heilman and North Dakota Small Organized Schools, RSC’s North Dakota Regional Hub partner. North Dakota has been one of RSC’s most engaged hub partnerships, with countless stellar rural educators collaborating through our Celia B. Godsil Grants in Place Fellows and the Young Educators’ Advisory Council programs. Additionally, a number of leading colleges and universities across the state have designed groundbreaking rural teacher preparation and rural community engagement programs. All of this good work is indicative of the passion for rural and determination to do well exemplified by Mike and his partners in NDSOS, and the school districts they all represent. Mike and NDSOS work as a voice for small and rural districts in North Dakota at the state level, ensuring that the needs and experiences of rural school communities are equitably served. In particular, Mike shared that NDSOS has been an advocate for transportation and busing needs in rural schools, an issue acutely felt as many districts still face a severe driver shortage. NDSOS is looking forward to continuing working with Rural Schools Collaborative, and expanding their shared work of engaging teachers themselves through storytelling and advocacy.
No Rural Schools Collaborative visit is complete without a stop by a few actual rural schools! Leaving Bismarck on the long trek back to Illinois, John headed south of I-94 to visit Lisbon and Milnor, in the state’s Southeastern corner, to see Steve Johnson, a long-time RSC advocate and former superintendent, and Nick Foertsch, one of the Young Educators' Advisory Council members. Stopping first in Lisbon, John was able to meet with both Steve Johnson and Justin Fryer, superintendent of Lisbon Public Schools. Along with a great conversation about the state of rural education, both Fryer and Johnson shared how the district has remained the core of life in the larger Lisbon area, and is currently seeking ways to continue growing curriculum opportunities responsive to what students want to learn, and needs present in the community.
Similarly for Nick Foertsch at Milnor Public School, just 30 minutes down the road from Lisbon, the school in this smaller town is a common source of interaction and belonging for many. In this shared space, Nick was excited to share about the ways he’s enriching the school environment through his own passion for teaching and by sponsoring opportunities for academic travel. In both cases, the distinct advantages and possibilities of rural schools were abundantly clear in how teachers and administrators alike were constantly innovating and experimenting to provide the very best for their students through the district challenges rural education faces.
More than warming the heart in preparation for the winter holiday season ahead, these visits with friends and partners are an illuminating opportunity to experience the diverse peoples and places that thrive across rural America. The lessons learning and ideas shared by going the extra mile to be with people bolster our shared commitment to supporting rural schools and teachers.
Thank you to our Regional Hub partners in North Dakota and the Minnesota Rural Education Association for opening their doors and inviting Rural Schools Collaborative to visit!
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This feature is supported by RSC’s Northern California Regional Hub partners at North State Together