During the 2020 NREA Annual Conference, RSC and the National Rural Education Association (NREA) virtually convened for an Open Forum. The event, occurring last Friday, November 13th, was facilitated by Teton Science Schools. The goal of the Open Forum was to convene early-career rural educators to discuss policy and support for rural schools.
Twenty-six young educators participated in this facilitated discussion, hailing from Nebraska, Alabama, Virginia, California, Montana, and more. In small groups, they discussed their biggest challenges as rural teachers, the educational policy issues that concern them, and what they’d like policy makers to know about being a rural teacher. Though they all had unique experiences, they were able to make incredible connections.
One of the main themes that emerged from the forum was the need for more recruitment and preparation of rural teachers, particularly programs that emphasize the unique nature of rural education.
Krista Pilarski, who teaches 7th grade English in Caroline County, Virginia, said that “more colleges should make it a requirement for education students to have a placement in a rural school.” Pilarski, who grew up in a city, says it was getting to experience rural teaching in college that prompted her to take a teaching position in a rural place.
Another connection point for the attendees was equitable funding and access to resources, particularly when it came to technology access. Many felt that those who were able to make key decisions around funding didn’t understand the unique circumstances they faced in rural schools.
Alishia Ewell of South Boston, Virginia, emphasized the need for legislators, school board members, and other key players, to have “boots on the ground” in rural schools. Another teacher, Jessi Owen of Nebraska, found this to be the case for his state as well, where decisions on funding were often made without the unique needs of rural districts being recognized or served.
Over the course of the hour, it became clear how exciting it was for these teachers to have come together and connect over their challenges and visioned solutions. There was a lot of gratitude shared and a feeling of forward movement. The teachers who participated in this Open Forum are not just teachers, they are advocates for their profession and for their communities. We are very fortunate to have spent the time with them.
Another thank you to Teton Science Schools for facilitating this event!
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