Ty White, a high school chemistry teacher from Willcox, Arizona, is an impassioned advocate for rural schools. You can always spot Ty in a crowd wearing his signature cowboy hat, but his friendly demeanor stands out even more so.
Ty’s energy for teaching and dedication to his students has earned him recognition from both local and national organizations; he was named a 2021 Arizona Rural Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Rural Schools Association (ARSA), as well as the 2022 National Rural Teacher of the Year by the National Rural Education Association (NREA), for his exceptional work in the field of education.
“Ty White is an excellent example of hard work and dedication,” said Dr. Allen Pratt, Executive Director of NREA. “His work with his students is simply amazing. I am reminded each year why we do the work we do....it is for our rural schools and students they serve.”
Ty also participated in the Policy Playbook Project as a member of the Arizona Rural Teacher Caucus, where his focus was on funding. This project was a collaboration between RSC, NREA, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and five regional partners to elevate teacher voices on the national level.
“Pretty much everybody who we interviewed, everyone we spoke to in regards to this project, acknowledged funding as one of the first challenges that their school faces,” he said. “My biggest takeaway [from the project] is that we need to have more voice. We need to have more voice from teachers, we need to have more voice from support staff. We need to have more of these opportunities where we can acknowledge the problems and work together to address them.”
Ty continues to keep in touch with us here at RSC, so we reached out to see what he’s up to now. Ty is never at rest when it comes to rural school advocacy, and shared the project that he is most recently working on:
“We are planning for the launch of our STEM Ecosystem for Cochise County here in southeast AZ. I am pretty proud of our first convening, and how myself and a few other people started this from the bottom up. Our central cohort grew, but at the beginning there were about five of us.”
“The sense of connectedness is what living rurally means to me, and why I love it so much.”
We also asked Ty what “rural” means to him, especially considering all the work he’s done in recent years that has connected with other rural communities and organizations across the nation.
“Growing up outside of Globe-Miami, AZ, the local industry revolved around copper mining. So my idea of rurality has less connection than some people's to the agricultural sector. Rather, the first considerations about rurality that come to me are to think of it in terms of community size and population density, coupled with remoteness relative to larger metropolitan areas. In all of the rural areas I have lived, it has been at least an hour to drive to one of the larger cities (‘goin' to town!’).”
He explains how this idea of remoteness, though familiar to many rural residents, is especially apparent in the large state of Arizona:
“Arizona has so much public land that it means communities are more isolated from each other. As a result, my experience in different rural communities around Arizona has come down to identifying as being smaller, not being metro, and being a distance from other communities.”
However, being separated from other towns helps Arizona rural communities form deeper bonds with one another:
“Because of this isolation, people seem to be more connected to each other and to help each other out. When I was young, my dad had a couple of work accidents, and the town came together to help. Today, I live and teach in Willcox, AZ, and when tragedy strikes, everyone in town really comes together to help people during their time of need.”
He summed up his definition of rural as follows:
“A relatively low population density, remoteness from major cities, and the sense of connectedness in an area are what living rurally means to me, and why I love it so much.”
Ty has been an active supporter of Rural Schools Collaborative since we connected, and we are thrilled to celebrate his commitment to improving the lives of rural students. You can hear about Ty’s experience as a rural educator in his interview with Melissa Sadorf for The Rural Scoop Podcast or his feature on The Rural Voice, the official podcast of the NREA. We are grateful for Ty’s involvement in our mission to support rural education, and we can’t wait to see what he does next. Join us in celebrating this outstanding educator!
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