Using What You’ve Got

Approximately 20% of students nationwide are served by rural schools that often share the same challenges faced by their urban counterparts, such as student poverty, growth in the number of English Language Learners, and undiagnosed special needs. However, these difficulties are often compounded by additional challenges – for example, the lack of access to resources, high transportation costs, and brain drain. So what is a rural school to do?

Far from wringing their hands, many rural school communities have created opportunities through targeted technology adoption and the use of innovative learning approaches, such as Place-Based Learning (PBL), which is an experiential learning model that encourages students to actively use their local community as a resource for learning.

Two key turnaround challenges are building capacity and creating community clusters of schools hat create seamless pathways for kids. PBL addresses both: using community resources builds capacity outside the school walls and creates the seamless supports and connections that students need and deserve.

Rooted in project-based inquiry, students pursue application-focused projects that serve the local community while fostering learning. For example, in one PBL project, students assisted low-income citizens with their tax filings, providing public services while raising their own financial literacy and math skills. This approach not only builds 21st century skills in students, but also raises students’ profile in the community, which can result in more external stakeholder investment in the students and the school.

PBL is not the silver bullet for addressing resource scarcity in the rural turnaround context, or any other turnaround context for that matter. But it certainly is a great example of how it’s not just about what you have but how you use it.

What innovations or approaches have you seen that successfully drive learning in a traditionally resource-scarce environment?