"You can't build a house without a hammer and saw, and you can't expect an adult to build a successful life if the tools of learning and health weren't instilled in childhood," says Joan Benso of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. Her organization's recent report about the state's nearly 500,000 rural children suggests that many are dealing with challenges as difficult as those of kids in urban areas. Included: Highlights from a report that surprised even its creators!
Although the report was designed to surprise lawmakers and the public, it also startled its creators. "Frankly, we encountered a few surprises ourselves," Benso told Education World. "The biggest surprise was the finding that the rate of rural childhood poverty actually exceeds [that of] urban childhood poverty -- that was a shocker."
Dr. P. Duff Rearick, superintendent of the http://www.greencastle.k12.pa.us/ ">Greencastle-Antrim School District in south-central Pennsylvania, would not be shocked by this finding from PPC. His district would benefit fiscally if its citizens could be persuaded to sign up for public assistance. They often refuse to declare their poverty status, and Rearick believes the main causes are pride and a distrust of government that is prevalent in the rural district.
"In this rural community, people value education -- to a point," explained Rearick. "They value a high school diploma but not education after high school. Only 11 percent of our residents have college degrees, and in 1995 we sent only 39 percent of our kids on to education after high school. With a lot of work we have raised that number to 67 percent in six years.
"A major hurdle for a rural district is overcoming the inertia present in a community," Rearick continued. "'Life here is good, I do not mind being poor, indeed I like the values, and my kids are going to do the same thing -- this is a frequent direct and subtle message sent to children."
A unique benefit of the school's rural location, Rearick reports, is that the active church life of the residents promotes strong families. When a student faces a problem or a parent conference is held, both parents typically attend. "We are the life for our kids and community," explained Rearick. "The social fabric for kids and parents circles around the school and church. Rural schools are a throwback in this respect. On Friday night, we are literally the only game in town. There is a strong sense of community."