A Place for Rural Schools

By Susan Black

I have a soft spot in my heart for small rural schools, particularly those that struggle to serve students from poverty-stricken families.

Recently, I made the rounds with the principal of a 400-student K-12 district. At every turn, he stopped to chat with students he knew by name. We met Jared, a seventh-grader who helped with early-morning chores on his grandfather’s dairy farm, and Jenny, a 12th-grader who eagerly showed us her acceptance letter from a community college.

What happens when school leaders, teachers -- all adults in a rural school, for that matter -- show interest and concern for every student?

Research I’ve followed for a few years reveals the remarkable power of simple acts of kindness and compassion, and classroom lessons that, as an elementary teacher told me, “get where students live.” It turns out that these acts, when seamlessly woven into daily practice, motivate rural students, including those living in dire conditions, to learn and achieve, and to stay in school.

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