“We’re extremely distracted today,” admitted Jenny Hobson, a family training coordinator who was attending the Zoom session on Thursday.
Even as she and others met to talk about addressing rural needs, a deadly flash flood
was ripping through her eastern Kentucky community.
“A lot of our work today has been figuring out where our people are … and what they’ve still got,” Hobson said.
The needs of her students and their families had rapidly shifted, with mere weeks before many colleges start classes. Much of the day’s conversation centered around meeting the broad, and evolving, needs of rural students.
Sue Christian, a coordinator at Partners for Rural Impact in Berea, Kentucky, says new teachers are often overwhelmed when asked to interact with the families of their students.
“They don’t come out of colleges or universities prepared for this,” Christian said, proposing that education degrees needed to incorporate it in their curriculum.
Members of the session talked about other challenges rural students faced in their postsecondary pathways.
Parents whose worst fear is that their children will go to university and never come back, leading them to write off higher education altogether.
Families who don’t have the liquid assets to quickly address the financial surprises that can arise, from unexpected fees to costly books.
Students who arrive at college, even ones in the same state, and immediately are harassed for their accents.
“The student either becomes very defensive, or very ashamed, of that. I was told that myself,” Christian said. “There’s no place in higher education for that.”
The Rural Education Community of Practice is in its early stages, with more questions than answers for both what it will look like and how it will help rural communities in their postsecondary goals.
The early attendees had hope that it could make a difference — and were also vocal about what they hoped it would not become.
“Hopefully not an echo chamber,” said Christina Igl, an honors adviser at Bowling Green State University, one “that’s just slowly circling the drain until no more emails are scheduled, and no more meetings are on the calendar,”
In my reporting, and in the experiences of others, it’s become clear that one of the major obstacles for a deeper understanding of rural education is the concept that “rurality” itself is not a meaningful identity.
That perception is slowly changing in higher ed, and groups like this are hopefully just the beginning.
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