Combatting the Challenges Rural Students Face

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
Group of young students sitting together at a table with their teacher.

What Challenges do Rural Students Face?

As we are all preparing to head back to school this fall, we once again are dealing with the unknown of new regulations and mandates that may be thrown our way due to COVID 19. While this is nothing new to any of us, we must not overlook our rural students and some unique challenges they may face more so than any of our other students.

Teaching during a pandemic or not, we must be mindful that students living in rural areas sometimes have difficulties with internet connections. During this time, it is crucial that every student has access to the internet from home. While most educators never want to think of having to provide instruction for students over the internet, we may at some point be faced with the challenge once again that this may be our only option to deliver instruction to our students. This is a huge concern for students and families who are not able to access the internet from home. How can educators successfully provide rigorous and meaningful instruction without having a student right in their classroom with them and not being able to communicate with them via internet or any web based platform? This is a huge obstacle as virtual instruction seems to be on the rise once again as the school year begins.

As we know, students who live in rural communities are often part of the farming lifestyle. Early mornings, chores, specific responsibilities that go far beyond the classroom as students often times are key players in their families’ live stock or earned income are often part of our students daily routine before they even step foot on the school bus. Sometimes, farming may be the only life style that our students know which can limit their exposure to different careers or experiences that may be out there waiting for them. Farmers should be commended for the work that they do, but as educators we must not lose focus that our students who are being raised on the family farm may have a little different views on completing a homework assignment right when they get home from school or being able to participate in after school activities. There are times when not only farming prevents being involved in after school activities but also distance. In rural areas schools can be quite a distance from the students’ home which can cause a transportation issue.

While living in a rural community, diversity is often rare. Exposure to diversity is something that most students do not have experiences that they can relate to. Growing up with diversity of having diversity in a classroom allows for our students to take in others perspectives, beliefs, opinions, and cultures beyond those they were raised with and that has shaped them into the young students that they are.

How to Help Rural School Students?

It may sound as if students being raised in rural areas have limitations. While concerns are evident for all of our students, there are ways we can assist our students and work through any challenges.

Internet is a huge concern. Thankfully there are school districts and internet companies that realize this is a big worry for some of our families. Districts have teamed up with families to provide “hot spots” which allow for internet service at home. They also have worked with internet companies to allow for financial help that may be needed for the expenses to have internet connections. Through partnership and collaboration this is an obstacle that districts can overcome and work through to be certain our students in rural areas have the same resources as our students in the suburbs.

Farming is a huge part of the rural life. Exposure to other careers is something that educators can provide to our students. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has put into place Career Readiness Indicators to ensure that our students are provided with experiences and are aware of additional career and post-secondary possibilities. The indicators provide teaches with direction while providing experiences to students so they have access to career exploration and preparation activities that are standard-aligned and evidence-based, including the development of career plans. Additional pathways are explored as students are provided more options than what they may have originally thought was a possibility for them.

Exposing our students, who live in rural areas, to diversity can be something that we can bring to our classrooms. Selecting rich reading samples and text as well as choosing speakers to come into your classroom and talk about different cultures and life experiences they have had due to their diverse backgrounds may be enriching for students to hear. Taking our students on a field trip and learning about different parts of the state and the diversity that exists beyond their living areas are also ways that we can provide our students with experiences so that diversity is something that they are familiar with.

As educators it is important to realize that all of our students are faced with challenges regardless of where they live. Some challenges are more significant than others. No matter what the challenges are, where the students live, or what baggage they bring with them to our classrooms it us up to us as educators to not judge, to support and be considerate, as well as provide the best nurturing education that we can as we educate well rounded, productive citizens.

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