Last Monday my cohort and I had the pleasure of visiting a local K-12 school in a rural NY town. During our daylong visit, we met with administrators, school teachers and students and soon learned of the school’s lack of funds. Despite being financially strained, we observed effective uses of the school’s resources, both the indoor and outdoor ones. For the indoor resources, those that reside within the classroom, we watched how two science educators implemented the resource of technology to enhance student learning. The sixth grade teacher shared how technology supported students’ innovative experiments. In their sustainable trout fish tank, a computer program was tracking the number hours the fish were exposed to light, as well as the tank’s water level. Additionally, a 3D printer was being used to make prosthetic hands for their students in need. In comparison, the high school Earth Science teacher used online animations and the SMART board’s visual aids to teach a lesson on orbital eccentricity. Only some of these resources were pre-existing; most were purchased from grants that these teachers sought out. These two teachers exploited all of the resources that they could find and implemented them into their science lessons.
After meeting these teachers, we also learned about the outdoor resources that this school had available. Set on a large plot of land, with open fields, students have the outdoor space to run, play, and explore. With this incredible natural resource not found at many other schools, the administrators are being proactive and capitalizing on this space. Currently, an outdoor classroom is being designed and built. The space is currently being utilized by their elementary students, however, the plans are to expand the space so that both the middle, and hopefully high school students, may use it as well. As to date, the outdoor classroom houses a raised wooden platform for class meetings, sustainable gardens that are tended to by the gardening clubs, and finally, a compost bin. Future plans include adding a beehive to help the local bee population. In addition to serving as a space for education, the outdoor classroom is the product of a community need. In this agriculture based community, this outdoor classroom promotes the local and sustainable farming practices, which situates the curriculum and makes students’ educational experiences more relevant to their personal lives. Not only is this outdoor classroom an invaluable resource, but one that can be afforded with an underfunded school budget.
When faced with limited funds, a school must re-evaluate and reflect on what resources are available. This is imperative for the school’s growth and longevity, especially for rural areas where economic struggle is commonly seen. “Rural communities face numerous challenges, including lower school funding than their urban counterparts” (Schafft & Jackson, 2011) and additionally, “during times of economic decline and decreasing enrollments, some rural schools face consolidation or closure, which may obstruct the STEM pipeline and weaken rural community identities” (Avery, 2013, p.29-30). Such was the case for this local town after the economy crashed in 2008. Numerous white collar workers fled the area, taking their charitable, abundant donations with them. In their place grew a community of migrant workers and blue collar workers, transitioning a once well resourced rural school into a high needs one. With a lack of financial resources, this can have detrimental impacts on students’ educational opportunities, particularly those in STEM courses.
However, as evidenced at this high needs rural school, if administrators, faculty, and students work together to look within the school itself, more resources can be discovered and capitalized on to improve the educational experience.