The Rural Alliance for College Success first convened in July 2010 in Spokane. The motivation for bringing small, isolated rural districts together was to make sure geography did not determine our students' post-secondary opportunities. Realizing that many entities are focused on giving all children a good future, the 35 founding districts invited community colleges, universities, and a diversity of nonprofit organizations to combine efforts with us.
Together we defined priorities and designed solutions to the obstacles rural students face in accessing equitable college and career access. The projects we initiated include strengthening academic readiness in the core curriculum, increasing 21st century skills through social and emotional learning, and deepening engagement through personalized learning and improved guidance. Together, we built a sense of collegiality that has drawn new members into the Rural Alliance. Today we represent 79 districts, 46,000 students, 14 colleges and universities, and nonprofits engaged in a continuum of services from early birth to adulthood.
College and University Partners
Big Bend Community College, Central Washington University, Columbia Basin College, Eastern Washington University, Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College, University of Washington, Walla Walla Community College, Washington State University Pullman, Washington State University Spokane, Washington State University Tri-Cities, Wenatchee Valley College, Whitworth University, Yakima Valley Community College.
P+Districts involved with The Rural Alliance
Asotin-Anatone, Brewster, Bridgeport, Chewelah, Cle Elum-Roslyn, Colfax, Columbia Stevens, Creston, Curlew, Cusick, Davenport, Dayton, Entiat, Evergreen, Finley, Freeman, Garfield, Grand Coulee Dam, Granger, Harrington, Highland, Inchelium, Kettle Falls, Kiona-Benton, Lacrosse, Lake Chelan, Liberty, Lind, Loon Lake, Mabton, Mansfield, Manson, Mary Walker, Medical Lake, Methow Valley, Newport, Northport, Oakesdale, Odessa, Omak, Orondo, Oroville, Palisades, Palouse, Pateros, Paterson, Pe Ell, Pomeroy, Reardan-Edwall, Republic, Ritzville, Riverside, Royal, Selkirk, Soap Lake, St John, St Regis (MT), Summit Valley, Tekoa, Thorp, Toledo, Tonasket, Toppenish Touchet, Valley, Wahluke, Waitsburg, Warden, Washtucna, Waterville, Wellpinit, Whitepine (ID), Wilbur, Green Dot, Summit Sierra, Johnson Christian School, Woodland Park School, and Pride Prep School.
We serve 46,000 rural students: 73% low income, 9% American Indian, 46% Hispanic, 22% ESL, and 12% Migrant.
Who We Are
“The rural alliance has shown me the educational opportunities of collaboration."
- Kevin Jacka
Lead Superintendent/CEO of The Rural Alliance
Kevin Jacka was a teacher for 18 years. His background is in marketing, business, and PE. He spent 5 years at Tahoma HS and 13 at Mary Walker. Kevin was Superintendent for 12 years at Mary Walker. He then became the lead superintendent for the PREP Consortium and a Commissioner for the State Charter School Commission. His involvement in the Rural Alliance came from his involvement in the PREP consortium. The consortium was a partnership of 10 districts. There was a need to expand the size of the partnership to provide opportunities for more students and districts. His experience with The Rural Alliance has been an experience of opportunity, collaboration, and networking.
"My experience with the Alliance has been professionally and personally deeply satisfying."
- Jerry Dyar
Rural Alliance Project Coordinator
"I always wanted to be an educator but after college I took a lengthy detour in business. Mid-life I decided it was time. I went back to college, got counselor certification, and landed my first job in a small rural school in Springdale. I planned on staying for three years and move on to a larger school I ended up staying 29 years—one of my best decisions ever. For all the challenges, rural schools have much to offer—you know every student. These relationships invest you not just in student success but the success of each student. I used to think schools on their own could provide the education needed for college, career, and citizenship. But preparing children for a good future takes everyone doing their share. For equity in opportunity for all children, schools, students, parents, communities, colleges, business, and many others must be equal partners in the effort."
"Students in Springdale did not have the same opportunities for college and careers as students in larger more affluent districts. There were no college prep classes. Many of our students had never even visited a college, and most thought college was for other kids. It was the same at other small districts in our area. In 2002, Springdale joined forces with 9 other districts to provide our students some of the opportunities routinely available in urban and suburban districts. By working together, we found the resources—through cost-sharing and grants--to bring in quality academic courses and college awareness programs. It changed our schools, and our students started to believe college was a real possibility for them. If collaboration worked for nine districts, we thought we should reach out to others to join us. In the first year, 2010, we had 34 districts take part. Now it’s 79 districts along with many colleges, universities, and education organizations."
The Allyson Pierce Story
A pathway too few rural students have chosen was the pathway chosen by Allyson Pierce. Allyson Pierce, a University California Berkeley graduate is a product of the Wellpinit School District located in eastern Washington on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Pierce graduated from Wellpinit High School in 2014 with a graduating class of 14 students.
Not often enough do you hear of rural students attending prestigious universities. It is undeniable that going from a high school consisting of less than a hundred students to a university where a lecture class can surpass 800 students can be among one of the many struggles for a small-town student. According to Pierce, size was one of her main difficulties when transitioning into such a different educational culture.
“One day I was sitting in the middle of a lecture hall with a steady stream of people filling in,” said Pierce. “It didn’t fully hit me until that moment”.
Pierce began her journey towards her education at UC Berkeley during her 7th grade year at Wellpinit Junior High. Pierce was randomly assigned UC Berkeley for an AVID classroom assignment dedicated to researching and reporting on a given college.
“I always knew I would go to college,” said Pierce. “Coming from a small town that’s really your only option to leave, college was my way out - my ticket to somewhere else”.
Through her research, she learned about some of the campus life aspects that made UC Berkeley such an intriguing academic establishment to pursue. “I was blown away by all the activism that I was learning about on campus,” said Pierce. “I have always been very big on social justice”. By the end of Pierce’s research, she was convinced that UC Berkeley would be her first choice when the time came to apply for colleges.
Pierce’s journey to applying and later acceptance into UC Berkeley was long and trying at times. However, people like Mrs. Hegney Pearce's high school advisor, proved to be significant help along the way. “I was so grateful for Mrs. Hegney,” said Pierce. “Especially during junior and senior year when I was just a human ball of stress and anxiety.” Mrs. Hegney dedicated many hours assisting Pierce with college related tasks such as the FASFA, applications, and later on the pressure of opening her long-anticipated letter from UC Berkeley.
Pierce was informed that her decision letter would come sometime around March 27th. “I didn’t know that they would send the acceptance letter through email,” said Pierce. “For weeks I would jump off the bus and run to check the mailbox; and yet nothing”. One afternoon with her graduation from high school fast approaching Pierce logged onto a school computer to check her email. To her surprise, her inbox had a total of three decision letters from the out of state colleges she had previously applied to; UC Berkley’s decision letter being one of them. Her reaction to open her other two acceptance letters from New York University and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) took a matter of seconds. *Click* Accepted. *Click* accepted. Her mouse lingered over her email from UC Berkley. Overwhelmed with nerves, excitement, and fear Pierce couldn’t open the letter for what seemed to be an agonizing 10 minutes. Upon opening her letter and comprehending her acceptance, Pierce was overcome with emotion. “I had literally been waiting for this since 7th grade,” said Pierce. “I couldn’t help it when I started crying, two weeks after I could have known. They (acceptance letters) had been sitting there in my email.”
Following her acceptance into UC Berkley, Pierce felt the love of her small community as they celebrated the college pathway that she would soon be following. "The school would actually make announcements when the seniors got accepted to colleges," said Pierce. "We had like a chart and a poster that tracked which college’s people got into”. When they announced on the intercom that I got accepted, I started crying," said Pierce. "I called my grandma right away and we both cried on the phone." Pierce attributes her success to her grandmother's unending encouragement during her upbringing, and to this day refers to her grandmother, Carleen Hunt, as her best friend.
Before she knew it, summer was over and Pierce was headed to California. Due to a housing crisis Pierce would not get to experience the comfort of a dorm room. This venture would begin with no family, no friends, many questions yet very few answers. As Pierce was adjusting to her first year at Berkeley, she received a special visit from her high school English teacher Jane Swiatek. Swiatek wore many hats as many rural school teachers do. She taught two AP English classes, journalism, year book and coached high school track and field. Because of Allyson's fondness of Swiatek, she chose to participate in everything she taught, including track.
"Ms. Swiatek was a huge part of my life," said Pierce. "Every opportunity there was, she encouraged me to apply for scholarships, camps, leadership summit, college visits."
If Pierce didn't have the money, Swiatek covered the fee, if Pierce didn't have a ride, Swiatek drove her.
When Swiatek came to visit Pierce at Berkeley, they spent the entire day together. Pierce showed her the campus, they had lunch together. Swiatek even took her to Costco to stock up on groceries.
"I think that is the best part of small schools," said Pierce. "you really do get to know the teachers on a much more personal level."
Another vivid memory of living in the bay area Pierce recalls was during a severe rain storm. She remembers driving to work and seeing a woman stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. The woman was beyond soaked. Pierce was shocked that no one would stop to help a woman in the rain.
"I honestly couldn’t believe no one was stopping to help her," said Pierce. "It was absolutely different from where I came from".
Despite Pierces love of the bay area, her experience living in the big city lacked the small-town love and comfort that she was accustomed to. In just three short years, while working full time, Pierce received her degree in Political Science. During the spring break of her final year she came home and applied for a position with The Kalispel Tribe of Indians located in Usk, another rural community within 60 miles of her home town. Pierce was offered the position upon graduation and she moved home.
"I wasn’t going to come back, I loved living in the bay area," said Pierce. "I got home sick. I had no connections, no family. In small towns you know everybody, you care about everybody."
Despite Pierce's desire to go off to college and move out of her small rural town, the encouragement, love, and closeness she was surrounded by in her hometown was enough to bring her home. She is currently the Justice System Strategic Plan Coordinator for The Kalispel Tribe of Indians. When her contract is completed she is considering pursuing further education in law school or grad programs in public policy.
Allyson’s story goes to show that no matter where you’re from or how extreme the odds seem against you, with dedication and hard work the seemingly unattainable can be attained.
University of California Berkeley has a current acceptance rate of just 17.3%.
Get in touch
We at The Rural Alliance want to connect with you. Please feel free to reach out with any inquiries you may have. Your support is greatly appreciated.