About Our Current Work
The Rural Alliance views readiness for college, career, and life as a process that begins at birth. No one strategy or program is enough to prepare children for a good future. The Alliance has six active projects that reach students from preschool to college. These efforts build resilience, hope, academic achievement, and social and emotional skills needed to thrive in a complex and changing world.
Social and Emotional Learning: Future-Ready Toolkit project
The stressors of poverty fill the lives of many children, hindering their ability to cope, focus, learn, and build relationships. For all children, but especially those in poverty, school needs to be a place of safety, caring, and respect. In a compassionate environment, all children can learn to manage their emotions, and form positive relationships. These are essential life skills of course, but they are also requirement for students reaching their academic potential.
Rural Alliance districts are using trauma-informed practices to make school a place of learning and success for all children. The project focuses on building resiliency in children and school staff, using behavioral data to drive decision-making, and changing school culture and discipline from punishment to solutions.
The project currently reaches 7 districts and expands to 17 districts in 2018. In the coming years, we intend to steadily scale this work throughout the Alliance.
College and Career Guidance: Washington Rural Counselor’s Network
Low-income students complete postsecondary programs at a much lower rate than affluent students. This disparity means many students will find family-wage careers and jobs out of reach. Virtually all students—and their families—know college and other postsecondary programs are important. But choosing a career that fits is difficult. Rural students’ view of their own career possibilities is limited by geographic isolation. Added to this, the process of choosing, applying, and paying for postsecondary programs is daunting especially for first generation college students.
The Washington Rural Counselor Network mission is for each student to have a vision and plan for the future. This work is hope-giving to students and families. It gives students a “why” to persist through personal hardships and work hard in school. The network brings counselors together to learn from each other, share expertise, and improve practice. This process will strengthen guidance programs throughout the Rural Alliance.
The project launches in March 2018 and will reach several thousand students.
Math Readiness: K-3 Algebra-ready project
Nearly 70% of the rural students in Eastern Washington begin kindergarten a year or more behind in math skills. Unless students are grade level by 3rd grade they are highly likely to struggle with Algebra later on. Algebra Is significant because it either opens or closes the door to many high-demand careers—especially in STEM fields. The premise of Algebra-ready is that preparation for Algebra and the advanced math sequence begins in kindergarten. Given this viewpoint, elementary teachers become essential and full partners in the college readiness effort.
This project has three aspects. First, it gives students access to high=quality adaptive technology which individualizes learning. Students who start out behind can catch up rather than give up. Students with more skills can accelerate rather than be held back by the pace of the group. Second, teachers grow in their math knowledge and instructional strategies. Third, teachers are networked with colleagues at their own grade level to learn from each other and improve instruction. This is important because teachers in small districts may have no grade-level peers—a poor recipe for professional growth. The combination of individualization that technology provides and empowered and confident teachers is the key to putting young children on a trajectory for college and career success.
Currently, this project reaches 5500 students in 40 districts.
Personalized Learning: Summit Learning Project
The lack of student engagement in learning is often decried. Personalized learning gives students voice and choice in their own education and results in deeper engagement, ownership, and achievement. In 2016, three Rural Alliance districts adopted Summit Learning’s https://www.summitlearning.org online personalized learning platform. Summit’s approach is closely aligned to David Conley’s model for college readiness and success.
- Cognitive Skills: Students build and demonstrate cognitive skills through collaborative projects
- Content Knowledge: Students work through content and assessments at their own pace. Teachers individualize instruction using real-time data
- Goal Setting: Students plan their academic, college and career goals, coached by a teacher who understands their aspirations. Students meet with their mentor for a short mentoring session once weekly.
- Habits of Success: Students work with teacher mentors to develop a growth mindset, emotional intelligence, and self-directed learning skills.
The effects on students and teachers have been notable. Implementing the program has a learning curve which at first seemed daunting to teachers. Midway through the year, one teacher observed, “we’ve had some difficult times but it has brought us closer. We feel like we’re all in it together.” Another teacher worried the coaching model would mean he was “no longer a teacher.” He found instead: “I’m teaching more than ever. ”Students of all ability levels were taking ownership of their learning. One 8th grader completed the content of all 10th grade core classes. Other students, who did little work the previous year, started keeping up. Students escribe how their classes related to their goals. A 6th grader explained the entrance requirements for the University of Oregon and how his coursework and GPA matched up with the university’s expectations.
In 2017-18, three additional districts have implemented the program. As the effects of personalized learning on students, teachers, and schools become apparent, this project will continue to grow.
Career Pipeline: STEM GEMS
Many students and their families see college as a one-way ticket away from home and community. This perception adds one more obstacle to college going. It doesn’t need to be this way. Career pipeline projects concentrate on preparing students for in-demand careers in rural areas. In other words, students go away to college with a return ticket home. Our initial effort gives students opportunity to explore STEM fields. STEM GEMS, a K-12, college, and industry partnership, has four components.
- Self-directed study. Students choose a STEM-related project to pursue during the school year. They are supported by a coach (typically a staff member) who checks in on their progress and encourages their efforts. This model is important to explore in rural schools. Staffing limitations mean course offerings are often limited to the basics. Choices common in large districts—computer science, game design, genetics, biomedicine, engineering, and so on—are rare in small districts. Self-directed studies open a wealth of possibilities which would otherwise be unavailable. This project recognizes and respects students’ capacity to take charge of their own learning.
- College and career connections. Students gather three times a year at a partner college to engage in a hands-on lab, meet college faculty and industry representatives and view program and career possibilities. The remoteness of rural areas hinders students from grasping the career options open to them. STEM GEMS is a step towards expanding their sense of possibilities.
- Peer network. In small schools students who are enthusiastic about aspects of science often lack peers with similar interests. The college visits bring participating students together three times. Through online conferencing, they will continue to connect and learn from others with similar passions.
- Presentation. As the culminating event, students present their projects to students, faculty, and industry.
This project reaches 40 students in 8 districts. It will serve as a prototype for other pipeline projects in healthcare and education.
Dual Credit Expansion: College in High School
Students who earn college credit in high school are more likely to enroll and persist in college. It makes sense. Students who may lack confidence in their academic ability are bolstered when they prove to themselves they can succeed in college-level coursework. The Rural Alliance has a high interest in expanding access to college-credited coursework through Washington’s College in High School initiative. Many districts are doing exemplary work in this area. To use just two examples: Bridgeport SD offers more than 90 college credits and envisions the day students graduate routinely graduate with a high school diploma and an associates degree. Tiny Lacrosse offers up to 45 college credits—an amazing accomplishment for a district with a graduating class of 10 or less.
Collectively, the Alliance can support the heroic efforts of individual districts by advocating for equitable funding to support programs of proven effectiveness.