November 8, 2019

As a resident of a rural region, I understand the profound strengths and challenges of rural communities. In many nearby towns, the trees outnumber the people. Yet the people are committed to supporting each other in thriving, whether that means plowing a neighbor out in a blizzard or rebuilding a barn. This spirit is key to surviving the rigors of rural life, such as, trade-related job loss, poverty, and few public services.

In my leadership of EDC’s Rural & Ready STEM initiative, I see equally great assets and deficiencies in rural schools. A major strength is the dedicated educators in remote regions who work hard, often with scant resources, to give students world-class educations. Despite their efforts, rural students still face opportunity gaps that have gone overlooked for decades.

To close these gaps, EDC supports educators in tapping rural communities’ strengths to boost students’ STEM learning. We use a place-based education model that connects schools and partners—high-tech companies, shipyards, farms, 4-H clubs, aquaculture and forestry businesses, and libraries with STEM camps—to create a strong ecosystem of real-world STEM experiences. A few examples follow:

  • EDC leaders participate in the Rural Research Working Group, which engages researchers nationwide in examining rural districts’ challenges, including STEM education.
  • EDC and Mount Washington Observatory are collaborating to promote data science education in rural middle schools.
  • EDC is supporting stakeholders and leaders in improving mathematics education in the Appalachian region.
  • With the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, EDC is building a network of rural districts committed to expanding and sustaining computer science learning.
  • EDC and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute are supporting rural teachers and students in their use of interactive resources connected to NASA’s atmospheric and oceanic data sets.
  • EDC, the University of Washington-Seattle, and the University of Colorado-Boulder have established research-practice partnerships to advance equity-oriented STEM improvement.
  • EDC staff serve on a National Rural Education Association technology committee designed to support rural schools and address the rural education research agenda.

EDC brings its passion as well as a deep expertise in educational research and systems change to these and other efforts focused on rural education. As for me, my work feels like an extension of the commitment we Mainers have to supporting each other in thriving. I want to see all students and all young adults in all rural communities nationwide have the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to succeed.

Pam Buffington, a national expert in rural education and mathematics education, guides policymakers, education leaders, and teachers in improving K–12 student outcomes.

Elementary and Secondary Education

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