School changed: can rural schools collaborate with their community and economic development?

by Steve Wyckoff on September 20, 2010

I’ve been involved recently in several very interesting conversations that demonstrate the need for school change but also bring to light the myriad of possibilities for rural school districts to collaborate with their communities to increase the economic well-being of their communities. It can be a rather complex puzzle but let me try to put the pieces together for you.

In my many conversations with rural educators who want to improve economic conditions in their community. They typically focus on trying to entice a company to move to their town and hire lots of people, in high-paying jobs.

It isn’t going to happen!

But there are several things that schools can do to assist the community.

1. Schools can develop home construction programs. Many districts already have this program, and are using it to create nice affordable housing in their communities. Nice affordable housing is a rarity in many rural communities. One example is in Little River Kansas. They have either built or completely remodeled a home every year for the last six or seven years. There are approximately 15 students living in those houses who moved to Little River.

15 students doesn’t sound like a lot in a metropolitan area, but for a rural community like Little River that has a major impact on the community.

2. Schools can develop entrepreneurship programs. This one’s a little trickier because the natural inclination for schools would be to create an entrepreneurship class. Typically, the students would set and take notes about entrepreneurship. They can answer a lot of questions about entrepreneurship but wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to be an entrepreneur. When I say develop an entrepreneurship program, I mean that the school should actually have the students starting and running businesses.

Just such a program exists in Stafford Kansas. I’ve written about them in this space before. The stuff that the kids are doing there is phenomenal! Most of them won’t end up being entrepreneurs, but if just one student a year stays in Stafford and opens a business, in a decade it will have an amazing impact on the economics of the community.

3. Last but certainly not least, I believe that students could develop a website and using well understood search engine optimization strategies, could attract two or three families to move to their community every year. There are 3 billion people on the Internet, if a community can accurately portray itself on its website, and use search engine optimization to get it in front of the right people, there is no reason that they can’t attract two or three families a year. There are at least two or three families somewhere looking for a community to make home that looks exactly like the community the students are representing.

But most importantly I believe that each of these three ideas would begin to rapidly move us to a curriculum that informs and teaches us about learning by doing. So in essence, the strategies used to improve community economic development are a way to move our schools where we should be going anyway. Now that’s what I call real school change! – Steve Wyckoff

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