2005 Building Community Award
Pennsylvania´s rural schools are characterized by their closeness to community. People involved in rural education understand all too well that a strong relationship between rural communities and their schools is crucial for ensuring both school effectiveness and community vitality. Schools, as key institutions in rural areas, have crucially important roles to play – not only in community economic development, but also in strengthening the social bonds that hold rural communities together. This has perhaps never been so important as now, at a time when rural schools and communities together face a series of economic challenges including shrinking employment opportunities, tightening school budgets and rising out-migration. For schools these challenges are compounded by newly expanded state and federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind that confront rural schools in unique ways.
Because of this, the Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) based within the Pennsylvania State University´s College of Education, and the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) have collaborated to issue an annual award to recognize a rural school or district that has distinguished itself through innovative practices contributing to the educational experiences for the students it serves, while reaching out to the broader community in which it is located. This recognition was presented jointly on April 28, 2005 by CREC and PARSS at the PARSS Annual Meeting in State College, Pennsylvania.
The 2005 Building Community through Rural Education Award Winner
This year the Building Community through Rural Education Award goes to the Claysburg-Kimmel School District. The Claysburg-Kimmel district is characterized by both its rurality and the limited resource base of its community. Nonetheless, the district has engaged in multiple efforts that both improve education and build community. Integrating school and community resources and expertise, these efforts have united school district personnel, community residents, families and students in a common vision of improving student learning opportunities and strengthening families. Working through a Communities that Care partnership, the district has initiated a Child PREP Preschool Program that works directly with parents of preschool-aged children, providing support, training, information and access to thousands of books and age-appropriate learning materials. Evaluations of the program have shown high parent participation and satisfaction and significant increases in home activities connected to early childhood learning and school readiness. The district has also developed programming targeting at-risk students in grades 7-12, providing skill development and enrichment activities, assisted by community volunteers and educators. The district actively collaborates with local churches, businesses and community organizations as it engages in a broad spectrum of activities that strengthen education and build community. The programming is diverse, community oriented and innovative. That it takes place within a high need, low resource district is especially compelling.
In total, eighteen rural schools and districts submitted application materials, all of which demonstrated innovative community-building practices and a commitment to improving rural education. While Claysburg-Kimmel received the award, many of the applications were truly outstanding. Because of this, CREC and PARSS are also issuing 9 additional honorable mentions. Districts and schools receiving honorable mentions include:
- DuBois Area School District for creating a School Business/Industry Network in which graduating seniors are linked with area business professionals who provide mentorship, career guidance and evaluation of student portfolios;
- Forest City Regional School District for building a strong community service program into the broader expectations connected to high school graduation; Glendale School District for introducing a broadband and information technology initiative that has transformed this resource-limited rural district into a state-of-the-art showcase as a "high tech" school, and for working to create a rural broadband consortium ultimately encompassing over 60 school districts;
- Northern Lebanon School District for creating a partnership with local employers and government to share the costs of community services and create a GIS-based community database used for short term and long-range planning;
- Otto-Eldred School District for responding to the need for more space for its preschool students by forming an agreement with the regional Vocational Technology School, and enlisting VoTech students in the effort to build the future preschool building under the supervision of their instructors;
- Port Matilda Elementary School (Bald Eagle School District) for partnering with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to create a pen pal program linking the school´s elementary students with the area´s senior citizens;
- South Side Area School District for developing a service learning center integrating community service into the school curriculum;
- Warren County School District for the organization of a Warren Forest Childcare/School Readiness Coalition in which Warren County School District works with area child care centers to provide materials and support to ensure that child care centers are addressing school readiness and early childhood learning, and;
- Windber Area School District for their partnership with the Windber Medical Center and the Windber Research Institute to create a job shadowing program and student participation in an 8 week research project on obesity and cancer trends that led to a school wellness program and student participation in the presentation of research results at the Biotech Showcase
All of these districts and schools provide innovative examples of efforts to strengthen rural education while building community.