2012 CREC-PARSS Building Community Award Winners
University Park, Pa. –Penn State’s Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) sponsored the eighth annual Building Community through Rural Education award. Rural schools or school districts in Pennsylvania that implement innovative practices contributing to the educational experiences for the students they serve while strengthening the broader community in which they are located are invited to apply for this award. Two applicants received honorable mention this year: the Huntington Area Middle School, and the Punxsutawney Area School District. The 2012 winner of the Building Community through Rural Education award was the Pocono Mountain School District.
Huntington Area Middle School
Huntington Area Middle School received an honorable mention for their Global Perspectives and Career Day programs, which brings students into contact with different cultures and economic opportunities that may otherwise not be available to them. During the Global Perspectives day, Huntington Area Middle School invites presenters from Juniata College, Grier School and adults from the community with international experience to present their stories to students. Students receive a passport, which allows them to visit six countries to learn about holidays, religion, music, cultural dress, and geography. Students also learn certain phrases, participate in a Russian folk dance, and have the opportunity to sample international cuisine prepared by high school students in the culinary arts department.
Career day at Huntington Area Middle School helps to further the school and community bond by bringing in community members to share their careers with students. Approximately 35 presenters provide information to all middle school students on their careers that span local, state, and national levels. Each student is allowed to attend six presentations that include nursing, engineering, cosmetology, construction, physical therapy, mechanics, animal science, journalism, pharmacy, art, athletic training, state police, FBI, secret service, military intelligence, law, computer technology, dental hygiene, occupational therapy, photography, welding, and even a forensic geologist from Colorado. Huntington Area Middle Schools does their best to combine community experiences with their students’ eagerness to learn so that their students to be able to competitive with those from schools that are more affluent.
Punxsutawney Area School District
Punxsutawney Area School District also received an honorable mention for their technology initiative that is helping to build a solid relationship between the community and the school district. Through an program called 21st Century Learning Initiative, every student in the high school, 9th through 12th grade is given a computer for school and personal usage. The two goals of the program are to 1) improve the educational access, participation, and communication by students, parents, and community members, and 2) promote the growth and economic development of the community. The District hopes that this program will help to spur economic growth of the community and will give all students equal access to technology inside and outside of school. The District has also worked with local businesses to set up Wi-Fi access for students who may not have access to Internet in their homes. All eight buildings in the school district offer students the ability to connect to the Internet as needed.
New students are also required to attend a mandatory orientation, which provides an explanation of the 21st Century Learning Initiative and gives parents an overview of the amenities that the technology offers. Parents and community members as well as teachers and administrators have access to the district webpage with contains a link called the Technology Homepage (http://www.punxsy.k12.pa.us/Domain/9). This website provides links to additional information on curriculum and technology for parents, students, and community members. Teachers are required to maintain a webpage that gives students and parents a way to check daily assignments and classroom activities. Student projects are linked to the webpage in order to provide a way for parents to view their students’ work. Community members also have access to resources provided on the webpage and are kept up-to-date with information about the school through the community tab on the website.
Another local partnership with the business FEMCO provides monetary support and sponsors students in the BOTS IQ competition. The BOTS IQ competition involves forty local school districts and draws on students’ knowledge in mathematics, science, engineering, and public speaking. Through technology and the most up-to-date manual equipment, Punxsutawney Area School District is providing its rural students with skills that fit right into a 21st century and beyond.
Pocono Mountain School District
The winner of the 2012 Building Community through Rural Education award was the Pocono Mountain School District who won for their Pocono Mountain School District ESL Home/ School Connection, which was established in 2005, and the Adult ESL program established in 2006. Pocono Mountain School District is home to 10,100 students K-12; five percent are English Language Learners (ELL) and 50% are Economically Disadvantaged and only 24% of the graduates have been enrolled since kindergarten. Approximately 350 students are enrolled in the ELL program in kindergarten through twelfth grade and there are 1,500 students who primary language is not English.
Since many parents and guardians speak limited English or are non-English proficient, the school district decided to remove the barrier between these parents and the school. With the establishment of the Pocono Mountain School District ESL Home/School Connection and the Adult ESL program, the school district has established a successful parental outreach program. The Home/School Connection was created with the intent of promoting ESL parental participation to promote the students’ academic and social success. This also gives parents the chance to interact with administrators and faculty for the school. Workshops, which focused on a variety of topics, are held for parents to give them a better idea of what is happening within their district and to show them how to gain access to district resources.
The Adult ESL program, which focuses on dissolving language barriers and assisting non-English speakers from the community and the school to become fluent in English, has become a success story within the community. The program focuses on developing the four language domains and covers topics like school, work, community, and citizen themes. In order to make this program enticing for adults within the community, the ESL specialists provide educational childcare for the students and their siblings. The program has proven itself successful; students and community members look forward to the programs and the pleasurable experiences that they provide. In this way, Pocono Mountain School District taps into the cultural richness of their community while building bonds between the school and community.