Celebrating Ag and Environment in Successful Rural Chartering

Rural charter schools face special challenges, as described in our blog last week from a recent report by the National Charter School Resource Center at Safal Partners. But that doesn’t mean rural schools aren’t succeeding. They are!

Why not celebrate the special relationship that rural schools have to agriculture and environment? That’s what some schools are doing. As described in the Safal report, The Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center, located in Walton, Kansas (no relation to Walton Foundation), was a turnaround conversion school through a project-based approach. Established in 2007 when declining enrollment sparked fear of closure of this small and remote school, the school centered on incorporating agriculture into the school’s curriculum. As a school responding to its farming community needs, the school grew in enrollment and prospered with more than 90% of its students surpassing both math and reading grade levels!

At Walton, elementary students work with farm animals, gather and package eggs, sell produce, plant vegetables, and use technology to research how to use wind energy. Walton teaches basic math and reading skills through project-based, hands-on, real-life learning.

This works at the high school level, too. Similar to Walton, Elkton High School in Oregon was facing enrollment and funding declines until the superintendent converted the school into Elkton Charter School and reestablished its curricula and systems. The conversion required an education process around chartering to overcome skepticism by families. But families were won over when Elkton chose to focus on the nearby Umpqua River, and build a natural resources-focused academy. Students study soil samples, mold, fungi, leaves and trees; they also go on field trips.

In another example closer to home, I’m working with a small startup K-5 charter school in rural Sandstone, Minnesota. The board of directors of Pete Seeger Renaissance Charter School is committed to creating an edible garden on school premises for student learning, local employment, and food support for this low-income community.

Is your school interested in integrating environment and natural resources into your curriculum or creating a green school? Check out the 2016 Green Schools Conference and Expo March 31 to April 1, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pa. at www.greenschoolsconference.org.  This could boost not only the environment, but student success!