Rural Schools a Growing Part of the National Community School Conversation

Last Updated: May 30, 2012

This article appeared in the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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The 2012 Coalition for Community Schools Conference attracted more than 1,400 participants from across the nation, and Robert Mahaffey, director of communications for the Rural School and Community Trust and current president of Organizations Concerned about Rural Education, was a part of the agenda, engaging participants on rural policy matters. The Rural Trust is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition for Community Schools.

Attendees at the event included a diverse group of leaders from the fields of education, youth development, health and human services, family support, neighborhood and community development, government, philanthropy and others who work at the local, state and national levels.

Rural Trust policy initiatives were the focus of several parts of the conference as Mahaffey made presentations on the findings of Why Rural Matters 2011–12 and gave an update on the Formula Fairness Campaign. He also convened a rural education role-alike group to accommodate the growing number of rural participants in what has been until recently a more urban-focused event. The Rural Trust, with the support of the Coalition, is taking the lead in developing a greater rural voice within the community school movement.

Mahaffey also co-presented on an example of a successful work-in-progress at Al Kennedy Alternative High School in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon, along with Tom Horn, the school’s principal. Kennedy High is implementing an educational approach aimed at engaging young people in efforts to enhance the health of local, social, and natural environments. By collaborating with private and public partners, their progress is embodied in “solutions-based” sustainability education and instruction, and in teaching students they have the capacity to address the challenging environmental, social, and economic dilemmas facing their community.

Kennedy students engage in project-based and community-based learning in five areas: Agriculture, Architecture, Energy, Forestry, and Water. The school’s overarching focus is on sustainability, and its service learning approach also includes developing curriculum resources for use by others teaching about sustainability in the Willamette Valley.

The 2012 Coalition for Community Schools event was the largest ever; Mahaffey summed up the conference this way: “During three very packed days, the community schools movement shined. While so many accomplishments were celebrated there is much to do moving forward and the Rural Trust is proud to be a strong voice for all rural children, families, schools, and communities.”

What is a community school and how do they work for rural places?

According to the Coalition, “a community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. The goal of establishing community schools is to bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities.”

The Rural Trust has also been a key part of developing the definition, standards, and implementation practices of community schools in rural places. Doris Terry Williams, executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust explained the value of full-service community schools in rural areas in a report from the Center for American Progress released in 2010. The Rural Solution: How Community Schools Can Reinvigorate Rural Education combines data from the literature and other public sources, interviews, site visits, and the organizational experience of the Rural School and Community Trust in an examination of community schools from a rural perspective. The paper also discusses the challenges that rural areas confront in attempting to implement a community school strategy and offers recommendations for overcoming them.

Read more:

Coalition for Community Schools website:

Kennedy High School website:

Link through to the Coalition for Community Schools’ report Financing Community Schools: Leveraging Resources to Support Student Success, which details how community schools efficiently leverage dollars to support student learning here:

Read The Rural Solution: How Community Schools Can Reinvigorate Rural Education from the Center for American Progress here:

Read more from the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.