In my final semester of my masters program, I’m taking the class I’ve been waiting for: Special Populations in Gifted Education. The course is held online, so all conversations take place on BlackBoard.
The fifth reading, “Gifted Education in Rural Environments” by Floyd, McGinnis, and Grantham, was published in Special Populations in Gifted Education: Understanding our Most Able Students from Diverse Backgrounds (Castellano & Frazier, 2011). My thoughts are below…
Pick a challenge and discuss
One of the challenges noted was “a lack of community resources, a sizable peer base, or time for student involvement in additional programming” (Floyd, McGinnis & Grantham, 2011, p. 28). I imagine in rural communities where students are spread out over large areas of land and small tax bases, that this challenge would be one of the hardest to overcome. This section goes on to note that the resources are depleted serving remedial students in preparation for state testing. Sadly, this is the case in many districts, but for school systems already working on small budgets, these “extras” are the first to go, especially when a much smaller portion of the population qualifies for or values these advanced opportunities. I would argue this is not just a problem in rural areas, although, I’m sure it is exasperated there. During my time in RPS, I saw many of the same things. The city had a growing tax base, but many families of means were opting to send their children to private schools. This meant less money for schools as they received funds based on enrollment. A large percentage of students in RPS were labeled “struggling” and therefore it was hard to make an argument for allocating funds to gifted populations when they were such a small percentage of the school population. I imagine in rural areas the conversations are much the same. As school budgets are being cut, schools have to get the biggest bang for their buck, and this often means cutting the very things that help students grow, such as advanced placement and electives, in order to help the largest percentage of their population excel or meet minimum standards. In my mind, one way to alleviate this is to change the ways schools are funded. I would love to see this shifted to the state level instead of the local level. In this way, rural schools and city schools would be merged with more wealthy, larger districts to allocate funds across, based on need, rather than other factors.
Barriers to GATE in rural environments
One would hope that teachers who choose to work in rural schools do not suffer from deficit thinking, or lower expectations, for their students, but sadly, I imagine this is not the case. Just as in schools that are predominantly African American, teachers often still fall victim to their unconscious biases regarding student abilities. They become gatekeepers of education, and furthermore, gatekeepers to identification and gifted services. This is also the hardest barrier to overcome for teachers, as it requires self-reflection and identification of their biases and then active work to overcome them. Helping teachers realize these biases is often the hardest part of the process! Schools would do better to provide more diversity training and cultural sensitivity training, as appropriate for the populations they serve in order to best meet the needs of their students.
Although rural students are incredibly diverse in terms of ethnic background, they share many key characteristics, the most important for our discussion being that they have a cultural background that makes them less likely to score well on traditional giftedness tests. The text calls for more non-traditional assessments that are less likely for students to be hurt by a cultural bias.
And I replied with:
Great points about cultural knowledge and cultural references. I would argue these barriers exist for most, if not all, of the special populations we have discussed in this class, with the exception of maybe white, middle class females. When I worked in the city schools, one of the things we often discussed was how we as teachers could support and enhance the students’ limited cultural experiences. One of the examples that always comes to mind is a discussion we had about chicken little. The training we were in showed us a variety of cultural references to chicken little in commercials and ads, stories, political cartoons, etc. They discussed that without exposure to this character, understanding all of these references was lost and out of reach for our kids. When tests have these references, they create barriers. In the classroom, we can help break them down, but, as you said, we have to have an identification system that does not create artificial barriers to identification and/or services.
Accommodations for gifted rural students
Floyd, McGinnis and Grantham (2011) stated, “the community can serve as a resource with its residents willing to offer and adapt available resources to provide and enhance open-ended learning opportunities. In other words the community becomes an extension of the classroom by providing the hands-on learning and adaptive lessons from which many rural gifted students benefit” (p. 36). To me, one way this can be implemented through apprenticeships and mentoring. While this can be a valuable experience for any student, when students are lacking these opportunities in the school, utilizing the community in this way is an excellent way to extend beyond the classroom and help meet the needs of rural students. It also sounds like an excellent way to incorporate the community and garner buy-in from the community to the importance of gifted services. Providing these opportunities can be a powerful way to help gifted students see themselves in new ways, as well as begin to see themselves as practitioners in a particular field.
In regards to technology being a possible bridge to education for rural students, another person stated
The technology ideas stuck with me, too. It seems like the use of technology fits perfectly with the strengths of rural education as outlined in the text: small class size, low dropout rate, high community support and inovlement [sic], and teacher autonomy.
The only thing that I can think of that may cause a problem is the possible lack of strong and fast enough internet connections to support these gifted accomodations [sic].
And because I had just had this conversation, I replied
I was sitting in the VDOE English Institute on Monday with teachers from all over the state of Virginia. Across from me were two teachers from Amelia County (I think). The presentation was about the ways in which we can use multiple modalities, specifically tech integration, to help our students write. While I come from a 1-to-1 district, they were complaining that the majority of students in their rural county do not have cell phones and their internet connection was spotty as best. It was an eye opening moment for me, as I was lacking total awareness of the fact there were still districts who did not have access to high speed internet. I realize that I should have known this, but when you have total access, overwhelming access in fact, it is easy to forget the ways in which this lack of access creates different barriers. Even here, I have heard several of us state that virtual education is a great option for these schools, but in reality, while a great option, often unrealistic!
Another student in my class had a similar inquiry
We are lucky to live in a time where we have technology at our fingertips… My only question is…based on the fact that rural schools don’t always get a lot of funding, would all of the schools have access to computers with internet capabilities? I would think that in today’s world this would be a priority, but it makes me curious about the percentage of schools that do or do not have access to the interent [sic] on a regular basis.
And because I like numbers…
I responded to another post about technology just a minute ago, but I think you would be surprised. Most rural communities do not have high speed internet still. I mentioned in my other post that on Monday, I was sitting with two teachers from rural Virginia. They were decrying the lack of internet access in their school and community. Additionally, their students do not have cell phone access. I took for granted that everyone had cell phones these days, but it isn’t true. Your last question about school having internet led me to a study by the USDA that states only 62% of rural homes have internet access. In Virginia, between 55 – 64% of homes have some internet access, but more than 90% do not have Broadband.
I went one step further to find information about schools, and according to a 2014 article “Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America” by the chairman of the FCC, ” Forty-one percent of American’s rural schools couldn’t get a high-speed connection if they tried.”
Additional thoughts…someone was upset that teachers in rural areas were allowed to teach outside of their content areas
It is also very concerning that teachers in rural environments often have to teach outside the field in which they are certified in. I might be completely wrong, but I feel like this shouldn’t happen under any circumstance unless it is an emergency. If they aren’t qualified to teach it, why on Earth are you letting them teach it? Even though they are probably capable of doing it, they still don’t have the proper training or qualifications.
And because I know first hand out this happens and how often, I replied:
Just like in urban environments, rural environments suffer from a teacher shortage. When teachers can not be found to teach in a content area, A TEACHER is the only option over NO TEACHER. When I was in the city, I was hired to teacher English, but by my second year, was teaching a half load of English and a half load of history. By my third year, I was only teaching history and was the department chair. I was highly capable of teaching both and ensured that I had educated myself properly on the content, but was in no way a master of the content. In this case, my curriculum development skills helped me compensate and my drive to do well. Of course, this is not always the case. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are endorsed in a content area who do not have a high level of content knowledge and are not masters of their content. In this case, the endorsement is useless. I don’t think we can say because a teacher is not endorsed in a content area that it is a travesty to have them teaching students. More importantly is their content knowledge paired with their ability to design high level curriculum.