On Wednesday, April 23, students, educators, future teachers and administrators from across the Ozarks met in Fair Grove, Mo., for the fourth annual Rural Schools Rendezvous. Held somewhere other than Thomasville, Mo., for the first time since its inception, the event featured a keynote from RSP founder and former CFO President Dr. Gary Funk. Funk, now the executive director of the Audubon Society’s chapter in Madison, Wis., talked about rural trends and the importance of strong rural economies and schools to the future of our country. It was a call to action for rural advocates, highlighting several disturbing trends, including “bright flight” of top students to cities and the increased marginalization of rural areas in state capitals, as well as Washington. But it wasn’t all dire, as Dr. Funk shared stories of his first (long) winter living in rural Wisconsin and talked about the vital role rural schools and towns continue to play.
The day, as usual, also featured the introduction of the new class of the Ozarks Teacher Corps and the recipients of the 2014 Coover Place-Based Education grants, a partnership between the RSP and The Commerce Trust, Co. Look for more information on these recipients in this space in coming days.The afternoon featured a presentation from professors at Southern : Funk told stories of his first year living in Wisconsin (with a cameo from his pet goat, Goober) and celebrated the energy that schools and rural advocates continue to bring to the table.
The afternoon session featured a presentation by Dave Ardrey and Grant Miller, both from the College of Education and Human Services at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. With them were three students and their teacher, all from Egyptian High School in Tamms, Ill., who participate in a summer program that not only immerses them in project-based community betterment projects, but also in university life at SIU-Carbondale. The impoverished area of Illinois the students call home–near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers–is one of the poorest in Illinois. The success of the program and the development of Egyptian High is a testament to the power and potential of a university-public school collaboration.