Play, Love, Stay: Let’s Start a Movement
By Linda L. Carrier, Ed.D
The Third Annual Rural Educational Leaders Summit was held at Plymouth State University on July 18th and 19th. Attended by 44 educational leaders representing all regions of the state and 20 SAUs, the summit provided an opportunity for us as a professional learning network to explore and consider how we as leaders could each become stronger advocates for rural education; and, how we could lead our schools to develop community partnerships that will contribute to rural renewal. Over the two days, conversations were both intense and inspirational. Speakers, like the Rural School and Community Trust’s Executive Director, Robert Mahaffey; Stay Work Play New Hampshire’s Executive Director, Will Stewart; The Rural Schools Collaborative Executive Director, Gary Funk; and the Educational Development Center’s Co-Director of Math and Science Programs, Pam Buffington in collaboration with Executive Councilman Joe Kenney (R), Senator Jeff Woodburn (D), and Deputy Commissioner of Education Christine Brennan shared experiences and resources, and engaged us in conversations that served to tell the story of rural New Hampshire and its schools.
Robert Mahaffey shared with us the findings of the Rural School and Community Trust’s report, Why Rural Matters. The report identified that a third of the state’s K-12 population and half of its schools are in rural communities. These factors in combination with the percent of state funds to rural schools, resulted in rural education in New Hampshire ranking high on the report’s importance gauge. As the conversation developed over the two days, attendees engaged in discussion about concerns related to outmigration of youth from rural areas, resources for addressing the increasing need for social and emotional learning, and the need for strong place based learning practices as a solution to both issues. Hill’s Jennie D. Blake School principal, Brian Connelly (@connellyba) and members of the Hill Historical Society as well as Rural Schools Collaborative New Hampshire Grants in Place recipients, Amber Comtois and Chris Misavage from Wentworth Elementary School, shared their experience developing place based learning experiences that not only developed academic skills but supported students in developing a deep sense of connection to their community. Historians from Hill shared their stories of working with the children and the excitement that both they and the students experienced working together. The teachers from Wentworth spoke with passion about the Baker River study they would be conducting with their grant award, showed pictures of the variety of ways the children connect to the river and shared questions and concerns the children have about “their” river. In both Hill and Wentworth, it was clear to us that the place based learning experience created a sense of joy for learning, highly engaged students with the community and in learning, and supported a profound sense of connection and love for the community.
Lisa Perras, Principal of Groveton High School shared her own experience uncovering the story of her students’ connection to their community. After conversations with the middle school age students and sophomores in her building, Lisa discovered that students hadn’t experienced the activities and local resources that tourists visit our state to enjoy. Sadly, she also uncovered the students lack the same excitement about their community that visitors that travel north each year have; and, that they lacked a strong positive connection to the community, viewing it as lacking in opportunities and resources. A life-long resident that loves her community, Lisa was inspired by her students and has now begun to seek resources that will support the school in developing learning experiences that will provide access to the same resources tourists enjoy. Realizing that a key to developing a strong positive connection to the community is experiencing the joy of its natural resources, Lisa is seeking to develop learning opportunities that include mountain biking, white water rafting, and exploring local rivers and forests. Coining the phrase, play love then stay, Lisa shared with us her belief that by supporting students in enjoying their communities through place based learning, they would develop a love of their community that could result in more making the choice to stay and become productive members of local economies.
As Gary Funk pointed out to us, we all as members of the rural education field need to do a better job of telling the story of rural schools and communities. Lisa’s story and the experiences that the folks from Hill and Wentworth shared made it clear to us that place based learning must become an intentional and significant part of the rural school experience if we are to meaningfully address social and emotional learning needs and outmigration of youth from rural New Hampshire. In partnership with our communities, we can start a movement that ensures all students in rural schools can – play, love, then stay.
Share with us how you support your students to play, love, stay. We’d love to read your rural school’s story!