Rural communities are near and dear to my heart. I have lived in a rural community for more than 40 years. You can’t live in a rural community and not know how important the school is to the community. I have witnessed our small rural district utilize a distance education network to provide advanced courses, credit recovery, and world languages in the 80’s and 90’s and then transition to online courses to fill in gaps in the curriculum in the early 2000’s. Now as we near 2020, blended learning is a survival strategy for my hometown school.
Despite digital learning solutions, there are still challenges for rural schools and not necessarily exclusive to them either. Awareness of digital learning options offered in rural states can be a doable challenge to overcome. I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 National Forum to Advance Rural Education in Louisville, KY. I had the honor to present with my colleagues from the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA). We’ve been an Alliance for more than 10 years now and when I am with this group I learn amazing things that they are doing in their states to support rural schools with quality online learning.
Course access to Advanced Placement (AP), World Languages, Dual Credit, STEAM, and others poses a real challenge to rural schools. Did you know that American Sign Language is one of the most popular courses offered through Indiana Online? VLLA members offer an average of twenty-three College Board audited AP semester courses. Virtual Arkansas offers twenty-eight Career and Technical Education courses and dual credit through the Arkansas Tech University. Nevada Learning Academy and Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, like other state virtual programs, offer Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways such as Cisco Academy, Computer Science, and other industry credentials. EdReady Montana is a College and Career Readiness initiative through Montana Digital Learning Academy. Review use cases of small rural schools involved with Colorado Digital Learning Solutions.
Teacher shortages remains a concern to rural schools according to the recently released, Rural School and Community Trust Report 2018-19 Why Rural Schools Matter – The Time is Now. Our VLLA colleagues have supported several teacher shortage challenges by:
- Covering full sections of math for districts in rural Eastern North Carolina in North Carolina Virtual Public School. This solution is not just for math either and not unique to one state.
- Providing certified/licensed teachers to step in when a teacher suddenly leaves anytime during the school year
- Supporting language programs when a teacher can’t be found or programs have been cut due to low enrollments
- Offering synchronous solutions for whole class solutions. Check out Virtual South Carolina’s Double Robot solution!
- Supporting new teachers with comprehensive online curriculum for instruction
- Offering a free allotment of courses for Virginia schools through Virtual Virginia’s Expanded Enrollment Program
Access to high quality, low cost professional learning for teachers and administrators isn’t a challenge if you turn to the VLLA! Multi-state book studies and Ed Camps are two ways multiple states opened up opportunities for teachers across the country. Check out these additional solutions.
- Michigan Virtual for Professionals
- Wisconsin Virtual School and Wisconsin eSchool Network offer professional learning events throughout the year. Visit the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative for opportunities.
- Free teacher resources for online learning can be found at Georgia Virtual School.
- Want to build your own professional learning options with the support of a state leader’s expertise? Check out Illinois Virtual and professional development options.
The impact on educational opportunities and equity for rural students is a heartfelt initiative of the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance. I hope I have provided you with some inspiring solutions to consider for your state to address getting help…not just anyone’s…look to your state virtual programs for solutions to several challenges rural schools experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR and PROGRAM
Dawn Nordine is the Executive Director of Wisconsin Virtual School (WVS), the state-led supplemental online program for grades 6-12, operated out of CESA 9. Since 2000 WVS has served over 47,000 enrollments, with over half of Wisconsin’s school districts participating in the program. Dawn has been in the education field for 28 years. Formerly a superintendent and technology coordinator of a National Blue Ribbon rural school district, Dawn has been actively involved in the expanding online and blended learning opportunities for students in Wisconsin for 16 years.