The heartbeat of the community
Friday night lights, roaring crowds, hometown heroes that catch the winning touchdown or serve the ace over the volleyball net that upsets a rival. Can you picture these scenes? Cool breezes fill the air as the stands fill with spectators, cars and beat up ranch pickups line the sidelines. Pads clash, boys fight for extra yards on the play, and the local radio station broadcasts all the action over the airwaves. By now you can probably smell the grass of the football field, hear the conversation between neighbors, and might even be thinking back on memories of your “glory” days.
Rural America is dotted with tiny communities, some no more than a wide spot in the highway, or in the case of my alma mater, a high school on a dirt road next to a volunteer fire department. All of these communities share a common bond. They all support their local school. It could be said that the school is the heart, soul, and identity of the community. In many cases, the school serves as the community center, the public library, entertainment hub, key economic driver, and source of pride. Rural schools create bonds that one could argue are not found in big cities. Small classes connect students on a personal level with their teachers. Odds are the same person teaching their class is the person sitting next to them in church on Sunday.
Rural schools are vitally important to these communities. Other than educating the next generation, they create many jobs within the community. From cooks to janitors, teachers to administration, schools create employment that helps communities to grow and flourish. It could be argued that the success of a community is directly related to the success of the school. The opposite is also true. Schools need communities to support them, to be athletic and academic boosters, to provide housing for school employees and families, and to grow an economy that allows the school to survive.
All throughout this country you can drive through communities that used to have a school, they used to have thriving economies, and they used to have a pride fueled by the success of the local ball team. Many of these communities have consolidated with other communities to keep their schools alive. They pool resources to be able to afford teachers, field ball teams, and create an atmosphere conducive to education. While the consolidation often saves these communities from failure, it takes away from the identity of many of the towns.
Through the years schools will grow and shrink as populations increase and decrease. Sometimes the population decline is too much for a school to survive. It is safe to say that the only way to preserve rural schools is the grow rural economies. If there are jobs for people to make a living, incentives for people to want to come back to, and opportunities for growth, communities and the schools that serve them will grow and thrive.
I encourage all of you reading this to take in a local high school sports event this fall. Support the concession stand, and think about buying a raffle ticket from the booster club. Rural schools need you and your support. They do so much to benefit our communities, and without them our children and communities suffer. Do your best to create opportunity, hire local, buy your groceries at the local store instead of driving an hour to some big corporate store that doesn’t even know your name. By helping your local businesses, they can support the school, and the families that call the community home. That’s all for this time, remember to keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire and God Bless.
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