News + Ideas

Live From Summit 2017: Rural Communities: Innovation Isn’t Just for Big Cities

This lively session was moderated by Terry Ryan, CEO of Bluum. Joining him as panelists were:

  • Calvin Baker, Superintendent, Vail School District
  • Jo Ann Gama, President and Superintendent at IDEA Public School
  • Joshua Jennings, Founding Director at Global Impact STEM Academy
  • Nate McClennen, Vice President of Education and Innovation at Teton Science Schools


When you think of education innovation, work in a big city might come to mind. But rural communities are ripe for change too. Rural schools are typically smaller than their urban counterparts, and although they serve a more dispersed student population, they tend to be at the epicenter of their communities. In this session, hear form three practitioners taking different approaches to innovation in rural schools. They will discuss the unique assets and challenges of rural communities and share the greatest opportunities for innovation in the future.

There are challenges that students in rural areas face that are unique: talent shortage, limited post secondary options, political interests (ex. Students in rural south Texas, have to deal with crossing border checkpoints as a part of their daily commute). An important part of the struggle is connection. Internet is a major issue and ability to access content at home (or even in town) can limit learning possibilities. Also, rural educators don’t have the same opportunities to collaborate or learn from and work with a large network of other educators. Partnerships and networks that work across local and state lines are critical to enabling students and leaders in disparate locales to learn and get adequate support.


Why should we care about rural communities, as opposed to advocating for large urban centers and cities only?

  • There are kids in rural America, and parents that want the best for them. If we don’t care about rural America, the parents that want the best will leave, and the community will end up with a culture not interested in achievement or advancement.
  • Energy and food are a huge part of what they they produce and create – having rural areas is critical to our economy.
  • Most of our politicians are from rural America.
  • Soldiers predominantly  come from rural America
  • Diversity of perspective are needed for discourse in our country – values and ideas about success.


We want to create individuals that are interested in challenges directly influenced by rural America – how will we feed the growing population with limited resources? How will we make energy available and sustainable? A few statistics were presented during this informational session:

  • There has been a dramatic shift over 2 generations – the younger generations are people of color. In some locations, you can find 70+ year olds are all white, while the under 18 populaion are all Hispanic.
  • Transportation is the biggest cost associated with running a school.
  • Unemployment rate is higher and wages are lower in rural communities. Deep poverty is also higher, which drives opportunity
  • Rural students graduate high school at a higher rate, but are less likely to go to higher education
  • Wyoming is able to 100% fund student needs from oil and gas revenue


Do affluent and non-affluent rural schools and communities face similar problems, or just similar situations? What does it mean to be in a large rural setting?

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