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Thrive! Rural America Initiative Addresses Challenges Facing Rural Communities

Teacher working with student in a rural schoolThis post is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in Texas Tech Today and is reprinted with permission.

Situated within rural America, Texas Tech University is responding to rural challenges, with researchers in many specialties coming together to partner with rural communities, civic organizations and industries to develop models for change.

Texas Tech and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) researchers are working to address the challenges facing rural Americans, including water supply, energy costs, national teacher shortage, obesity rates, suicide rates, and fewer mental health workers.

Education

Robin Lock, a professor in the College of Education, said rural communities face significant challenges in terms of educational opportunities for students, who make up 20% of the students in the nation.

“They grapple with preparing and maintaining teachers in their rural communities,” Lock said. “They have trouble finding, hiring, and preparing qualified teachers to work with students in their school districts.”

Rural schools also struggle to provide a range of academic endeavors for those students.

“They have problems with mental health issues and the issues of problematic behavior for children with disabilities,” Lock said.

Finally, she said, the types of services needed by students with disabilities may not be available in smaller schools.

Within the College of Education, Lock said teacher and principal preparation programs are being updated, and those changes are being studied intensely. Texas Tech is looking specifically at how to prepare teachers to survive and thrive in rural America.

Bret Hendricks, associate dean for academic and student affairs in the College of Education, said it is important to listen to members of those communities instead of telling them what they need.

“The concerns we hear our rural teachers talking about are not necessarily the things the news reports as being major issues in rural communities,” Hendricks said.

While there is a real shortage of teachers in rural Texas, Hendricks said sometimes people in rural communities want to stay there, but there are not opportunities for them to stay.

Mental health and a declining state of school buildings is also a problem in education, Hendricks said.

“We want to make life easier in rural communities,” Hendricks said. “We feel very strongly that the fabric of where we come from in West Texas is based upon rural communities.


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