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The Challenges of Being Gifted in a Rural Community

The majority of programs for gifted learners were developed for suburban and urban schools. Rural schools can be quite different and may need to modify these programs to meet the educational needs of their gifted learners. For example, very small rural communities have so few families that an entire school may have only a handful of students incontiguously in kindergarten through eighth grade; high school students may be sent to distant towns, and may even board during the week. On the other hand, a rural community can have a K-12 attendance center of 750 students (or even several elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school) in a town of 8,000 people but can be isolated by distance or other geographic barriers. Recruiting teachers and obtaining resources to educate children in rural areas present challenges, yet rural communities also have advantages.

Ironically, the potential strengths identified…can also be barriers, depending on the dynamics within the community.

Strengths

Small communities and schools can make accommodating a gifted student’s educational needs easier than in a larger community for the following reasons.

Some additional strengths of rural communities include:

Although, some characteristics of rural schools can offer benefits for gifted students, potential barriers may also be present. Regardless of the obstacles that exist, surmounting them is possible.

Potential Barriers and Solutions

Small size and isolation combine to present certain difficult challenges for educators and students in rural schools. Ironically, the potential strengths identified above can also be barriers, depending on the dynamics within the community.

Specific Things Parents Can Do

Since schools have limited resources and educators wear so many hats, particularly in rural schools, support from well-informed parents is needed more than ever. Parents must be knowledgeable about gifted education and need to understand their community’s abilities to meet the educational needs of gifted students.
Parents in rural areas can use their individual skills and advocacy efforts to:

Potential mentors need to be screened carefully, and students should be supervised during mentoring sessions to ensure safety.

Conclusion

In light of perceived shortcomings, rural communities have unique strengths that can enhance the lives of gifted children. Even in isolated or sparsely populated communities, gifted children can get a high quality education. However, parents need to be supportive and involved by learning about the characteristics of gifted children and the kinds of learning opportunities needed to extend their skills; by being aware of how gifted children’s social and emotional needs may differ from those of more typical children; and by advocating for advanced educational opportunities.

Parents have a great deal of power to improve the quality of education for their own children and for the school as a whole.
However, they need to wield it carefully. Much more can be accomplished when parents offer positive feedback, assistance to educators, and work with other parents. Forming a parent support group or working with a parent-teacher association provides support for both parents and teachers. Together, they can build on the strengths of their community for a better education for all children, including those who are gifted.
Joan D. Lewis, PhD, and Cherry Hafer

Joan D. Lewis is associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the Director of Gifted Education for the University of Nebraska campuses.

Cherry Hafer is in her 27th year of teaching. She has spent much of her professional career teaching English and social studies in rural schools.

* There are a surprising number of different ways to define the word “rural.” Yet any area where geographic isolation interferes with access to education can be considered rural.

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