The success of a small, rural Kansas charter school with a focus on agricultural, project-based learning, which had struggled to keep up enrollment before converting to charter status in 2007, is now looking to expand in order to accommodate students on its waiting list.
Since the school's status changed, the Walton Rural Life Center about 30 miles north of Wichita, Kan., has been touted as a model of success for rural charter schools, having been profiled in a recent brief by Education Sector, a report about rural charter schools put out by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and a nearly 8-minute YouTube video produced by the U.S. Department of Education. It's also been profiled on EdWeek's Rural Education blog. Since becoming a charter, the school's enrollment has more than doubled from its low point of 80 students in 2007, and in 2010, the school scored in the top five percent of Kansas schools in both math and reading. A new story in the Wichita Eagle describes the school's growth.
Lessons about agriculture are woven into the curriculum at the Walton Rural Life Center. Students at the school help feed and take care of farm animals, such as chickens and goats, that are housed at the school, which helps them learn units of measurement. In the mornings, students collect eggs from the chickens, which they then weigh, clean, package, market, and sell to the local community for $2 a dozen. Students also weigh and sell vegetables that they grow in the school's greenhouse, learning concepts of supply and demand as well as market projections.
Part of the reason that so much attention has been paid to this particular charter school is because rural charter schools are, on the whole, relatively rare.
According to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in 2010-11, only 15 percent of charter schools are rural, compared to 25 percent of rural non-charter schools. A report released by the NAPCS in February 2012 attributed this smaller proportion of rural charters to several factors, including budgetary constraints, an inability to provide specialized courses, difficulty in recruiting teachers and principals, challenges in securing resources for special education students, and increasing transportation costs.
Also, the report noted that many of the states that have higher rural populations do not allow charter schools. The Walton Rural Life Center is one of only 16 charter schools in the state of Kansas.