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Two Rural Schools Preparing Kids For College, Part 2

I wrote last week about Patton Springs School in Afton, Texas, a small, rural school taking big steps to ensure its students go on to college.

The other school featured during a webinar hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum was Loving High School in Loving, N.M. The school enrolls fewer than 600 students in a village of 1,300. Eighty percent of its students are Hispanic, and 90 percent are low-income.

Like Patton Springs, Loving High has been recognized for its achievement, most recently receiving a bronze medal in the 2010 Best High Schools ranking by U.S. News and World Report. It's also received national attention for its career technical education programs.

Loving High started to improve in 2004 when it became a High Schools That Work site and began using the framework of research-proven strategies to increase student achievement and graduation rates.

That led to the adoption of a curriculum with programs of study aligned to the National Career Clusters model, which organizes high school classes around job occupations to boost real-world relevance.

Loving High has strong dual credit offerings—75 percent of the school's students are enrolled in those classes—and district Superintendent Kristina Baca talked about how the school's programs of study are aligned to post-secondary education.

Loving High shares courses with three other districts through video conferencing, and it worked with those districts to develop articulation agreements with post-secondary institutions for its architecture and construction and health science programs so students' credits transfer to college.

The school's flagship program is architecture and construction, and it enables students to learn by building a home. State and private grants helped fund the construction, and the district sells the finished product.

Baca discussed some of the challenges facing Loving High, and shrinking budgets are at the top of the list. All schools are experiencing cuts, and that's created problems for both Loving High and its partner college, New Mexico State University at Carlsbad.

For example, the college used to provide an instructional nurse for the health science program, but that position was cut. The district ultimately had to pick up the tab for the position to continue the program's momentum.

I was interested in the school's percentage of students who go on to college and how those rates have changed since 2004, but that wasn't discussed. I did find a statistic elsewhere that the school's college attendance rate averaged 60 percent from 2004 to 2009. That's more than double the national average for rural areas, which was 27 percent, according to the Status of Education in Rural America report. The national average for students both in cities and suburban areas was 37 percent.

So why is all this important to students going to college?

"What we're looking at is relevancy to students," Baca said. "The more relevant they found the content, the more ready they are to learn it."

That seems like good information for any school, regardless of whether it's rural.

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