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Place-Based Learning Can Be Good Fit For Rural Schools

Place-based learning can benefit impoverished, rural schools by helping students and teachers look at their communities in new ways and giving lessons more real-world connections and impact, rural education advocates say.

We've blogged about place-based learning during the past few months, and the topic is featured in September's Rural Policy Matters issue, which is published by The Rural School and Community Trust. The rural education advocacy nonprofit is promoting its three-day training that introduces the concept to teachers, and, back in July, launched a new Center for Midwestern Initiatives, which aims to promote the practice in the Midwest.

Place-based education is when teachers use students' surroundings as a vehicle for instruction. In the Rural Policy Matters article, Project Coordinator Margaret MacLean describes it by saying:

"Place based learning takes the real world around the school—the community—and turns it into a 21st century learning laboratory. Students learn skills and concepts while learning about and contributing to their place. By working on things like oral histories, water-quality studies, community gardens, or student-led community tax centers, students are active learners, engaged and making a difference."

High-poverty, rural schools that lack traditional resources can use place-based learning to fill some of those gaps, and rural educators say high-quality project-based learning is integrated into the curriculum and helps students to learn about their own communities. Some schools in Louisiana have seen improved scores after incorporating the concept in their classrooms.

The Rural Trust says this instructional approach can lead to an improved quality of life for rural residents and their communities. Rural Trust staff members this summer led place-based learning workshops for two high-poverty rural elementary schools—St. Helena Elementary School, in Louisiana, and Dermott Elementary School, in Arkansas. Both won $100,000 grants from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children. Grants were given only to schools where at least 90 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches.

"Place-based learning offers many opportunities to provide children with a good education and to engage residents and students in research and problem-solving in the community," MacLean said in the Rural School and Community Trust article.

If you're interested in learning more, two other groups doing placed-based education are the Vermont Rural Partnership and the Rural Schools Partnership in Missouri.

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