[Nota Bene: I do this to prove that I'm working. So far, 21 pages not counting title pages and appendices.]
The past century in America saw tremendous growth in population in urban areas. This was due not only to an influx in immigration in these decades, but also from the diminishing role of farm communities and rural areas in this country. Where the majority of people lived on rural lands in the first half of the last century, those roles reversed since World War II. Interestingly, the idea of the American school also went the way of the city. Instead of stereotypical visions of one-room schoolhouses on the prairies, today’s modern American school is usually thought of as an immense superstructure of media centers, athletic fields, and numerous other amenities.
In most cases there have been many benefits towards the super-school model. Students are able to access a wider variety of resources to meet their particular needs and interests. Facilities can accommodate larger groups of people, and therefore become regional centers of influence much like a college campus. There are downsides, however. Recent events in Colombine and other large schools where shootings have taken place have had society and those in the field of education look at ways these super-schools are not working successfully. Where some critics find these schools to be full of opportunity, others see students become faceless cogs in a greater, impersonal educational machine.
More importantly, larger schools are usually found in suburban areas where an adequate tax base and a large student body within a reasonable distance from the schools can be found. Such large institutions thrive in the suburbs, where a mostly homogeneous community is self-supportive. In rural areas, however, incomes are lower as well as population density and availability of resources. Large, consolidated schools exist in rural areas much in the same way as they do in suburban or urban areas, yet the costs of operation are much higher due to the distances covered by transportation programs (sometimes several hundred square miles), a greater dependence on state or federal programs (such as Head Start and the school breakfast program for poorer families), and the need for constant technological revamping.
Statement of Problem
Since urban and rural areas have both dealt with high amounts of poverty, legislators, school boards, and educational theorists have generally attempted to solve rural problems with urban ones, believing that urban poverty is a greater priority and assuming that what works in the city will aid the country as well. A closer look at evidence, however, shows that this is not the case. In many instances the urban solutions proposed by government agencies are not useful in rural areas because the infrastructure simply does not exist. Nevertheless, rural students continue to achieve satisfactory scores on measure evaluations. It may be possible, then, to derive certain qualities from rural schools that may not only be exploited for the poor rural students, but can also be studied for use in poor metropolitan districts as well. The community school, directly evolved from the one-room schoolhouse of days past, had a limited but solid record of accomplishment. Some rural schools have switched back to smaller school systems, not to mention a very small number of urban schools as experiments. What, if any, correlation is there between a sense of community in a school district and the definition of that community? Is a community determined by the resources it shares? Historically, what was the influence of community in rural schools?
Need, Purpose, and Significance of Study
As previously indicated, rural schools were often treated as urban schools during reform periods in terms of programs and theories used, with varying degrees of success. In order to be more effective educationally, low-income rural school districts were not considered from a community perspective but primarily by an economic or political one. Rural communities as well had particular needs that required discussion and action, and the local school district needed viewing from the context of its surrounding environment.
It was also important to reunify and strengthen the bonds between the school and the community. The past several decades have stressed student and parent involvement as a means of development. Physically, however, large school districts have actually pulled education as far from the community foundation as possible. Simultaneously, the rural community shrunk as a whole, losing parts of its own infrastructure as industries, jobs, and people moved towards the city. If students in rural areas were being trained using urban curricula, not only did they risk growing up unprepared to work around their own homes but their education forced them to move towards metropolitan areas as well, contributing to the decline of American rural communities.
A separate need also had to be addressed during this investigation: that of pervasive and often incorrect stereotypes concerning rural and urban living and education standards. Oftentimes, it was the urban schools that were thought of as poorest in the nation, usually minority students living in inner-city ghettos or housing projects. Society believed that poverty is primarily urban, and that most government aid in education went to help those city students. In actuality many of the poorest students were white, and a large percentage of state and federal aid went towards the development poor rural areas. In the 1920s era researched for this project, state governments earmarked inordinate sums of money for rural schools to quickly instigate modernization programs, often with the belief that rural areas had to catch up with more populous districts.
Scope and Limitations
The following project was a qualitative, historiographical study concerning a rural school, its phases of growth, and how elements participating in the school's development coped with changes in population and redefinitions of the school as an important fixture in the community over the twentieth century. Much of the focus was on the growth of rural districts and reallocation of funds and resources to areas that did not have the full capability to supply all students with necessary faculty or materials. Special attention was taken to outline debates over shared resources or utilization of regional services and non-profit organizations.
The study examined rural educational services both inside and outside the jurisdiction of Brockport, New York school districts during a transitional phase from one-room schoolhouses to a centralized school building. This was done through the use of historical study that examined the more obvious phases of rural demographics over the last century. Generally, changes in population led to changes in school systems: greater populations pushed forced many students out of increasingly crowded, one-room schoolhouses, and burgeoning towns built larger facilities in anticipation of expanding generations. Less superficially, the interactions between school youth programs, parent organizations, government entities and local media outlets on the school would gradually change over time.
It was the researcher’s assumption that historical traits and themes existed concerning school-community interdependence in rural areas that may be discovered through an analysis of original source materials. Documents concerning specific schools were found in local education records and held by town historical societies. Over time, local newspapers painted a picture of what most defined the surrounding community and kept an excellent record of school events as well as the participation level of the citizenry pertaining to school issues.
Finally, the school districts considered was one described as “rural” by the state Department of Education, either by precedent such as the meting of funds or by designation on state-sponsored reports. In order to ensure the subject studied (the soon-consolidated Brockport school system) was not unique; the school chosen had to exist in a greater area largely settled simultaneously throughout. Specifically, former Holland Land Company holdings made up the rural parts of what is Monroe County today. The study focused on the twentieth century as rural towns changed from frontier settlements to more permanent community infrastructures.