Our organization is designed to work collaboratively with schools, institutions, non-profit organizations and agencies to build and expand educational and professional learning opportunities for rural students and teachers. It is our hope that by creating these professional learning experiences, fostering cross-sector collaborations, and connecting students and teachers to place, we are also contributing to the future vitality of rural communities throughout Maine, honoring local heritage and developing opportunities for our youth to become innovative, entrepreneurial stewards and leaders of tomorrow.
What Guides Our Work?
Developing a sense of community and a sense of place is an essential component of the Rural Aspirations Project. Involvement within the community enhances the knowledge of local ways and culture, leading students toward engagement, service, and revitalization while incorporating a global perspective. We aspire to develop programming that leads students to become involved in the wellness of self and others, both essential to a sound and active community.
Honoring the Learner
The value of intrinsic motivation is paramount to the development of lifelong learning skills. When students learn to engage in and connect to their learning, positive aspirations soon follow. Learning opportunities will be supportive and diverse, grounded in community, creativity, and choice. The Rural Aspirations Project seeks to develop programming that personalizes academic skill development through a variety of activities including individual/group coursework, collaborative learning models, thematic pathways and place-based learning opportunities.
Students learn best when they are immersed, engaged, and invested in their education. Carefully guided, authentic, project-based, place-based, inquiry-based learning experiences attract and stimulate the innate curiosity of students and teachers. The curriculum must create relevant, authentic, timely learning opportunities.
Rural Aspirations Project models may engage students in a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities throughout their educational experiences. Schools, communities, and students could create and sustain a vision for a project and develop creative solutions through collaboration and the use of real-life problem-solving techniques. Staff, citizens, and students will be challenged to continuously grapple with potential ethical dilemmas associated with being socially and environmentally conscious while sustaining profitable rural business models.
The Rural Aspirations Project believes strongly in honoring the diversity within rural communities amongst peers, school staff, and community members. Our programs are based on being aware of others, honoring the integrity of our work, our communities, our diverse backgrounds and skillsets, our education, and our fellow citizens. Through the adoption of Rural Aspirations projects, students will develop a sense of pride toward their school, their communities, their work, and their potential. Place-based learning opportunities will encourage students to reach out and develop meaningful relationships with people of other perspectives in order to understand complex local and global issues.
Why Rural Schools?
Too many students are unhappy in school:
34% of students surveyed at schools in Piscataquis and Northern Somerset counties dislike school. 53% of students surveyed are bored at school. 20% of students don't think they're smart enough to go as far as they would like in education (Rural Youth Futures)
Community satisfaction is high:
68% of students surveyed felt that their community was a good place to grow up, 75% of students care about their communities, and 31% want to stay in their communities (Rural Youth Futures).
Rural student achievement challenges:
Economically disadvantaged students consistently score lower than their peers (Educate Maine Online Report). Rural schools in Maine have the highest percentage of students living if families in poverty of the nine northeastern states (UMaine, Maine Schools in Focus)
63 % of Maine schools are categorized as rural: Education and experience profiles of teachers in rural schools are lower than that of schools categorized as urban (Morris and Johnson, 2018). Many teachers in rural schools have higher responsibility without higher compensation.
Teacher retention is lower in rural schools:
Teachers in rural schools have a lower retention rate, and those that leave are more likely to quit teaching altogether. Teachers that move schools can make up to $7,000 more in a non-rural district (Morris and Johnson, 2018).
Challenges of living in rural areas:
"rural schools face the same challenges as their communities: economic stagnation, loss of population, higher proportions of low-income families and adults with lower levels of education. Students face longer bus rides, a narrower range of educational and co-curricular opportunities, and fewer specialized teachers than their suburban and urban peers." (UMaine, Maine Schools in Focus).
Rural communities fuel Maine's Economy:
Rural Maine drives Maine's economy through industry, recreation, and innovation. The first strategy for growing Maine's economy is to grow local talent (Maine Economic Development Strategy 2020 - 2029)