Creating Inclusive Classrooms and Communities for Rural Poor
Small towns have long been idealized as good places to raise children. Research shows that agrarian small towns can work in ways that support successful child and youth development. High levels of trust emerge when everyone knows everyone else, making childrearing a community responsibility. Likewise, the small class sizes and abundant individual attention that characterize rural schools encourage intimate ties with both adults and peers. For families and children included in these social networks, the shared time and attention of adults are concentrated on the task of raising children. Young people with access to these supportive community structures are more resilient in overcoming serious family traumas. Yet for the poor, and even working poor, integration into the social fabric of a tightly-knit small town can be challenging
Poor Are Often Excluded
Ethnographic research provides evidence for how small town structural and social processes exclude poor and working poor families and children.
- Without ties to the land, poorer families are routinely assigned a lower status in the local social hierarchy and are excluded from the community’s social resources.
- Residential patterns that cluster poor families into open-country pockets, trailer parks, or rental apartments work to create rural neighborhoods that are marked as “the wrong side of the tracks.”
- Poorer rural families living in these neighborhoods, along with those who have a “ne’er-do-well” reputation are socially stigmatized.
- Deficient housing, unstable employment, and a bad family reputation further spur on patterns of residential mobility that exacerbate a family’s integration into community.
- School districting policies that segregate poorer children to schools on the edge of town, pay-to-play sports, and limited transportation for after-school activities can have the unintended consequences of excluding poor and working poor children.
The ramifications of being left out of small town life intensify the effects of poverty and narrow opportunities by excluding poorer children and youth from the kind of social, educational, and cultural experiences that might otherwise support healthy, successful development.
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