Episode 9. Do the Math with Taylor McCabe-Juhnke
Michelle Rathman: Hello, everyone, and thanks for joining us for a new episode of The Rural Impact. I'm Michelle Rathman, and as always, it's excellent to be here with you. Now, a quick reminder, if you have not subscribed to The Rural Impact as of yet, we sure would appreciate it if you do, and while you're at it, drop us a like and share with someone in your life who has an interest in connecting the dots between policy and absolutely rural everything.
Okay, for today's show, as you know, we are in the middle of our series focused on rural education, and we've just come off what we refer to as a mini master class. Covering a wide range of issues on the subject of rural education with Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association, Dr. Allen Pratt.
Now, for this episode, I had a conversation with an individual whose focus is all about solutions and solutions focused on rural teacher recruitment and retention and doing some incredible groundbreaking work focused on place-based learning. Taylor McCabe-Juhnke is the Executive Director of Rural Schools Collaborative, an organization with a mission to building sustainable rural communities through a keen focus on place, teachers, and philanthropy.
So here now is my conversation with Taylor McCabe-Juhnke. Make yourself comfortable. Let's go.
Michelle Rathman: Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, Executive Director of Rural Schools Collaborative. Welcome to the Rural Impact and thank you so much for joining us in our series focused on rural education. It's great to have you here.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Thanks for having me, Michelle.
Michelle Rathman: Well, it looks like a sunny day where you are. We've got I tell people these aren't light subjects, so we've got some pretty heavy-duty conversation to have.
But before we dive in, Taylor, I want to share a snippet from a piece that was published by Brookings, a highly reliable source that I depend on regularly, for my research and data and analytics and whatnot. And this piece was written by Jessica Drescher, a PhD from Stanford, Graduate School of Education and Gabrielle Torrance, an analyst from the Center for RISC that's Radical Innovation for Social Change at the University of Chicago.
And I think it provides us with some really good framework for our conversation. So, here's a bit of that very well written highly informative piece. It goes “in recent decades, the hollowing out of rust belt towns, a devastating opioid crisis and bitterly divisive national politics have called attention to the challenges of growing up in rural America, despite enhanced focus on these communities.
Educational opportunity in rural areas is less clearly understood than in non-rural areas, owing in part to the fact that studying rural education nationwide has been an empirical challenge. Many rural school districts are small, and most state achievement tests are not comparable across state lines.
Nonetheless, rural youth collectively comprise 20 percent of public-school students in the United States, and understanding the status of their educational opportunity is important,” and Taylor the piece goes on to just say in trying to define rural education. And this is a biggie because we have kind of the same challenges in rural health, of an average nationwide enrollment of 3.75 million students per grade, approximately 715, 000, that's 19 percent attend rural schools. 540,000, that's 14 percent attend rural districts, and 553,000, that's 15 percent in rural counties. And they're saying that some of these students appear in multiple categories and some do not. So which group of students should be considered rural?
And in the context of this conversation, I'm not sure what exact numbers matter, but I do know that the impact on all of them is opportunities, teachers in classrooms, and experiences and an education that will serve them well into the future. And that's why we've asked you here, Taylor, because, as I see it, Rural Schools Collaborative is a remarkable organization working to address all of these issues and then some, regardless of the numbers, we don't put focus on the things that really matter to them, we're not serving them well. So again, welcome. And I think before we jump in here talk to folks about what Rural Schools Collaborative is, because I've known about you for quite a few years when I was hosting another podcast.
I want our listeners to understand the depth of the work that you're doing. So fire away.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, thank you, Michelle. So Rural Schools Collaborative is a national nonprofit, and we are really focused on creating sustainable rural communities, and we do that through really focusing on the idea of place, on the idea of teachers, and philanthropy at the heart of the work that we do. And so, we've really built ourselves out over the last eight or nine years that we've been in existence as a collaborative network.
And so, our core team of our sort of paid staff, that's the backbone of this is really, really small, but that allows us to, instead, really highlight the great work that's happening by rural serving organizations in their places, those boots on the ground folks that are making a difference where they are.
And so, our collective network now covers more than 30 states across the United States. And it includes rural serving institutions that include a mix of rural serving higher education programs, particularly around teacher preparation, but also community foundations and philanthropy partners that are rural serving and working on these same issues nonprofits and statewide advocacy organizations.
And so, the goal is there's a role for all of these organizations to play in making sure that we are supporting rural education, working together to align our strategies, and uplifting what is working such that we can, continue to work collaboratively to support rural America.
Michelle Rathman: You're like what I would consider in many cases, kind of like the safety net, where agencies and institutions might be falling behind or failing our students, your organization offers a safety net and a lot of areas. And one of those areas is your organization makes it very clear that intentional development of rural teacher leaders is a national imperative.
And I say, in fact, I can't think of a time in my history, working with rural communities when the need to support teachers was more urgent than today, and I would like for you to kind of explain the intentions and efforts of the Rural Teacher Corps Program and why they're so important because you'd have to be living under a rock today.
And I mean, that to not understand the challenges that real teachers are facing. They were before the pandemic. I would imagine you have a different perspective about what it's like today. So, let's talk about how important, without teachers, students in a classroom fending for themselves.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, absolutely. And this is one of our collaborative programs that we see as sort of a direct directly addressing the rural teacher shortage. So, there's certainly a national teacher shortage, and it is localized and varies by subject and by place. But we do know that rural communities, and particularly socioeconomically disadvantaged rural communities with high diverse populations are disproportionately affected by this rural teacher shortage.
And so, we know that for a long time, there have been programs that are focused on urban education, which is really needed, but there wasn't a counterpart that was really focused on rural specific education. And so, the concept was, instead of just training teachers for anywhere. We need to be intentional about training, supporting, recruiting, and placing teachers for a rural specific context.
And so, we now have sort of grown these types of efforts to include a network of more than 25 plus initiatives that are rural teacher cores. And so that's any initiative that is intentional about recruiting, preparing or retaining rural educators. There's a lot of different ways that these programs can look.
The idea is that they should be place based and place responsive depending on where they're located and what the existing assets are. But really being intentional about baking this in as part of our strategy has been key to thinking about the long-term health of that rural teacher pipeline.
Michelle Rathman: You know, when we talk about a rural teacher shortage and, I don't know, I know what it is in my industry. I don't know what it is, internally, because, we talk about rural healthcare workforce shortage. We're not just talking about nurses and physicians. We're talking about the full spectrum of the support that schools need to run, teachers are in classrooms and we need administration and so forth. Before we move on. I wonder if you are able to kind of give us a bit of a snapshot of the why behind the teacher shortages in rural. I mean, what are some of the conditions that are causing this shortage?
I know you can't speak for every single place, but what is your sense of what's going on behind the scenes to, create the situation where our pipelines aren't full as they say?
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, I think that it really varies school to school district to district, but we do often hear from our national partners in various places that there's a lot of concerns about the pay scale and rural schools being able to compete with some of their urban counterparts. So, I think even in the urban schools, we're acknowledging that sometimes teachers are underpaid, and that can get more challenging as you get into rural districts, depending on how they are funded.
So, salary is certain certainly one component, but there also is sometimes a perceived lack of amenity and amenities in rural places. So, folks are often not thinking of moving into rural communities as a place where you can go to the movie theaters and out for dinner. And so sometimes you have this perception of, oh, what will I do there?
So, it's also been really interesting, mentioning that Brookings report to think about spinning that narrative on its head, because the more we talk about. You know, rural is so scary and there's nothing for you there. And in fact, it has all these challenges and things stacked against it. Some of that is certainly true.
There's a lot of historical disinvestments in rural places and in rural education. However, there's also some really great advantages to being in smaller schools versus urban schools that don't get talked about enough and don't get elevated. And so much of this work around the rural teacher core initiatives has been, it has to be built on an asset-based framework of saying, here's what we've got.
You know, you've got small class sizes, which means you can build relationships with each of your students one on one because your school is smaller. You're more nimble. You don't have to go through as much red tape and paperwork. If you want to be innovative or try a new project, if there's a social support, you'll get probably 12 different dinner invites when you move to a new rural place for better or for worse.
You know, you kind of need to be aware that sometimes in rural. Everybody might know everybody and that can be a good thing or a bad thing, but there's certainly a sense of community and folks wanting to look out for one another in general in a lot of rural communities. And so, these are assets, right?
And those don't get talked about often enough, either locally or on that national narrative. And so, it's important to think about the stories that we're telling ourselves about rural places and are they disproportionately skewed to. Rural is at a lack, versus how do we elevate and celebrate some of the wonderful things happening in rural?
Michelle Rathman: It's a great point because if go out on social media or turn on any kind of news, they are there to report the bad stuff that's happening and the challenges that rural schools are facing. And in a previous episode, we got into kind of a master class about the bigger challenges, which we won't get into here.
But I was thinking, I noted that in 2016, which doesn't that seem like forever ago, but I think it's still really relevant. There was a gathering of stakeholders from Rural Schools Collaborative, where the question of, and this is the question, how do we work together to strengthen the recruitment, preparation and placement, and retention of future rural teacher leaders? And this was posed and a framework created, was created as a result of that question. So, walk us through some of the opportunities and priorities discussed at that time. And if you could kind of then put that, Overlay that to the year 2023-2024 school year and beyond.
What work has been done to achieve those goals? And maybe what are some of the shifts that you've made in response to what you could not have predicted in 2016?
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Absolutely. That was a great meeting. That was actually one of my first professional forays into Rural Schools Collaborative was helping to bring that 2016 meeting together and now to be back in this position leading the organization. It's really full circle for me. So that has a special place in my heart.
But that meeting was really wonderful because it was sort of the first example of this cross-sector collaborations. We had teachers who were currently in the classroom. We had higher ed administrators. We had educator preparation folks. We had community foundation leaders. So, you really had a lot of rural serving folks, in the same room saying, “How do we come together to support the rural teacher pathway?”
And so that was a really exciting conversation because you'll remember that Rural Schools Collaborative’s mission is creating sustainable rural communities. Which is this big umbrella, but that group came together and said, “Investing in rural teachers and investing in rural schools is such a wonderful economic development strategy that folks often don't think about.” So, in rural places, rural schools are often one of the largest, if not the largest employers, meaning they're very real source of jobs but they also, as you think about strong rural schools, when folks are thinking about moving into a new place, families may be looking at what's the strength of the schools, can I raise my family here before making a move?
But they also serve as this sort of, infrastructure and community vitality and meeting place in rural communities. And so, when we think about the long-term sustainability of rural places, preserving that and leaning into that, whether it's the place where they have sporting events, vaccine clinics, funerals, it really is the central hub of small towns.
And so leaning into how do we, as a broader community, not just hire at an educator preparation, but philanthropy, community members, how do we all come together to invest in rural schools? And so, it's interesting that you ask about how that has changed over time. I'd be happy to walk you through a little bit of some of the early outcomes there and what’s going on now.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, I would like to hear it because, I, Taylor, I, whether I have any right to feel this way or not, I do, and I'm going to share with you. I am very concerned about, I recognize how important rural schools are in the communities I work in, because the rural hospitals and rural schools they are they're codependent in many ways.
I mean, we, I think about times, long before when we talk about flu prevention and doing a hand washing program for every grade, you can't do it in urban the way you can do it in a rural because we can hit all the schools at once in one week and really make sure that we saturate a community with messaging.
They are. They have their, essential resources to help identify adverse childhood events, and behavioral health challenges and so forth. And I'm concerned about, I mean, to your point the local football game is so important and, rural high school sports are so important and all of that is wonderful at the same time we have to take a look. What's going on right now. And a lot of times, a lot of I think very unsettling chatter about defunding public schools and I mean, rural. Can least expect to lose any of their funding. And so, yeah, I would like to talk about some of that early framework, some of your wins, and then how you're able to kind of parlay some of that in and adjusting it to meet the challenges of today.
As we said, that did not exist, and you could have never foreseen all those years ago.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, absolutely. In 2016 that it felt like at that time, whether it was true or not, that it was sort of a radical thing to say, we need to invest in rural. And that was sort of a new idea. And so, we think about how that has happened in the last, 5, 6, 7 years has been fabulous.
There's now, state level grants, federal level grants that are saying, gosh, we need to make rural a priority. This has historically been underfunded. But back then, having a community foundation say, hey, we're going to make rural teachers scholarships as part of our philanthropy plan.
And we're going to partner with the higher ed education preparation folks in our region that are producing teachers. It's this really cool commitment of folks coming together to say, regardless of your role, community member, philanthropy partner, higher ed partner, the higher ed partners are saying, how do we make rural specific curriculum or opportunities or courses?
Cohorts of folks who get excited about teaching and can learn from one another. And so, there was a lot of energy around that in, in 2016, not just for the educator preparation programs, but also across these different sectors. But we also really leaned into the idea of, bringing caring young people into rural communities also ups the social capital and innovation of these places.
And that is still true. We'd love to think about folks that are on that traditional pathway of, I went to a four year higher ed, and now I'm a teacher, but we are also finding that that's not enough in a silo to think about that traditional pathway into rural teaching. In fact, in the last couple of years, there's been a lot of great resurgence of programs like, paraprofessionals into educator certified folks, and a lot of parapros in real places live there and work in the school and are really connected to the community. So, it's not a hard sell for them to think about becoming a teacher. And so, there's this really exciting initiative in the last few years where folks are nationally investing in second career or career changers to get into real communities.
And so, it may have been a little short sighted back in 2016 to say, yes, you know, young people bring social capital. It's like, no, we need to, think about multiple entry points into the pathway and celebrate each of those because caring people in rural schools, that's what is going to make each of these stronger.
And the last note I will say is that, rural in and of itself is a historically disproportionately represented and funded population. And there is that layer on top that is becoming an increasing focus of the national dialogue, which is diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And that, sort of politicalization and polarization can often get in the way of teachers being able to do their jobs effectively.
So there's also been a little bit of a reckoning, I think, as rural is getting elevated to say, “ Yes, and, these are small places that are very community based, but, you know, a tight knit community tight knit for whom?” How are we thinking about changing demographics in rural places or welcoming new folks into this space, particularly if they don't fit into the historical majority of that population?
So, there's still a lot of work to do for us to think about rural communities, welcoming folks who may not historically look like them. And the idea that rural communities are not diverse and that rural schools are not diverse is patently untrue. And so, I think that's part of the work we at Rural Schools Collaborative are trying to do is elevate that diversity in these places.
Michelle Rathman: Gosh, everything you're saying it, you could just it's like a side by side track. It is so true. And, so moving on from, the teachers’ aspect of the work that you do another core focus of the collaborative is a Place Based Education. And if you put those 3 words together, a lot of people won't even understand how to comprehend what they mean in the context of education.
But what is it? Just explain it in simple terms and its impact on rural classrooms and communities. Because I think what you're talking about is very important. I mean, we have to be able to meet people where they are. And we can expand opportunities for rural learners where they are. That's in my mind, that's maybe the best way to explain it.
But you'll do a much better job.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Absolutely. Yeah, we at Rural Schools Collaborative have been fortunate to partner with Teton Science Schools, and they do a lot of work around place-based education. They have a whole network of schools, both rural and urban, that have adopted place-based education as part of their day-to-day school curriculum.
And so, there's a lot of different ways to think about this. Folks may define it one way or the other. We often like to think about, how is th school of getting connected with their community or the community into the school? And you can think about that, whether that's people place resources. But the idea is that your curriculum and your experience for your students should be rooted and connected to where you are based.
So a great example is, if you have a math problem, that's about how many floors are there at a skyscraper. A skyscraper may not be relevant to a real student. But if you can teach them math by saying, hey, we've got a great FFA program. If you sell your eggs for X amount and element, really trying to think about bringing in those local elements that are relevant to these learners not only helps them have better outcomes in school and discipline and behavior, but also helps them have a much more engaged and interactive joy for being at school. And I think that has been a very exciting development when folks are thinking about, “how do we dip our toes in place-based education?”
Michelle Rathman: I think about the opportunities that, when you talked earlier about it's so important to have strong rural schools and in the context of economic development. So, kind of follow me on this track here, I've worked and I've interviewed a lot of folks over the years who are working to bring different industry to a rural community.
And I was just in a rural community a couple months ago where they said, listen, we need more economic development than just tourism, because tourism is not, it is not bringing in permanent dollars. It's kind of decimating local resources. It kind of depletes them and so forth. But if you think about an industry, wanting to go into a community of aerospace factory, or some kind of manufacturer, what have you, the schools are important.
And so I wonder about your concept of place-based education and how those kinds of economic development and growth opportunities could then be such an integral part, of exposing children, learn young learners to, would that be something that, that you all take a look at is partnering, local industry with schools and how they might be able to become a resource to, to provide richness in their education?
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Absolutely, and I think that the most exciting thing about place-based education is that it can and should look different depending on each school's context. And so, there's this great opportunity to think about that being flexible to meet the local workforce needs. And I think that that's an incredible opportunity for rural communities to sort of reimagine how that learning stays relevant and innovative for the students who are in that in those areas.
But to your point as well of the economic development and just thinking about, long-term rural community sustainability place-based education also offers something that is not often talked about in rural schools, which is here's what's great about our community. Here are our community assets and here's how you can get involved in your community.
And so, it takes, obviously, years and years for us to see how this will play out. But, at Rural Schools Collaborative, our informal theory is that the more you can get students to appreciate where they live and see that there are exciting opportunities here for them, the more they can learn about the local industries and start to see themselves as future community leaders, you might really be addressing some of that bright flight or folks leaving these rural areas by just giving them engaging curriculum that ties to where they live.
And just an anecdotal piece here is that, most of our staff at Rural Schools Collaborative grew up in small towns and the narratives that we got when we were growing up was, there's nothing for you here. You need to do well in school so that you can go somewhere else and be successful.
And we often like to think, what if we had had place-based education where we were growing up to say, here's what's wonderful about where you live. Did you know the amazing history of where you live? Did you know these opportunities and areas of expertise and opportunity here? Might we have stayed in our hometowns longer versus going out and doing something different?
And so, I think that that can be a really exciting future area for us to keep an eye on, of, how might place-based education build that rural identity and sort of pride in where you live and hopefully build the next generation of future rural community leaders.
Michelle Rathman: I, and I think that's an excellent point because again, I was talking to in a business conversation this week to a rural hospital CEO, and we were talking about the fact that there was this kind of trend in their rural community. And we know you've seen one real community, that's hence your thoughts about place-based education, it can't look the same for everybody. Because that. Completely blows the whole theory out of the water, but, you know, the older generation who knew the history of the community, they're dwindling.
And then younger people who are coming in, have no emotional attachment, no historical attachment. And so, what you're talking about is creating that, those planting, those seeds, the early building of empowerment of value, and what could that do?
And I see that you have current network statute, 21 schools. And is it the Teton example, 3,000 plus students have been impacted and 100 plus educators. And that might not seem like a lot compared to the numbers I was reading at the top of the program, but multiply that, right, Taylor?
I mean, now you're talking about, you'll follow, you're able to follow students through their educational journey. And we say when there's no pathways, there's no pipelines and your hope then, I suppose, is not just rural leaders, but they would come back and consider being rural educators and paying it forward that same way.
Oh, my gosh. All right, so we're going to jump back over to the workforce shortages, because a project that Rural Schools Collaborative, which I love and the National Rural Education Association is the I Am Rural Teacher Project. Love it. So what resources are available for teachers and schools and what have been talk about?
What is the I am Rural Teacher Project? What are the resources available to them? And what have been some of the impacts with a Rural Teacher Resiliency Guide? And I have to say, I mean, you've been using resiliency guide long before resiliency was the buzzword. Everyone was supposed to be resilient after the pandemic, whatever that looks like.
But I'm curious from your perspective, that program celebrates the accomplishments of rural teachers. It's fabulous. Talk to us about
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, absolutely. This has been a really great collaborative project, not only between Rural Schools Collaborative and the National Rural Education Association, but also between some of those partners I mentioned earlier, like the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and some of our regional higher ed folks that are doing those teacher preparation programs of saying, we all need to come together to showcase, not only celebrating the role that rural teachers play in their communities, but also spotlighting each of these rural communities in a different way.
Because, as you said, if you've seen one, rural community, you've only seen one, it's different everywhere you go. But the whole goal of that project has really been to think about advocacy through the lens of just teacher perspectives and letting them tell their own story, and celebrating their careers and their place. And it has really taken off, much more than we ever could have really dreamt.
It has allowed us to think beyond storytelling, which remains a core component of the project. But really about what types of resources might be offered now that we've been doing this project for 6, 7 plus years, we've got this sort of treasure trove of teacher perspectives. And so, the Resiliency Guide is something that our Young Educators Advisory Council, which is a group of young teachers in their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year of teaching in rural communities all across the U.S. They came together and said, what I wish I would have known when I 1st started is. X, Y, Z. And we said, “what if we made some sort of guide that captured this advice?” And so that's how the Resiliency Guide was born. And it's still a pretty informal document, but I think it's exciting to think about, again, breaking it down into sort of the three different components of not just how do teachers be resilient.
That's sort of one element, but also how do administrators help their new rural teachers get connected and be resilient and build the skill sets that they're going to need to stay there long term? And then the third category that we really leaned into is what's the role of community members and also making sure their rural teachers are welcomed, that they're finding housing, that they understand how to get plugged into the community because
Michelle Rathman: That the level of involvement is appropriate.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Exactly, and so that's a really important piece is really thinking about community members also understanding that welcoming new teachers is part of their responsibility and honestly, a joy too.
So, that guide has been really fun to sort of bring in those different elements of our organization's expertise and condense them into sort of a handy toolkit to help rural teachers who are just getting started.
Michelle Rathman: I wonder in light of, the last three years and some of the issues that we'll be talking about, have talked about, will continue to talk about in this series if there are some other areas that you'll have to kind of delve into. I mean we take a look at eLearning, the challenges that has posed for teachers for parents for administrators, and not the least of which our students. When we talk about, we will be facing potentially another wave of covert coming up here and the damage that's been done with respect to just being able to educate people on the basics of public health.
I think about some of the challenges with libraries. Being closed, I think about. All those things, and I would imagine that calls for a whole new toolbox of resiliency. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about some of the planning that you might have going into adding to those tools. What are you hearing? What are you seeing? What's being done to help rural teachers who are having to divide their attention from being awesome educators, and then being navigators of controversial subject matters?
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, I will say that one of the new things that we are often thinking about with our partners is how do we think about tackling the rural teacher or rural school isolation? You know, how do we create projects or spaces that bring rural leaders or rural teachers or rural students together so that they can really have this larger community that are facing a lot of the same challenges and opportunities and learn from one another and support one another? So there's a great example of this where there's a myth that real schools are not innovative, but in fact, they have had to be kind of innovative and scrappy due to often a lack of resources.
And so they can be really hubs of innovation. And we've certainly seen that throughout the pandemic. A great example is there's a group of rural schools in Arizona, where they have maybe one teacher who is certified to do dual credit dual enrollment teaching. And so how do they take that one teacher and using zoom, zoom in multiple grades for multiple schools? To have this class with the teacher such that there's equal opportunity for these rural students to achieve dual credit and think about pathways and CTE. And so, despite some of the challenges that are very real, there's still a lot of innovation in terms of real schools coming together to say, “What do we have that we can share? How do we work together?”
Another great example of this is there's a group in the Ozarks of schools who said we want to work together instead of pit our schools against each other to recruit teachers to our entire Ozarks region and so they made a collaborative website. Each. school put in sort of X number of dollars to help launch a website. And they made this really, really interesting website that said, “We've got great nature here. We are welcoming. We've got low cost of living. You want to come teach here.” But had a single school tried to do that on their own it would have been cost prohibitive.
And so there's all sorts of really exciting collaborations happening in rural places. And enroll. To make sure that we're sort of collectively addressing some of these challenges to the best of our ability. And I think that is really exciting.
Michelle Rathman: love that idea. That's a fantastic idea. With the time we have, I have to go here. I have to pivot here because, we know schools need resources. We hear all the time, and I am the parent of an educator at two in my family. My daughter was, and my daughter in law as well, spending their own money on resources for the classroom, but schools need resources.
So, can you help our listeners understand how philanthropic strategies, were it not for philanthropy. Unfortunately, there are many, many things in this country that would not be funded and. And the, what would be considered the extra things, but they're not, they're the essential things for rural schools to thrive.
And that's what we're, that's what we're going for, right? We're going for thriving. So, talk to our listeners about how philanthropic strategies play a crucial role in school community development.
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Absolutely. First, I'll share that we at Rural Schools Collaborative we can't talk the talk without walking the walk. And so over the last, eight or so years, we've invested more than half a million dollars in direct grants to rural teachers and rural classrooms, and that's been through a lot of different pieces of collaboration with our partners, with community foundations.
It's certainly not us in isolation, but I just want to give a shout out for any teachers or schools listening that we do on an annual cycle, have a Grants in place program that helps you do place based education type projects where you can. Get creative and invite the community members in. So that's one very real way in which we offer direct resources to rural schools, and it will never feel like enough, no matter how high that dollar amount goes.
So outside of just the work that we, as an organization do, there's a really exciting model out there of building foundations. And leaning into regional community foundations as partners in rural education. So, here in Illinois, where I'm based, the Galesburg Community Foundation has a fabulous program where they have many grants for teachers, where you can apply for a $500, whatever you need for your classroom.
And so, community foundations have a wonderful role to play. Play in sort of that localized regional philanthropy and school foundations. So creating a fund that's just to support schools really, for all the reasons we just talked about benefit the entire community. And so, you can start to make a case to your local manufacturers. Hey, giving to a school foundation, is going to help you build up your workforce and our community for who you need, you know, five years from now. So, I think that there can be really compelling ways to think about philanthropy on a local scale of saying if we all invest in our school through something like a community foundation or a school fund, that's going to help our region long term.
But I'll also zoom out to the national perspective too. So, rural communities have historically been extremely, extremely under invested in by philanthropy in general beyond community foundations. And so, I think that it's important for national funders and philanthropic folks to really be thinking about “how do you do that rural investment in a way that is equal to, or different from the ways that you've been investing in urban places?”
And so that has been a joy for us is in the last couple of years, serving as sort of an intermediary for large philanthropic group saying, gosh, we need to think about investing in these places. And we can say, we've got a fabulous framework of folks who have been doing this work for quite some time.
Help us help you. And I think that that model is really interesting, because even small investments in rural communities, whether it's $2000, $5,000, $10,000, those stretch really far. If you give a teacher a $500 check, they're somehow going to find a way to make it, doubled or tripled by the time you can blink.
And so that can be a great thing for rural places, but it also makes the challenge of national philanthropy to say, writing $500 checks at a national level is not great ROI and it's hard to manage. Right? And so there's a bit of a tension of push and pull in that. I think philanthropy at the national level is having a bit of a reckoning about how do we authentically fund rural places while knowing that we need inherently a different strategy than what we've been doing?
Michelle Rathman: There's no other way to sustain if we don't, I mean, you can't constantly have your hand out to be able to, to keep things going. We need sizable contributions for us to have sustainability and we recognize how important it is for them to see outcomes. And that might look like to your point, higher graduation rates.
Children going on to post-secondary education, coming back and contributing to their communities as leaders, as educators themselves as entrepreneurs themselves. Okay. Before we go Taylor, lastly, by the way, we're neighbors. We're very close to each other. I have, I know of a small critical access hospital where you are, but I do want you to put on your kind of futuristic thinking cap, which can be hard to do when it's challenging to understand what's going to happen tomorrow because none of us, I mean, again, every day. I marvel. I can't believe that actually happened, but it does. What does the organization see as the greatest threats for rural teachers, students in schools? And with that, some of the untapped opportunities for them to thrive, if you could just think about that for a moment and share, because we can't, if we don't think about it, we can't do anything about it. We can't be preventative or proactive. We end up dealing with that, which we choose not to manage. So, what do you see as the threats and opportunities?
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke: Yeah, that's a really fabulous question. I think that. The polarization and politicization of the teaching profession is really challenging and is making it hard for us to let those teachers do their jobs and for other folks to think about getting inspired to go into that, that teaching field.
But there is sort of a larger question of how much do we, as individuals and organizations have sort of direct control over really moving the needle on something as big as, some of these national level topics? And so, when I get overwhelmed with thinking about that as a challenge, I think coming back to sort of what can we do that is going to set us up for future success?
And it really starts with us and how we talk to one another about the teaching profession. And when I first interviewed for this job, I said, I won't rest until all of our teachers are treated with the same level of respect, and dollar investment as we do our doctors or our celebrities. It is that important.
We're only giving them the job of raising our entire future community members, right? And so, I think that we really need to, as individuals, as communities, as media outlets, clean up our narrative a little bit of for about yes, there are a lot of challenges, but we also really need to celebrate the value of that and invest in it appropriately.
And I think that that can really start at the individual level. And that gives me a lot of hope. So, whether it's in our places where we live or otherwise, how do we look for opportunities to celebrate educators, to celebrate education to give of our time, give of our dollars, or give of our stories and our thanks?
That goes a long way.
Michelle Rathman: and Taylor, the young people are watching, they are watching us and they are waiting for us. They are watching us. They're watching how we relate to each other. How we communicate with each other. They're watching how we lead. Or how we don't lead. And so, I think those are all excellent points.
Oh, my goodness. We could carry on this conversation forever. Taylor McCabe-Juhnke. It's been wonderful to have you here as a part of our very keen focus on rural education here on the rural impact. So, for those of you who are listening, I just want to remind you again that these are not light subjects, but in the end, we really our goal is to help enlighten you on subjects that you may not think are directly impacting your lives But they are if it's affecting the young lives of young people. It's affecting our future. And there so we're so appreciative for you joining in and I just want to remind you that You know your subscription to The Rural Impact is so important.
It helps us just keep elevating this. So if you have not subscribed you can do it on any platform you want. And if you don't want to subscribe on a social or on one of those channels, you can just go to theruralimpact.com Every episode is up there, the transcripts are up there. If you want to grab the transcripts as well.
I just want to make sure that I also say that I, a big thank you to Brea Corsaro. She's our associate producer. She does so much work behind the scenes. I also want to thank Sarah Staub, who I say all the time is mad creative. She does all the graphics, all the post-production work. And I want to thank Jonah Mancino for his original music for this podcast. When I first heard it, I knew of all the examples he sent us that that was the one because it just really spoke to me. So those are important people in my life. I want to thank I want to invite you to tune back in for, we'll have another episode in this particular series. And of course, be listening for our Rural Impact Extras.
And we'll be talking to newsmakers, policymakers, people within different federal departments and agencies who will kind of carry on these important conversations, because if they're important enough for us to talk about one time. I'm certain it's important for us to just carry that on when the news breaks.
So again, to all of you, thank you for listening to The Rural Impact and we'll talk to you again the next time on this new podcast, The Rural Impact. Take care. Talk to you soon.