A strong school is the backbone of a community.

Rural schools often get shorted when it comes to funding compared to schools located in the suburbs or cities, but many face the same challenges.

Child poverty is at a rate of 64% in rural counties. Teacher recruitment and retention is also a challenge. The struggle to pay competively often creates a bouncing board for first year teachers and administrators who come to gain experience and move on to better opportunities. Local districts such as Aitkin have felt the blow of leadership turnover, making it difficult to move forward with any difinitive direction or plan.

The culture of learning has shifted to technology-driven curriculum, which opens a whole other can of worms for rural districts within Aitkin County, which ranks low on the broadband service spectrum.

Successful rural schools must uniquely utilize community resources in the classroom, and make connections for students to become the future workforce of an area.

What are the needs of our community that can be solved through connections with our local school districts? Administration has to think outside the box. In order to do that, they must step outside of the box and become involved in broader aspects of the community, like economic development. More partnerships are needed within our small communities between our struggling districts and industries.

Yet, where are the key players when these discussions are taking place? Over the past two years, I’ve seen a representative or two from the schools join in a handful of economic development meetings through the Aitkin Area Chamber of Commerce. I believe this effort on behalf of the school could improve, and hope it will with new leadership in place.

There is an opportunity that is currently missed by both parties, those business people who wish to build a strong economic future for the area, and the schools that wish to send students out to be successful members of society.

There are shortages in trucking, health care, education, trades and more. Some of these are recognized, but even more need to be expanded on and opportunities explored creatively. In what ways could these local industries be incorporated into our districts to solve the problem of industry shortage and proper education, and opportunites for students? Just some food for thought.

Brielle Bredsten is the editor of the Aitkin Independent Age.

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