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Family, School & Community Engagement

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Families are their child’s first and lifelong teachers. MAEC has expertise in building strong school and community cultures by facilitating integrated, sustainable partnerships linked to student learning and well-being, leadership, and academic optimism.  Currently, MAEC operates the federally funded regional statewide family engagement center in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE). Educators, families, and community members are essential partners in improving school climates and increasing academic achievement. Researchers find that family engagement is especially critical for low-income, racially diverse, and limited-English proficient students because it can mitigate the negative effects of alienation and poverty. To increase high impact, culturally responsive family engagement, MAEC provides services that include professional learning and technical assistance to families, school districts, school staff, parent and community organizations, and government agencies.


Community Resource Mapping – FSCE

MAEC uses a strengths-based approach for asset mapping, since often the best solutions come from within the communities in which our districts/schools reside. These key stakeholders include districts, schools, communities, and families all who are seeking to increase student achievement. To this end, MAEC conducts community walks and community resource mapping to identify potential partners and allies for effective and efficient delivery of services. This process includes attention to alignment between district and school needs and priorities so together partners can build the social and human capital that will help students and staff thrive.

Comprehensive Needs Assessment

Beginning with a disaggregated data analysis of student achievement, student discipline, and school climate, MAEC is able to effectively determine client strengths and areas of need. This collaborative inquiry approach enables MAEC to examine multiple sources of data. Using a culturally responsive and equity framework, further creates opportunities to develop operational action plans to tackle complex challenges that pose barriers to gains in student achievement.

Culturally Responsive Family, School, and Community Engagement

When families’ partner with schools and community organizations,  children thrive. To produce the best results for students, MAEC builds the capacity of families, educators, schools, and community organizations to collaborate, exchange ideas, and develop and implement policies and action plans. We build on the collaborative strengths of families, educators, and community members so they can each contribute to the development and success of diverse students.

Culturally Responsive Leadership

Leaders set the tone and expectations of any organization. They do this by responding effectively to the diverse communities that they serve, being asset-focused, and proactive problem solvers. Culturally responsive leadership technical assistance provides a multi-dimensional framework that builds capacity of educators who are culturally informed and highly skilled in culturally responsive practice.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Culturally responsive pedagogy is a method and practice of teaching in which educators and providers build on the assets that their students and families bring into the classroom. As the populations of our students grow more diverse, staff must be better prepared to respond to their needs. This requires a greater understanding and knowledge of their students’ culture, strengths, and socio-political contexts. With this practice, schools can become hubs of learning focused on the well being of the students and families being served.

FSCE Trainer-of-Trainers

Successful high-impact FSCE depends on the skills and knowledge of a variety of stakeholders. MAEC conducts FSCE Trainer-of-Trainers for Title I and Title III family engagement specialists, ESOL teachers, and counselors to increase the capacity of staff to engage diverse families in their children’s education.

Parent Academy Planning and Monitoring

Parent academies are a great way for schools and districts to engage families. However, to be effective requires intentional and strategic planning. MAEC facilitates the development of a comprehensive district-wide approach for action planning, provider identification, and outcome monitoring to ensure parent academy success.

Parent Leadership Trainer-of-Trainers

Strong FSCE is built on the collaboration between schools and families. MAEC delivers a FSCE trainer-of-trainers model to district/school parent outreach staff to develop a strong cadre of parent/community leaders. Schools and districts are most successful when parent/community leaders can successfully navigate their children’s schools, including understanding the importance of being engaged in their children’s education, advocating for access to rigorous curriculum, and collaborating with school staff in shared decision-making to better serve students.

Policy & Procedural Reviews

In educational systems, policies and procedures often inform practice. However, some policies or procedures may have unintended consequences when implemented that serve to further silo organizational efforts to close opportunity gaps. To address this challenge, MAEC provides state departments, districts, schools, and organizations with policy and procedural reviews to ensure they are equitable, effective, and comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT) Trainer-of-Trainers

Trained by APTT’s creator, Maria C. Paredes, MAEC offers APPT training to district staff and/or school clusters wishing to adopt this comprehensive FSCE model. This model includes strategies for sharing student data, establishing student goals, and providing families with activities to practice foundational skills with their children at home.  The APTT model incorporates three, 75- minute academic parent-teacher meetings, one 30 minute individual parent-teacher conference, and a library of at-home activities that are aligned with foundational skills student need to have to be at or above grade level.

Entre Nosotros, Between Us: Transitions into Kindergarten: Trainer-of-Trainers

Entre Nosotros was developed as a trainer-of-trainers curriculum to prepare childcare providers, early childhood centers, preschools, and kindergarten educators with parent workshops aimed at easing the transition into kindergarten. The five two hour lessons cover topics such as: (1) Importance of family engagement in student success; (2) Tips for School Success, including explanation of cultural expectations for new immigrant parents; (3) Communication & Positive Discipline; (4) Home Support for Learning; and (5) Family Literacy & Celebration! This curriculum is available in English and Spanish.

Family Engagement in the Classroom

This teacher induction curriculum, co-created with the Flamboyan Foundation, is designed to give teachers the strategies and tools to help them engage families in their classrooms. Teachers receive example lessons, interactive homework, and tools to better understand, and bring into the classroom, student’s and family’s funds of knowledge. These skills help teachers create welcoming classrooms and establish positive relationships with families to build student success.

Informed Parents, Successful Children: Trainer-of-Trainers (IPSC)

Originally developed in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education, IPSC promotes the positive development and school readiness of young children by delivering training to parents, family day care providers, and community based organizations serving linguistically diverse families. IPSC materials include a Trainer of Trainer’s Guide in English and Spanish and Child Development Pamphlets for parents in English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and French. The culturally responsive workshops aim to encourage children’s cognitive, physical, socio-emotional, language, and literacy development. The curricula is divided into activities for ages 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-18 months, 18 months-3 years, and 3 yrs-5yrs old. The user friendly materials provide trainers and parents with developmentally appropriate and fun activities using items commonly found in parents’ homes.

Paving the Way to College and Careers: Families and Schools Together

This progressive, 9th-12th grade curriculum, offers high school counselors with five, 1.5 hour lessons they can deliver to parents/students to help them get ready for college/careers. The lessons are structured to achieve five main goals: 1) Strengthen the parent/student relationship by providing a safe and structured space for dialogue; 2) Establish a strong connection between parents/students with their high school counselors; 3) Increase student/family knowledge of the academic and developmental milestones they will encounter in high school;  4) Develop skills and strategies necessary to be on track for a post-secondary education/career; and 5) Successfully complete a PSAT/PLAN, SAT/ACT, FAFSA, and college/technical education application or job application.

¡Bien Educados!

MAEC is partnering with the Maryland State Department of Education to develop a statewide communications network called ¡Bien Educados! This project will bring together policymakers, state and district education leaders, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and governmental agencies that serve the   state’s Latino community.  The network will provide timely and actionable information, tips, and strategies so that Latino families can better advocate and support their children’s education. The goals are:

  • Increase the number of strategic communication partners who participate in the network;
  • Increase the number of Latinos and Latino-serving providers interfacing with MSDE to gain information, tips, and strategies on how to help support their children’s education;
  • Disseminate an annual Latino communications survey to policymakers, educators, providers, organizations, and families to determine the educational needs of Latinos; and
  • Provide an opportunity to create a community of practice across the state where policymakers, educators, and providers can share best practices for engaging Latinos in education to close achievement gaps.
¡Bien Educados! seeks to create cultural brokers with educators and providers who are already serving the Latino community so that they can inspire and encourage Latino families to engage in their children’s schooling and work together to close achievement gaps in their communities.

Post Image ¡Adelante! Moving Forward!

A Guide to Empower Parents of English Learners to Advocate for their Children Book Cover of ¡Adelante! Moving Forward! In 2010, approximately five million students in the United States were identified as English Learners (ELs). Students under this category have different English proficiency levels and years of formal education. Schools must be able to support students of different backgrounds and proficiency levels equally and ensure access to quality education for academic success as they continue to learn English. There is a substantial body of legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which protects the rights of these students. Unfortunately, many families of ELs are unaware of these laws and thus cannot advocate for their children. ¡Adelante! Moving Forward! A Guide to Empower Parents of English Learners to Advocate for their Children is designed as an informational training tool to provide trainers of immigrant families and family leaders with user-friendly and accessible information regarding the legal responsibilities of educational agencies serving ELs and the rights of families of ELs. The publication was developed through a partnership between the MAEC and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP). It is available in English and Spanish.


Post Image 21st-Century Learning at Home: A Guide for Families and Caregivers of English Learners to Support Project-Based Learning at Home

This CAFE guide is designed for families and caregivers to support and lead English Learners through projects at home. The activities within the guide promote communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking while engaging with a child’s culture, family background, and home languages. Each project has the following sections: the purpose of the project, materials suggested, questions for children, instruction to complete each section, and additional activities and resources. Children can complete projects individually or in groups, with more adult support for younger children. In this guide, the term “family member” includes parents, extended family, and caregivers, as we recognize that families are defined in many ways.


Post Image Building Leaders: An Educator’s Guide to Family Leadership

Develop family leadership programs that increase engagement and support for families in positive ways using inclusive and diversity-focused strategies. Learn how to update family leadership programs to consider students' and families' diverse knowledge and tools for success. A successful leadership program must identify and work with a family's unique needs, experience, and knowledge to establish a strong relationship and trust. Educators can use the MAEC Family Engagement Model to transform family leadership programs for inclusivity using intentionally collaborative approaches that focus on relationship building, knowledge and skills, confidence and efficacy, and advocacy. This resource offers detailed overviews of 12 family leadership models addressing the needs of diverse populations, testimonial insights from educators and family leaders, and resources for each area of the model.


Post Image Community Engagement for Student Success

Part of CEE’s Exploring Equity Issues series, this paper defines community engagement and offers strategies on ways schools and communities can work together to support student achievement.    

Community Engagement for Student Success

PART 1: WHAT DO WE MEAN BY COMMUNITY? How should we define community? Of the many working definitions of “community,” we prefer the definition offered by Chavis and Lee: “Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet common needs [and experience]. Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other. They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of the community, influence their environments and each other” (2015). This definition acknowledges both the aspirational goals that individual people and entities bring to a place and the sense of connection that emerges. These aspirational goals are often understated, particularly for low-income individuals and people of color and the communities in which they live. Each community has a complex makeup of intricate systems, cultures, and resources. Developing relevant and lasting systems for safe and supportive school environments requires communities, and the people and institutions within them, to be at the center. Tackling complex problems requires change within and across institutions and local systems and among the individuals working and living within them. Schools exist within communities. When a community is engaged in schooling, the entire school (including students and teachers) has expanded access to the resources offered by the community. The community also has an opportunity to deepen its investment in the outcomes of its youth. Community engagement is commonly used to describe place-based institutional-and individual-level collaboration. Recently, placed-based initiatives have adopted some consistent structures and practices that we should apply to our work toward safe and supportive school environments. A 2015 Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy report identifies two critical components of place-based initiatives—neighborhood initiatives and systems initiatives. Both components align to create tangible, lasting improvements (Hopkins and Ferris, 2015). When considering processes and strategies for engaging diverse communities – particularly marginalized communities – leaders in a school or district must first consider their own readiness. Engaging communities in change that will affect them requires leadership to adopt early on a set of agreements or principles that ground efforts and engagement. CEE’s forthcoming publication, The “C” in FSCE, explains and expands upon two grounding constructs: Cultural and Linguistic Competence (CLC) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). We provide these constructs as models of common and useful tools to create a guidepost for collaboration and as an accountability tool that might serve as a reference point throughout the collaboration process. PART II: WHAT CAN WE DO? Understand and acknowledge the different types of neighborhoods and circumstances. One size does not fit all, and no two problems are the same. Schools may need to collect data to understand the unique assets and barriers within their communities. Educators can learn this by: • Conducting community walks, • Scheduling meetings (such as PTO meetings) at a community center instead of the school, • Conducting home visits, • Going to community events, and • Holding community events that you think people will attend. Community asset mapping offers a clear picture of the resources and gaps from a strengths-based, community-driven perspective. By mapping community assets, you can learn about the specific skills, services, and capacities present in the community that can support school, staff, students, and families. Resident engagement can take different forms, but without shared leadership and responsibility for defining goals, residents are often just used as “window dressing” for a prescribed initiative.“Community engagement” is not necessarily or always community centered. Community engagement exists on a spectrum. The International Association for Public Participation (2007) drafted a spectrum highlighting the levels of a community-centered change and improvement process (see graphic below). Think creatively about people who should be involved. Community organizations, faith-based organizations, and local businesses, for example, all have people who have a vested interest in the community. Their ideas and perspectives can enhance the process. Hopkins and Ferris (2015) assert that “[f]or initiatives to be sustainable there must also be a broad base of local leaders—and ways to continually renew or circulate leadership over time.” Efforts to define and create safe and supportive school environments should focus on shared leadership and should be mindful that: • All perspectives matter. • Assumptions and values should be explicit. • Inclusion is complex and not always easy to implement. • Broadened definitions of knowledge and data are necessary. • Community is complex and diverse. Sometimes, the community is there to support the school. Sometimes, the school is there to support the community. For example, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Lower Price Hill community underwent enormous change. Most students in the area live in poverty and for many years most students did not graduate high school. After the Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the state financing system was unconstitutional, the state had an opportunity and expectation that it could turn around schools like Oyler Community Learning Center (formerly Oyler School). “Community members and parents played an integral role in the planning and implementation of the community school effort. It was the members of the community that pushed for the transformation into a preK-12 school. Local businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations were involved as planning partners and continue to participate with parents and residents in guiding Oyler’s work.” Though not out of the woods yet, “since becoming a community school, Oyler's students are graduating from high school and matriculating to college in record numbers. Oyler has graduated more students in the neighborhood from high school in the past 3 years than in the collective 85 prior years. Oyler has steadily improved student achievement” (IEL, 2018). As a result of intentional community engagement, OCLC has seen an improvement in student graduation rates and has deep community-based relationships with youth and family serving organizations that provide, vision, health (physical and mental), civic engagement, family food services, tutoring/mentoring, college access supports, and employment supports ( Higher education institutions also engage in building community. The University of Minnesota has a Resilient Communities Project, “a crossdisciplinary program…that supports one-year partnerships between the University and communities in Minnesota to advance local sustainability and resilience.” The project is designed to connect students and faculty to communities in order to build local capacity around sustainability and resilience issues. While helping the community, the University is also training the next generation of leaders to be future sustainability practitioners ( For the 2018-2019 year, U of M chose to engage with two counties: Scott County (a rapidly growing and diversifying area in the southwestern Twin Cities metropolitan area) and Ramsey County (in the heart of the Twin Cities metropolitan area). “The collaboration provided the city and its residents with case studies, data analysis, concept plans, designs, and policy recommendations to build resilience in Ramsey, and offered more than 275 students the opportunity to tackle real projects as part of their coursework, working directly with Ramsey city staff, residents, and business owners.” Keep an eye out for our forthcoming publication that will help schools and school systems leverage a community’s fuller capacity to support students’ overall well being and academic achievement. It will offer specific strategies and resources to engage diverse communities and to help guide schools and school communities to understand and create common frames for planning with cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity in mind. Written by Phoebe Schlanger, MAEC Adapted from a forthcoming CEE publication by Vanessa Coleman, EdD RESOURCES Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD) Coalition for Community Schools I Institute for Educational Leadership, Community Research Lab Toolkit Janice C. Burns, Dagmar Pudrzynska Paul, and Silvia R. Paz Advancement Project—Healthy City December 2011, updated April 2012 “Logic Model Workbook,” Innovation Network, Inc. Participatory Asset Mapping: A Community Research Lab Toolkit Advancement Project Washington, DC:Advancement Project—Healthy City Community Research Lab, 2011 REFERENCES Chavis, D. and Lee, K.. What Is Community Anyway? Our Understanding of Community Can Help Funders and Evaluators Identify, Understand, and Strengthen the Communities They Work With, Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change, May 12, 2015, Coalition for Community Schools I Institute for Educational Leadership, website, Oyler School, retrieved August 30, 2018 from Coalition for Community Schools I Institute for Educational Leadership, “Community School: Profile of Oyler Community Learning Center,” retrieved August 30, 2018 from Hopkins, E. and Ferris, J., eds., Place-Based Initiatives in the Context of Public Policy and Markets: Moving to Higher Ground (Los Angeles: University of Southern California: Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy and USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, March 2015), Hayes, C. , Juarez, B. (2012). There Is No Culturally Responsive Teaching Spoken Here: A Critical Race Perspective. Democracy and Education, 20 (1), Article 1. International Association of Public Participation [IAP2]. (2007). IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation. Retrieved from Scaccia, J., Cook, B., Lamont, A., Wandersman, A., Castellow, J., Katz, J., et al. (2014). A practical implementation science heuristic for organizational readiness: R = MC2. Journal of Community Psychology, 43, 484–501. The University of Minnesota, Resilient Communities Project website, retrieved August 30, 2018 from

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Post Image Culturally Responsive Leaders

Part of CEE’s Exploring Equity Issues series, this paper examines why it is important for educators to be culturally responsive leaders in order to address the needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Using one of CEE's case studies, it highlights several preconditions necessary for achieving this and outlines the Essential Elements of Cultural Competence.

Culturally Responsive Leaders

PART I: TIMES HAVE CHANGED, AND THEY HAVEN’T The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that in 2014,students of color represented slightly more than half (50.5%) of all public school students, an increase from 38.8% in 2000 (McFarland et al., 2018). Meanwhile, teacher demographics have remained stagnant. NCES data list 81.9% of public school teachers in 2012 as White (the latest year available), a small decrease from 84.3% in 2000 (Musu-Gillette et al., 2016, US ED, 2016). They are not just White; they are predominantly White, female, and middle class. Why is this important? Research shows that students’ race, ethnicity, and cultural background significantly influence their achievement (Aceves & Orosco, 2014). Yet many teachers are inadequately prepared to address the needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse learners (Skiba, et al., 2011; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Miller, 2009). Culturally responsive teachers can close the achievement gap by fostering academic optimism, raising expectations of excellence, connecting with each student’s prior knowledge, and delivering content knowledge in ways students can understand (Ball & Forzani, 2011; Farr, 2010; Brown et al., 2009; Miller, 2009). Culturally responsive leaders nurture and maintain high-quality teaching, and foster an inclusive community that builds on teacher, student, and family assets. The recognition that schools need culturally responsive teachers and leaders is not new. In 2005, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) published a report on preparing and supporting diverse, culturally responsive leaders (then referred to as culturally competent leaders). It grew out of a series of meetings among practitioners in the field. It was intended to provide field-based insights from people working in/with leadership development programs for school leaders across the country. The report outlined five themes: 1. Educational leaders who are not culturally competent cannot be fully effective. 2. Culturally competent leaders work to understand their own biases as well as patterns of discrimination. They have the skills to mitigate the attendant negative effects on student achievement and the personal courage and commitment to persist. 3. Much of what culturally competent leaders must know and be able to do is learned in relationships with families and communities. 4. Culturally competent leadership develops over time and needs to be supported from preparation through practice. Creating collaborative frameworks and structures can be useful. 5. State and local policies need to build a sense of urgency about preparing culturally competent leaders (IEL, 2005). A Case Study CEE engaged in a technical assistance project with a school district that was designed to assist educators in becoming culturally responsive leaders. This district of 3,600 students had four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Its student population was 77% White, 3% African American, 13% Asian, 4% two or more races, and 4% Latino/a. Less than 1% were English learners and 4% were economically disadvantaged. One of the superintendent’s priorities for the school year was for district staff to develop an understanding of the importance of culturally responsive pedagogy and practice. He requested assistance to facilitate conversations on race, class, and gender. The district had received three complaints from families who reported receiving unfair treatment. He recognized the challenges of addressing potentially deeply-rooted biases. CEE began work at the elementary school with the greatest diversity of students. CEE offered a professional development workshop to about 50 school staff along with the superintendent. The workshop was designed to allow persons of different backgrounds to gain an  understanding of culturally responsive teaching in a non-threatening way. It focused on developing an understanding of how cultural background and prior experiences shape mindsets and worldviews. The goal was for teachers to be able to use this information to shape how they engage with and support students from diverse backgrounds. The session provided an opportunity for teachers and the superintendent to discuss reports from some families regarding their discomfort in the district and how the district could implement strategies to address these concerns. Initial teacher response to the session was generally positive, but teachers questioned why the district was offering this session. They also appreciated having an opportunity for discussion and the reminder that people are defined by so many characteristics. But they would have liked to have been given suggestions on how to treat students more equitably and given more time to brainstorm together to come up with a plan and tools for engaging parents in this work. CEE conducted a discussion with a smaller group of school and district staff to see how to move the project more quickly. They agreed to  focus on facilitating sessions among teachers to help them feel less defensive and become more open to addressing issues of culture and equity in the district. To be successful, staff need the rationale behind the professional development so that they are better prepared to engage in difficult conversations. PART II: WHAT CAN WE DO? There are many preconditions to becoming a culturally responsive leader. Our case study highlighted the following lessons learned: FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS Foster relationships between district leadership and staff to discuss issues such as school climate, cultural responsive pedagogy and practice, authentic family and community engagement, and equitable opportunities for students. Culturally responsive leaders have the capacity to break down systems of practice that perpetuate inequities. They need to engage people from different cultures and to act as cultural brokers. This means they must communicate effectively a culturally responsive vision and goals, not always an easy task. They must simultaneously be a catalyst for change while handling dissonance. Above all, they need to create a safe environment for courageous conversations about cultural responsiveness, and where people are held accountable. BUILD TRUST FIRST Build trust and establish relationships prior to providing professional development. This will enable staff to acknowledge, accept, and reflect on their own biases and potential consequences for their school or district. This valuable reflection time will more likely lead to buy-in from staff and enable sustainability. The staff also needs professional supports to engage in this challenging work. BE TRANSPARENT Be transparent about the reasons for professional development and create a thriving, culturally responsive professional learning community. Provide the rationale for the professional development so participants are better prepared to engage in difficult conversations. Culturally responsive leaders are vulnerable with staff as they engage in these discussions. As the case studied showed, teachers questioned why they were attending this particular topic for professional development. A thriving, culturally responsive professional learning community supports adult learning that is reflective of student racial and cultural backgrounds and includes educator of color voices. CULTIVATE STRONG LEADERS Cultivate strong leadership within the school building and district to build and sustain the necessary cultural and instructional changes. Culturally responsive leaders need an understanding of critical theories about how people learn. They also need to know the impact of race, power, legitimacy, cultural capital, poverty, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, language, and other factors on learning. Equally important, they need to understand patterns of discrimination, inequalities, and injustice associated with individual groups. Finally, they need to be able to articulate their own philosophy of education and to examine whether they use it to maintain the status quo or to empower others’ active participation in their own transformation. KNOW YOUR DISTRICT AND YOUR BUILDING Whether using an external consultant or a qualified district staff member, devote sufficient time to learn about your district characteristics, needs, and interests. A culturally responsive leader knows who is in their district and who is in the building and community. Addressing cultural responsiveness requires a tailored approach. Culturally responsive leaders should understand the cultural history of their schools, families, and communities. They should aim to possess a global perspective. Culturally responsive leaders also know and question their own values, commitments, beliefs, prejudices, and uses of power and influence. They must be able to understand a variety of contexts and situations and to accept challenges that arise. Conclusion Culturally responsive leadership improves learning (Darling-Hammond, 2010). The work of educational leaders is to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that every student receives the highest quality instruction every day. When educational leaders lack cultural understanding, they may react defensively in the face of diversity to maintain the status quo (IEL, 2005). When educational leaders understand the cultural context, they can set a tone for collaboration and facilitate academic excellence. Written by Phoebe Schlanger, MAEC The Essential Elements of Cultural Competence #1 ASSESSING CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE What would a culturally responsive leader do? Assemble his/her collaborative leadership team to reassess the extent to which cultural knowledge of students is clearly present in the school’s vision and mission. #2 VALUING DIVERSITY What would a culturally responsive leader do? Conduct a school climate survey and determine whether school policies and procedures value cultural diversity. #3 MANAGING THE DYNAMICS OF DIFFERENCE What would a culturally responsive leader do? Examine and monitor the extent to which Culturally Responsive Classroom Management and Culturally Responsive Positive Behavior Supports and Management Systems are in place and contribute to reducing the frequency of discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions. #4 ADAPTING TO DIVERSITY What would a culturally responsive leader do? Monitor the extent to which s/he strategically and systematically engages teacher leaders in collaborative inquiry as a means for transforming the process of decision making. #5 INSTITUTIONALIZING CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE What would a culturally responsive leader do? Examine the extent to which the protocols for teacher placement, teacher performance observation, and teacher evaluation take into account the experience of schooling of students who are disproportionately underserved. REFERENCES Aceves, T. C., & Orosco, M. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching (Document No. IC-2). Retrieved May 25, 2018 from University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development,Accountability, and Reform Center website: Ball, D. L., & Forzani, F. (2011). Teaching skillful teaching. Educational Leadership, 68(4), 40-45. Basterra, M. d., Trumbull, E., & Solano-Flores, G. (2011). Cultural validity in assessment: Addressing linguistic and cultural diversity. New York: Routledge. Brown, R., Copeland, W., Costello, E., Erkanli, A., & Worthman, C. (2009). Family and community influences on educational outcomes of Appalachian youth. Journal of Community Psychology, 37(7): 795–808. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20331 CampbellJones, B., CampbellJones, F., & Love, N. (2009). Bringing cultural proficiency to collaborative inquiry. In N. Love (Ed.), Using data to improve learning for all: A collaborative inquiry approach (80-95). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Cross, Terry L., Bazron, Barbara J., Dennis, Karl W., and Isaacs, Mareasa R. (March 1989). Towards a culturally competent system of care: A monograph on effective services for minority children who are severally emotional disturbed. Georgetown University Child Development Center. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America's commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Farr, S. (2010). Teaching as leadership: The highly effective teacher's guide to closing the achievement gap. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Hanover Research (August 2014). Strategies for building cultural competency. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from Institute for Educational Leadership. (2005). Preparing and supporting diverse, culturally competent leaders: practice and policy considerations. Washington, DC. ISBN 1-933493-01-1 McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., Barmer, A., Forrest Cataldi, E., and Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The condition of education 2018 (NCES 2018-144). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from asp?pubid=2018144 Miller, M. (2009). Teaching for a new world: Preparing high school educators to deliver college and career-ready instruction [Policy Brief]. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., McFarland, J., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, A., and Wilkinson-Flicker, S. (2016). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2016 (NCES 2016-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Retrieved May 30, 2018 from Reform Support Network. (2015). Promoting more equitable access to effective teachers: Strategic options for states to improve placement and movement. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from: Skiba, R.J., Honer, R.H., Chung, C-G, Rausch, M.K., May, S.L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40(1), 85-107. Bloomington, IN: National Association of School Psychologists. The Aspen Education & Society Program and the Council of Chief State School Officers. (2017). Leading for equity: Opportunities for state education chiefs. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service (2016). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce.Washington, DC. Retrieved May 25, 2018 from      

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Post Image Gaining Ground on Equity for Rural Schools and Communities

MAEC’s Dr. Heather Biggar Tomlinson contextualizes the unique challenges and strengths that characterize rural communities and education in the United States. She examines racial diversity, poverty, intersecting discrimination, resource allocation for schools, broadband connectivity, access to high-quality child care, health services, and other topics impacting families in rural areas. Back to Count Us In: Advancing Equity in Rural Schools and Communities  

Gaining Ground on Equity for Rural Schools and Communities

September 2020: Exploring Equity Issues, Rural Edition Heather Biggar Tomlinson, Ph.D.Heather Tomlinson Senior Specialist, Early Childhood and Family Engagement, MAEC Mountainous Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the wide-open Great Plains, remote Alaska, lush Hawaii, and pastoral New England all evoke images of rural America, but they are unique regions with distinct differences in people, values, landscapes, and lifestyles. These and the many other pockets of rural America showcase diverse economic engines, natural resources, affluence or poverty levels, demographics, and cultures. Yet there are commonalities that transcend the distinctions to connect rural areas and create an overarching entity that collectively identifies as “rural America.”  One in five Americans, or about 60 million people, lives in a rural area. Because 97% of the nation’s landmass is considered rural, by definition these areas are sparsely populated and far from urban centers (United States Census Bureau, 2017). Although rural school districts are small—median enrollment is fewer than 500 students—the overall numbers are not: 28.5% of schools are rural and 9.3 million students attend them (Showalter, Hartman, Johnson, & Klein, 2019). The well-being and success of rural students is a critical determinant of the well-being and success of the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, one of the commonalities connecting rural areas is a lack of access to services, infrastructure, and equitable policies and practices. This article provides an overview of how equity relates to rural America and its students and schools. While rural America has been overlooked and marginalized as a whole in many ways, there are layers of discrimination and disadvantage within that broader marginalization. Many of the inequities could be ameliorated by improved policies, approaches, and relationships between institutions that tackle inequities systemically. We examine the intersections of diversity and equity in rural communities and explain how these concepts dovetail, concentrating on five examples of inequity: resource allocation, physical and mental health services, support for the educator workforce, access to high-quality child care, and cultivating college readiness. The hope is that by better connecting the dots between equitable policies and stakeholders, and between love of place and the need for excellent educational opportunities, it’s possible to see the potential of schools, communities, and states to give all rural students a chance to flourish.

Diversity and Equity in Rural America

Diversity shows up in multiple dimensions. Students in rural areas may be racially diverse and linguistically diverse, diverse in gender and sexual identity, physical and intellectual ability, religious background, from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and family composition, and more. Students from non-dominant backgrounds may face layers of discrimination and disadvantage.

Racial Diversity

The narrative addressing rural communities has been oversimplified. The lack of nuance in the narratives can lead to false assumptions and prejudices. Although images in the popular press often present a narrow version of rural America, with a tendency to focus on poor, White communities, the nation’s contemporary rural student body is richly diverse and multifaceted. The Rural School and Community Trust (RSCT) gives the U.S. a racial diversity index of 31.9, meaning that if someone randomly chose two students from a rural district, there would be an approximately one-third chance that those students would be of different races. However, the average belies a big range. According to the RSCT, in Maine, for example, racial diversity is low (10.7%), whereas in Delaware, the percentage is much more significant (56.8%). And within districts, the range is even greater. For example, in Pocantico Hills, New York, there is a diversity index of 67.7 (that is, a two-thirds chance that two students in a school would be of different races), whereas in 172 other districts, there is no racial diversity—meaning a school’s student population might be entirely White, Hispanic, Black or Tribal. Overall, however, there is extraordinary diversity within rural America as a whole, and within some districts, specifically. Indeed, the three most diverse school districts in the nation are rural (Showalter et al., 2019).


There are other kinds of diversity as well, including socioeconomic.  Affluence exists but pervasive and persistent poverty has plagued some rural regions for generations. Overall, 15.4% of rural school-aged children in the United States live in poverty (Showalter et al., 2019). Some states, particularly in New England, have low rates of rural child poverty (e.g., Massachusetts, 3.5%) and some rural areas are amenity rich with abundant natural resources that bring in agricultural, recreational, and tourism benefits. Other states with large rural populations have distressing child poverty rates. For example, in the South, Mississippi’s rate is 23.1% and Louisiana’s is 22.9%. In Appalachia, Kentucky’s rural child poverty rate is 21.6%. In the Southwest, 23.3% of rural children in Arizona and 29.7% in New Mexico live in poverty. In these areas, families have a median income of $30,000 (versus $54,000 nationally); working-age men have disabilities at more than twice the rate than in other areas, reaching almost one-quarter of the population; about four in ten children live in poverty; and one in five adults do not complete high school (Florida, 2018). More than eight out of ten of the nation’s persistently poor counties are rural (Schull, 2019). For these areas, poverty can be a legacy that is difficult to overcome.

“Layers within Layers of Discrimination”

Within the broad layer of inequities that rural residents often face—less access to high-quality child care, schools, healthcare, mental health supports, employment opportunities, professional development supports, transportation infrastructure, cultural amenities, and so forth—are deeper layers of prejudice and discrimination that disproportionately affect non-dominant groups.  These groups might include students living in poverty, people of color, LGBTQIA+ families, individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, families from underrepresented religious backgrounds, newcomers, migrant families, and English learners. Rural scholars often refer to the “layers within layers of discrimination” in rural communities (Erin McHenry-Sorber, personal communication, 2020).  MAEC’s vision is that all children, regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, home language, or socioeconomic status, have the right to learn and achieve at high levels. While rural residents are not protected as a class by federal civil rights law, many factors that intersect with rural settings exacerbate discrimination and harassment. Rural communities have children of all races and religions. Their families come from myriad countries and speak as many languages. They have diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. They experience varying levels of affluence, poverty, and educational levels. All of these factors produce the potential for bias and marginalization. These layers within and across rural communities represent the rich diversity of rural America, but they also present platforms for ongoing inequity and the necessity for effective and equitable policies and practices.  Equity is not the same as equality. Unfortunately, many educational goals are driven by equality, where goods or services are distributed without consideration for varied student strengths and needs rooted in widely differing starting places. Equity is driven by student strengths and needs, providing what each person needs in order to thrive. This means that some schools and students would be well served by receiving more than others, depending on unmet needs, with the goal that all rural students have comparable access to excellent educational opportunities. While this idea is easily understood, it is difficult to implement because it requires that administrators distribute resources differentially. Frequently, what rural Americans have failed to receive through equitable policies and practices they have substituted with ingenuity, resourcefulness, and a deep sense of community and commitment. However, in order to sustain these practices, institutional policies must support and enhance individual creativity and grit.

Challenges for Rural Educators and Students

Schools provide more than education in all types of communities, and in rural areas, they are particularly important for the well-being of students and communities. They often represent the heart of community life. They provide avenues for dissemination of critical health, food, housing, counseling, employment, and other resources. They link families to essential services. Schools serve as social, health, and cultural centers as well, hosting family and sporting events, job fairs, health and wellness clinics and, in this era, COVID testing sites. As a result, rural educators and administrators feel pressure to do more and be more than is expected in other school communities (McHenry-Sorber & Sutherland, 2020). At the same time, the equity-based challenges remain, including the distribution of money and other resources, access to health services, support for educators, access to child care, and opportunities to develop college readiness.

Resource Allocation

Resources come in many forms. Resources that are critical to rural schools include funding and digital connectivity.


Adequate funding is a necessary foundation without which schools cannot thrive. Pre-COVID-19, rural school districts received on average 16.9% of state education funds, in spite of the fact that 28.5% of schools are designated as rural; data show that 15.4% of students attend schools in rural districts, but some rural schools are located in districts not designated as rural (U.S. Department of Education, 2014-2015). In spite of these disparities, serving rural students can also include additional costs such as steep transportation expenses that shift money away from instruction and student learning resources. On average, rural school districts spend $1.00 on transportation for every $10.81 spent on instruction, and in some instances the ratio is worse, such as West Virginia ($6.48) and New Mexico ($6.17) (Showalter et al., 2019).      Districts that serve large numbers of low-income students and students of color on average receive $1,800 less per student than districts serving few students of color (Darling-Hammond, Schachner, & Edgerton, 2020). COVID-19 greatly exacerbates the problem. Consequently, administrators in low-income and racially diverse schools can expect significant economic stress in the coming years. Declining enrollment rates were already forcing district leaders to make painful decisions about school consolidation. Facing challenges with data reporting given sample sizes will also add heavier financial burdens to the resource stress. In response, education leaders are calling for the adoption of more equitable state school funding formulas that are weighted for poverty, English proficiency, foster care or homeless status, and special education status. As highlighted by the Learning Policy Institute, “In large states, this might be further adjusted for geographic cost differentials, while also taking into account the transportation and other needs of sparse, rural districts” (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020, p. 103). To save money and reduce the costs of facilities, teachers and administrators, food services, and other resources, many districts rely on consolidating schools in order to preserve capital. However, there are equity issues with consolidation. School districts with large populations of students of color and children living in poverty tend to do better academically in smaller schools, whereas school consolidation tends to widen achievement gaps. Over one-quarter of rural students spend more than one hour each way getting to and from school, and 85% spend at least 30 minutes each way commuting (Lavalley, 2018). Longer bus rides and longer days mean rural students have less time than others to spend on homework, extracurricular activities, participation in academic support programs, sleep, and family and community activities. These greater distances may also prohibit families and community members from attending on-site activities at school, which can affect optimal family and community engagement in education. Ironically, longer commutes increase costs for districts, decreasing the financial benefits of consolidation.

Broadband and Connectivity

COVID-19 shines a spotlight on continuous and new layers of inequities, not least of which is the long-standing concern for rural communities about internet connectivity. Access to devices and broadband is essential as education, health care, and other services pivot to virtual platforms. Although this reliance on digital and online learning is challenging for everyone, rural communities are disproportionately affected. In 2017, there were over 23 million Americans without reliable Internet and 68% of them lived in rural areas (Lavalley, 2018). During the school closures in Spring 2020, rural school districts were much less likely than urban districts to provide students with hotspots or devices, such as tablets, and 31% of rural parents reported needing public Wifi for students to do homework, more than non-rural counterparts (Opalka, Gable, Nicola, & Ash, 2020; Vogels, Perrin, Rainie, & Anderson, 2020). Rural teachers were far less likely than urban teachers, with a 25-point gap, to be required to continue to monitor student progress, and only 25% expected to continue to provide instruction, as compared to over half of urban teachers (Gross & Opalka, 2020). This gap may be due to the challenges for rural teachers to work from home where they too lack connectivity. Even when students and teachers have access to devices, high-speed internet is often not available across large tracts of countryside, making streaming and other educational services difficult or impossible to access.

Physical and Mental Health Services

Inequitable access to, and quality of, health care services is a hardship for many rural communities. Even before COVID-19, rural communities’ access to quality health care was inadequate for dealing with higher than average rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, opioid overdose, respiratory disease, injuries, and other problems. Rural children with mental health issues or behavioral and developmental disorders face greater community and family challenges than other children (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2017). The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges to provide health care to patients with COVID-19 in rural communities: fewer hospital beds, less equipment, and fewer health care workers. The virus has been equally pernicious, impairing mental health, as the fallout of job losses, isolation, anxiety, depression, grief from losing loved ones, and missed educational opportunities surges through rural communities. Clinicians report that rising rates of family stress are likely increasing the rates of domestic violence and substance abuse, while services to address these concerns remain difficult to access (Abramson, 2020). Significantly, health care professionals, child care providers, mail delivery personnel, agricultural workers, and other essential workers living in rural communities face the same toxic stressors as others, while simultaneously experiencing the stress of high rates of exposure to the virus. They may face terrible choices between preserving their livelihoods and risking their lives. These are equity issues that could be ameliorated by increased investments in infrastructure and training to provide more hospitals, mental health services, health care professionals, and transportation services needed to access them. 

Supporting the Educator Workforce

Many rural school districts struggle to maintain a highly qualified workforce and excellent and equitable schools, and rural district leaders have trouble recruiting and retaining teachers. The United States has seen teacher shortages in recent years: While the number of teachers has increased in the last few years, the nation still has 40,000 fewer public school teachers than it did prior to the 2008 recession, in large part because of school budget cuts (Darling-Hammond et al., 2020). Rural communities have been hit harder than others with the combination of budget issues and concomitant teacher shortages.  The teacher strikes that swept the nation in 2018 and 2019 reflected decreases in teacher wages, among other deprioritizing of education. This engendered deep frustration, particularly in historically poor and isolated rural school districts.  Erin McHenry-Sorber, professor at the University of West Virginia, highlighted the effects of teacher shortages and general devaluation of the teaching profession in rural communities. She described the intersection this way:
…Rural communities across the state, particularly those once dependent on industries such as coal, have experienced a protracted state of economic depression and increased poverty and opioid addiction -- a consequence of Americans' willingness to accept West Virginia as one of the nation's economic sacrifice zones… In the midst of economic stagnation and diminished workers' rights, these rural West Virginians find themselves marginalized economically and socially, pushing back against normalized epithets of "hillbillies" and "rednecks," at the same time they're fighting for their economic survival (McHenry-Sorber, 2018).
The economics of devaluing the education profession hits all household budgets hard—women teachers earn 15.6% less than similarly educated women in other professions and, for men, the wage gap jumps to 26.8% (Wolf, 2019)—but in rural communities, the problem is worse. Rural school districts are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to compensating teachers. According to the Rural School and Community Trust, rural educators earn $69,797 compared to $74,153 for suburban educators (Showalter et al., 2019). Teachers may also be unwilling to move to areas with limited social and cultural opportunities and the low salaries that many rural school districts offer are not much of an enticement. Although salary and benefits are critical, researchers also cite administrative support as important determinants of rural teachers’ employment decisions. The role of principals matters in how they provide mentorship, create trusting relationships, are positive and collaborative, establish an open work culture with strong communication, and support teaching preparation and professional development opportunities (Tran & Dou, 2019). Rural principals, however, are paid less than other principals and experience the same challenges as their teachers, while holding greater responsibilities. Rural educators lack access to professional development and may struggle to find ways to collaborate with peers. Specialized teachers, such as those focusing on special education, art, and music, often serve multiple schools and must make long drives, isolating them professionally. There are frequently fewer resources to support culturally and linguistically responsive approaches, including interpreters and language and literacy programs for adults.  At times, there are few community partners to support housing and food services, health care, substance abuse programs, parenting education, adult cultural activities, and other necessary and enriching activities. These challenges for the workforce, and inability to address community-wide issues, affect classroom quality and student experiences and outcomes.

Access to High-Quality Child Care

More than 1.1 million families with young children live in rural areas (Paschall, Halle, & Maxwell, 2020). America’s mixed-delivery approach to early care and education takes a toll on rural families because of the gaps in service provision, the range of quality of programs, and the resulting differences in school readiness outcomes. Child care deserts are areas in which there are three infants or children for each spot available within a reasonable distance. There are simply more programs available in metropolitan areas: compared to rural areas, high-density urban areas offer 2.85 times the number of centers, 3.20 times the number of listed home-based providers, and 6.87 times the number of unlisted paid home-based providers (Paschall et al., 2020).  The younger the child, the more difficult it is for parents to find out-of-home care, an issue that is again more challenging in rural areas.  Over half (55%) of rural Americans live in a child care desert, a percentage that is certain to increase in the wake of COVID-19 child care closures. Child care programs run on thin financial margins, and home-based providers typically have the least room for financial disruption.  Widespread closures of home-based programs will make stability and recovery in the wake of the pandemic especially hard for rural communities. Rural working mothers rely disproportionately on home-based care—serving 22% of rural preschoolers versus 10% of metropolitan preschoolers (Schochet, 2019).  Family child care programs—with the great majority unlisted—play an outsized role in rural child care options; unlisted programs may not meet licensing or accreditation standards that assure health and safety, curricular and other benchmarks (Paschall et al., 2020; Shochet, 2019). In short, family child care programs are often well suited for rural communities—they may be offered by a known community member, closer to the home, and more affordable—but they may also be of lower quality.  For many rural families, accessing employment and child care simultaneously is a “chicken and egg” problem that is difficult to solve. As compared to women living in other localities, women in rural areas tend to have low-paying jobs, work part-time, and work long and non-standard hours (Paschall et al., 2020), making it difficult to find child care that fits both a family’s working hours and budget. In addition, rural families typically pay a higher percentage of their income toward child care (12.2%) than do urban families (10.8%)—for comparison, the federal government recommends that child care should not account for more than 7% of a household budget (Schochet, 2019). Not having access to high-quality early childhood education, whether because of availability, quality or affordability, interferes with children’s readiness for kindergarten. This lack of access can determine the trajectory of rural children’s educational journey. For rural students experiencing poverty, this puts them at an even greater disadvantage. A nationally representative study of over 6,000 students found that disadvantaged home environments, coupled with lack of access to high-quality child care, left rural children behind in terms of academic achievement (Miller & Votruba-Drzal, 2013). Recent analyses echo this finding. On average, on standardized test scores, rural students living in poverty score below their rural classmates who do not live in poverty. However, this gap is large in some states, such as Maryland, and narrow in others, such as Pennsylvania. These inequities highlight the need for policies and practices to ensure that the highest need students receive the most support in order to thrive (Showalter et al., 2019). 

Cultivating College Readiness

School structures, processes, and cultures affect student dispositions and their opportunities to learn. Students from rural communities have challenges obtaining support to effectively prepare for success after high school. They may have less access to highly competent PK-12 teachers, high-speed broadband, college guidance counselors, college interest and recruitment of rural students, or career and vocational education opportunities. Rural students graduate from high school at relatively high rates, 88.7% nationally (although some areas have considerably lower rates of high school graduation, particularly in rural Alaska, which has a 72.3% graduation rate). They also participate in dual high school/college courses, Advanced Placement exams, or commonly used college admissions tests such as the ACT and SAT (see Showalter et al., 2019, for details).  However, in spite of graduation rates and high-level coursework, compared to their non-rural peers, rural graduates have lower rates of college enrollment and college graduation.  Part of the discrepancy may stem from lower expectations from teachers or high teacher turnover that diminishes instructional quality. As one writer noted, “Students know they're falling behind. ‘When I get to college, I've got to take college math,’ Cierra said. ‘But how am I supposed to do that if I don't know basics?’” (Hanford, 2018). A study of African American rural students in the southeastern U.S. found that students lacked access to rigorous courses, had little time with guidance counselors advising them on good-fit colleges, and were concerned about being out of place on campuses lacking diversity (Morales, 2016).  A systemic equity-based response to this issue would be to ensure rural high schools have the resources they need to dismantle barriers to successful college enrollment and college graduation. For example, college counselors in high schools are associated with a 10% increase in college enrollment (Quintero & Gu, 2019). High-speed broadband access is critical to college readiness as test preparation courses, dual credit courses, and other learning opportunities have become available online. Rural students, with their lack of broadband access, miss the opportunity to engage with them. In the face of almost universal school closures, broadband access has leapt to the top of the policy priority list to support educational opportunities, including opportunities for college readiness. If this issue is not addressed quickly, not only will children in the earliest years of their educational journey get off to a less than optimal start, but also high schoolers will fall behind as schooling moves almost completely to virtual learning in the COVID-19 era. 

Connecting the Dots

To achieve meaningful, sustainable equity-based policies and practices, stakeholders need to connect the dots so that all voices are heard, place-based strengths are emphasized, and positive relationships take root or grow stronger. A mantra of some educators is that no meaningful learning takes place outside of meaningful relationships. The degree of progress and success rural children are likely to experience is grounded in their experiences with healthy families, schools, and communities that come together through relationships (and policies) that support their well-being in ways that both undergird and transcend academics. Relationships among committed adults and institutions enable communities to care for students as whole people. Relationships lead to support for students’ basic needs—secure housing, fresh and affordable food, health care, supportive parenting, income stability, addiction- and abuse-free homes, mental health, freedom from fears of family separation or deportation, language access—factors that are inextricably linked to students’ ability to learn and achieve.  Areas where rural students are achieving well, it’s likely there are equitable policies, structures, and priorities. Students are able to make and maintain positive relationships. Appropriate and fair funding and resources, positive working conditions and fair wages for educators, high-speed broadband access, and investments in kindergarten and college readiness for all rural students are examples of equity operationalized through policies and practices. These equitable approaches are built on three salient dimensions: 1) Removing the predictability of academic success or failure based on social, economic, regional, or cultural factors; 2) interrupting inequitable practices, eliminating biases and oppression and creating inclusive school environments for adults and children; and 3) discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents, and interests that each human being possesses. This equitable and asset-based approach will expand opportunities for rural children to grow and succeed, and will harvest benefits for rural communities, the nation, the economy, and future generations. Residents in rural communities support each other, and they often have a deep affection for their home towns and neighbors. We see this through advocacy and the collective organizing of creative, generous, and spirited activities that lift up rural community members—witness teacher strikes to improve working conditions for educators, annual local festivals, effective school and athletic fundraisers, and the recent anti-racism rallies. Rural communities thrive when their unique voices, contexts, and circumstances are viewed as a source of expertise, and connection to place can be at the center of any transformation of schools. To connect the dots creatively and beneficially does not mean “improving” aspects of rural living that arguably enhance family, student, and educational experiences. Rather it means creatively leveraging communities’ strengths and advantages to deepen connections to both place and educational success—and providing resources equitably to make that possible.  Appalachian author Robert Gipe started the “Higher Ground Project” in Kentucky that enables community and technical college students to braid scholarly studies of the region with personal art and writings that express their experiences in rural America, “on topics ranging from drug abuse to the challenges of remaining and working in a job-challenged area, to local history of Black coal miners and their families. In other words, town and gown are connected” (Branscombe, 2020). Indeed, connecting students to the assets within reach in their communities and expanding the reach so that dynamic, meaningful educational opportunities exist for every rural student—connecting town and gown, connecting place and educational success—is our path to higher ground.


Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. American Psychological Association. Retrieved August 2020 from Branscombe, J. (2020, August 28). Review: An Anthology of Appalachian Literature Walks on New Ground. The Daily Yonder: Keep It Rural. Retrieved August 2020 from Darling-Hammond, L., Schachner, A., & Edgerton, A. (2020, August). Restarting and Reinventing School: Learning in the Time of COVID and Beyond. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from Florida, R. (2018, June 1). The Three Rural Americas. Bloomberg City Lab. Retrieved August 2020 from Gross, B., & Opalka, A. (2020). Too Many Schools Leave Learning to Chance. Center for Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from Hanford, E. (2018, August 28). Schools in poor, rural districts are the hardest hit by nation's growing teacher shortage. American Public Media Reports. Retrieved August 2020 from Lavalley, M. (2018). Out of the Loop: Rural schools are largely left out of research and policy discussions, exacerbating poverty, inequity, and isolation. National School Boards Association Center for Public Education. Retrieved from McHenry-Sorber, E. (2018, March 6). The West Virginia Teachers Have Launched a Movement. CNN. Retrieved August 2020 from McHenry-Sorber, E & Sutherland, D. (2020) Equity and Expectations: Leading Rural Communities through Unprecedented Pressures. MAEC, Inc. Retrieved September 2020 from Miller, P., & Votruba-Drzal, E. (2013). Early academic skills and childhood experiences across the urban–rural continuum. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 234-248. Morales, K. (2016, August 31). Study: Rural location, race influence students’ access to college. University of Georgia Today. Retrieved August 2020 from Opalka, A., Gable, A., Nicola, T., & Ash, J. (2020). Rural School Districts Can be Creative in Solving the Internet Connectivity Gap--But They Need Support. Brookings. Retrieved from Paschall, K., Halle, T., & Maxwell, K. (2020). Early Care and Education in Rural Communities. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from Quintero, D., & Gu, Y. (2019, July 3). Rural Schools Need Career Counselors Too. Brookings. Retrieved August 2020 from Schochet, L. (2019, June 4). 5 Facts to Know About Child Care in Rural America. Center for American Progress. Retrieved August 2020 from Schull, M. (2019, August 8). Expanding Early Childhood Education in Rural America. New America. Retrieved August 2020 from Showalter, D., Hartman, S. L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B. (2019). Why Rural Matters 2018-2019: The Time is Now. The Rural School and Community Trust & The School Superintendents Association. Retrieved from Tran, H., & Dou, J. (2019). An Exploratory Examination of What Types of Administrative Support Matter for Rural Teacher Talent Management: The Rural Educator Perspective. Educational Leadership Review, 20(1), 133-149. U.S. Department of Education. (2014-2015). Common Core of Data, Public School Universe. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2017). About Rural Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from United States Census Bureau. (2017, August 9). What Is Rural America? Retrieved August 2020 from Vogels, E., Perrin, A., Rainie, L., & Anderson, M. (2020, April 30). 53% of Americans Say the Internet Has Been Essential During the COVID-19 Outbreak. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from Wolf, A. B. (2019, February 23). Why Teacher Strikes Are Touching Every Part of America. CNN. Retrieved August 2020 from      

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Post Image Managing Mental Wellness: Tools for Yourself, Your Students, and Your Classroom

This CAFE toolkit offers strategies to manage mental wellness in the context of school and personally, and it gives methods to assist students and families with learning and well-being. Although each section addresses teachers, students can gain a lot of insight and tips by applying several of the tools listed to aid their own mental wellness. This toolkit is designed for students, teachers, and other educators.


Post Image Reimagining the “New Normal”:  Equity, Policy, COVID, and Rural Public Schools

Arnold Fege, President of the Public Advocacy for Kids nonprofit, reflects on what it takes to create equity and reimagine schooling in rural communities after COVID-19. His article centers around five questions: unpacking the United States’ political will to resolve internet inequality; examining organizational changes needed to wholly care for students; identifying effective strategies to retain educators; looking to the relationship between federal funding and success in rural education; and predicting the role of state education agencies in providing school resources. Back to Count Us In: Advancing Equity in Rural Schools and Communities  

Reimagining the “New Normal”:  Equity, Policy, COVID, and Rural Public Schools

September 2020: Exploring Equity Issues, Rural Edition Arnold F. Fege President, Public Advocacy for Kids We can all agree that before COVID-19, not all school districts and not all communities had the same educational opportunities and resources. And we can all agree COVID-19 has exposed in a dramatic fashion the inequities and gaps that were often ignored and neglected for many years, for many children and for many school districts. Students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English Learners, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups such as students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care, were less likely to have rigorous, engaging, and positive educational experiences before the pandemic. Now there is a real risk that school closures, distance learning, hybrid models, and schools opening and closing will fall heavily on these populations and on another: those in rural school districts (Economic Research Service, 2020). Much has been written about the challenges of larger, urban school districts. Indeed, in the past, my own organization has concentrated our policy and legislative focus on mostly urban and large county school systems. Rob Mahaffy, my colleague and the executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust, and longtime friends at Organizations Concerned About Rural Education (OCRE), were instrumental in assuring that rural, tribal, Alaskan Natives, and territories voices and needs be a seamless part of our organization’s agenda as well. The goal is the same: to assure that all children have access to and receive a high-quality public education no matter where they reside. And at the core of that mission is equity.  So here we are in the midst of a global pandemic. All school districts should be planning now for how to make up this lost learning time, which particularly affects our most vulnerable students (King & Weingarten, 2020). Ideas include implementing summer programs, and extending or restructuring school days for the 2020-21 school year, summer of 2021, and school year 2022. During this period, federal, state, and local policymakers will be making difficult decisions, and deciding how to make those choices fair and equitable. Rural school districts have often been on the short end of these tradeoffs. Many of the challenges that rural districts face are similar to mid-size and urban school districts. But there are also dynamics that work differently: size, scope, resources, community, political environment, staffing, geography, distance, isolation, workforce development, economics, and constrained tax base, to name a few. The point is not to undervalue the seriousness of the problems that urban education leaders face, but to recognize that rural districts face distinctive problems that have not received enough attention in terms of research, safety, resources, teacher and educator preparation, and certainly equitable policies and adequacy of funding.   Rural looks different across the country, from remote Native American lands in the West, to small towns in the Great Plains and Midwest, to the Mississippi Delta and Southern “Black Belt,” to Appalachia and New England. Rural looks different even within each state: it might be a town of a few thousand people, or tiny communities several hours or even days from the nearest city, as in parts of Alaska. These differences require policies that recognize that one size does not fit all. In far too many cases, rural districts still do not have the resources and opportunities they deserve compared to urban school districts, although there remain differences within rural areas and they are also hard to define as a unified idea. In total, 46 million Americans live in rural areas. About 53% of our nation’s school districts and one-third of U.S. schools are in rural areas. Nearly 7.5 million public school students were enrolled in rural school districts during the 2016-17 school year—that’s nearly one of every seven students across the country. The number is even larger when counting students who attend rural schools within districts classified as “non-rural.” By this measure, more than 9.3 million students attend a rural school (Ratcliffe et. al, 2016). This means that more students in the U.S. attend rural schools than in the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined. Nearly one in six of rural students lives below the poverty line, one in seven qualifies for special education, and one in nine has changed residence in the previous 12 months (Showalter et. al, 2019).  To be clear, rural America offers assets often not available in urban settings. Rural residents feel that their community has a sense of shared values that are different from people in big cities: three quarters (74%) say other people in rural communities have similar values to their own, while two-thirds (65%) say people who live in big cities hold different values (Palosky & Singh, 2017). They also believe that their communities look out for one another and are good places to raise their children, and 76% of rural participants reported that their children’s schools are high-quality. America’s rural communities and educators are a treasure and add to the rich diversity of this country.  For people living in rural America, schools are more than places of academic instruction. They provide food and health care for students, foster the sense of real community education, provide much-needed support for families, and act as central players in community life, with schools sometimes providing the only place for community gatherings. However, even though many rural superintendents have found success in working collaboratively and with cooperatives, they face many obstacles, such as internet connectivity, post-secondary outcomes, and transportation funding. They struggle to recruit and retain teachers with specialized skills such as special education and TESOL. They need funding for support services such as child care, nurses, counselors, librarians and mental health workers. And finally, they need to figure out how to pay for rebuilding and renovating schools (Nicola et. al, 2020). And to make matters worse, the National Council of State Legislators predicts that because of COVID-19, states may face greater revenue shortfalls than during the Great Recession (National Conference of State Legislators, 2020). As rural districts spend time and resources on costly short-term strategies, either in person or virtually, they also worry about sustainability; as they fight for greater equity, the resources may not be there to support them in the future. Such lack of resources means rural students are more likely to have lower educational attainment, restricted student opportunity, and fewer support services (National Conference of State Legislators, 2020). On the other hand, this is a moment in time—a short moment of time before the comforting chorus of “getting back to the old normal” gets too loud and powerful. If we can set clear expectations for our students, we can do the same for policy makers and our politicians at the state and federal levels. They need to spend time in rural school districts to better understand the issues before they make policies or pass laws. The current state and federal policies, laws, funding formulas and regulations that created the baked-in inequities need to be rooted out and replaced with policies that maintain the fundamental rights to a public education guaranteed to all children. It is possible to do this work while recognizing the distinct differences and characteristics between and among rural school districts.  The pandemic not only presents additional challenges for our rural schools, but also opportunities, very few of which are new, but most have historically resisted implementation. One thing is for certain: the world as we have known it will be vastly different by the end of this pandemic. As we endure the uncertainty of quarantine, we must ask ourselves what kind of world we want to return to for ourselves and our students.  For those aware of the inequities and unfairness that characterized schools in America prior to the crisis, this is also a time to ask: Could the pandemic be an opportunity through which we can bring about educational justice? While rural schools are highly local, they are also a matter of national interest and leadership—as much as highways and interstate commerce—and rural schools are graduating students whose lives will be connected to the rest of the world just as much as those in the big cities.   In that vein, there are lingering equity and policy challenges that will face all of us during and at the end of the pandemic, but especially rural schools and communities, including these: 

1. Does the country have the political will to resolve internet inequality?

Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning (Future Ready Schools et. al, 2020). Those households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: high-speed home internet service and a computer. One in three Black, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native households are not connected. Rural Americans are also less likely to have a tablet, laptop, or desktop than urban and suburban residents (Khazan, 2020). They trail urban residents by 12 points and suburban residents by 16 points. In Mississippi, which serves 235,000 rural students, the Census Bureau reports that one-fifth of Mississippi households do not have a computer and nearly one-third lack high-speed Internet access (United States Census Bureau). According to the FCC, half of the residents of the Mississippi Delta have no access to the Internet. In addition, nearly all teachers nationally (96%) pay for their home-based high-speed internet themselves (Will, 2020b). And 10% of teachers, mostly in rural areas, don’t have high-speed, wireless internet at home (Will, 2020a). They make do during the current school shutdowns with mobile hotspots or even working in parking lots or empty school buildings. Currently, there is a bill in Congress to increase the E-Rate by $4 billion, which would go a long way in providing homes with broadband and connectivity (Will, 2020b).

2. What organizational changes are necessary to move from factory model school to a whole child school, and what capacity is necessary to serve both as an educational institution as well as the safety net?

The path to educational success is different for each student, and availability to support services also varies. Data tell us that the road to success is tougher for young people who are engaged with the foster care system, who are hungry, who are parents, who face school suspensions, who lack secure housing and internet access, who have special education needs and language barriers, who may be from low-income households or have family members who are victims of the opioid epidemic. These young people need expanded supports to succeed, supports that are often not thought of when planning college access and success programs. If they are not addressed, we allow students to fall through the education, social, and emotional cracks. But the current model and school architecture is not designed to tackle many issues outside of their control. In South Dakota, which is one of the most rural of states, “rural educators often tout the generally lower student-teacher ratio and scores on standardized tests show that students in some rural South Dakota districts match or occasionally out perform their urban peers” (Pfankuch, 2019). Clearly, the school plays the role of community anchor, but a 19th century model is crashing into 21st century needs, the system is overwhelmed, and by its nature produces inequitable results. This is a time to plan with the community the systemic changes required to respond to the demographic changes hitting urban and rural public schools (Rodriguez, 2020). To integrate via technology, face to face and through community organizations, a true community education model where the school responds to the needs of the “whole child” (Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child).

3. What are effective strategies and means to address teacher and principal shortages, retention, competition with other school districts,  compensation, and professional development?

No small district has the capacity or the market to solve workforce issues on its own. This question requires a state and federally coordinated response, along with input from higher education leaders (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Solutions for urban settings generally do not successfully transfer to rural settings. In addition to dealing with the pandemic, distance learning issues, social-emotional learning, and accountability pressures that all districts face, rural districts also face challenges such as lower salaries, fears of isolation in an unfamiliar area, limited housing and recreational options, lack of human capital and resources, and little opportunity for professional development and professional growth (Schwartz, 2020). These same issues make it harder to recruit school administrators, which further compounds the teacher recruitment problem since teachers want to be supported by a strong administrative staff. As a result, many districts have had to hire teachers and principals without the proper licensure, especially in specialized areas such as working with students with special education needs and English Learners. It also challenges administrators to recruit a diverse teaching force that possesses the cultural competencies needed to work with an increasingly diverse student body and parents.

4. Can rural districts continue to maintain a presence and strong voice at the federal level that sustains and increases funding? 

Let’s say it up front. Just like healthcare, public education has been underfunded and underinvested, especially in rural communities. Rural education requires a continued strong federal funding presence. As problematic and bureaucratic as federal funding might be for rural districts—and many do not have the capacity to compete for grants or provide matches—most rural districts and communities rely on federal resources to supplement state and local tax bases. To support schools to meet ESSA requirements, REAP authorizes two rural programs: The Small Rural School Achievement Program (SRSA) and The Rural and Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS), which increase the focus on rural schools. Other programs that have rural priorities include the Full Service Community Schools, 21st Century Community Schools, Impact Aid, IDEA, Head Start and Early Head Start, in addition to other social and health services such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), CHIP, Summer Feeding, Migrant Education, the Child Care Development Block Grant, and Women with Infants and Children (WIC). The big takeaway is that federal spending on all children’s programs dropped from 7.98% in FY 2015 to 7.21% in 2019—confirming a downward trend in federal spending for children (First Focus on Children, 2019).

5. And lastly, of course, will states and local communities provide the adequate resources needed to achieve equity and opportunity for rural children and families?

Rural school finance is extremely complex, but at the heart of both state and local finance structure lies issues of economies of scale, local tax assessments, levy rates, local control, and local willingness to support increases in school revenues. Challenges include deferred maintenance to buildings and infrastructure, struggles to provide the same access to high-level courses for rural students, difficulty in retaining teachers, and to add a final nail in the proverbial coffin, the cost of opening school buildings safely during the pandemic, all of which add to the pressures rural schools face.  To date, state school funding systems have been challenged in 45 states, from New York to, most recently, Kansas. Yet because rural schools are not on a level playing field with urban and suburban schools, lack of adequate resources threatens their very existence. Rural school districts thus continue to lag behind urban areas with respect to federal funds. When access to federal programs depends on the absolute number of disadvantaged students rather than proportions, small rural schools typically lose out to affluent metropolitan ones. Federal policies are often based on preparing students for an urban life rather than answering the needs of a rural setting. Rural communities are in great need of institutions that will strengthen rural life, serve all members of all ages in the community, and link education to other social services and economic enterprises within the area. Education must be linked with other rural development activities, and rural development itself should be based on comprehensive rural studies rather than on applications of urban models as determinants of rural life (Parks & Hoke, 1979).


Creating equity and reimagining schooling after the pandemic requires listening to everyone within the community -- and building on the assets that rural schools offer. Reimagining requires engaging parents, teachers, principals, support services, health care, business, the Farm Bureau, social services, juvenile justice, and students. While they may not be an economy of scale, rural schools’ smaller class sizes support individualized instruction and more teacher attention, conditions that also provide an opportunity to assure that our marginalized communities are part of the conversation.  Not only have tens of millions of families across the country had to play an active role in the “schooling” of their children during the pandemic, but the void left by schools is being felt across multiple dimensions of social, economic, political and community life. Schools are not just places where young people learn; they are also places of community and connection, physical and emotional safety, shelter and food, democracy and deliberation. In addition, the economy cannot function without schools, unless we devise another way to ensure that children are supervised while their parents are at work.   Building on rural assets, beginning to plan, holding our state and federal policymakers accountable--this is what our rural schools and communities are good at. Let’s make the mantra “we are all in this together” work for equitable educational opportunities and upward mobility for all of our children. We can do this.


Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017, August). Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from Economic Research Service. (2020, May 28). Rural Education. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from First Focus on Children. (2019, September). Children’s Budget 2019. Retrieved from Future Ready Schools, National Urban League, UnidosUS, & National Indian Education Association. (2020, August). The Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from Khazan, O. (2020, August 17). America’s Terrible Internet is Making Quarantine Worse. The Atlantic. Retrieved from King, J. & Weingarten, R. (2020, April 24). What comes next for public schooling. The Hill. Retrieved from National Conference of State Legislatures. (2020, January 21). Challenges Facing Rural Communities. Retrieved from Nicola, T., Gable, A., & Ash, J. (2020, July). The Response of Rural Districts to the COVID-19 Pandemic. National Center for Rural Education Research Networks. Retrieved from Organizations Concerned about Rural Education. Retrieved from Palosky, C. & Singh, R. (2017, June 19). Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post Partnership Survey Probes Experiences and Views of Rural Americans. KFF. Retrieved from Parks, G.A. & Hoke, G. (1979, May). Federal Education Programs and Rural Development Needs: An Unrealized Potential. ERIC Clearinghouse. Retrieved from Pfankuch, B. (2019, November 15). Rural Schools in S.D. Face Unique Challenges that Can Affect Learning. Argus Leader. Retrieved from Ratcliffe, M., Burd, C., Holder, K., & Fields, A. (2016). Defining Rural at the Census Bureau: American Community Survey and Geography Brief. United States Census Bureau.Retrieved from Rodriguez, M.C. (2020, June 7). If There Was Ever a Time to Transform Schools, This Is It. Center for the Transformation of Schools. Retrieved from Schwartz, S. (2020, March 4). Access to Quality PD Is an Equity Issue, Teachers Say. Education Week. Retrieved from Showalter, D., Hartman, S.L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B. (2019, November). Why Rural Matters: The Time is Now, 2018-2019. The Rural School and Community Trust. Retrieved from The Rural School and Community Trust. (2016). About Us. Retrieved from United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts: Mississippi. Retrieved from Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child. Association for Supervision and Curriculum. Retrieved from Will, M. (2020b, May 4). Should Schools Pay for Teachers’ Internet Access? Education Week. Retrieved from Will, M. (2020a, April 29). Teachers Without Internet Work in Parking Lots, Empty School Buildings During COVID-19. Education Week. Retrieved from  

Download: MAEC-Rural-Reimagining the New Normal

Post Image Tech Tips: A guide on technology and electronic resources for families and caregivers

The CAFE Technology, Equity, and Access (TEA) Committee has developed these tech tips to help families and caregivers find, access, and use digital devices and online resources. The following sections explain using technology for learning:

  1. Get a digital device and access the internet
  2. Find resources at your public library
  3. Use technology safely
  4. Utilize technology for equity and to meet your child’s needs

Tech Tips: A guide on technology and electronic resources for families and caregivers

How to access digital resources

The CAFE Technology, Equity, and Access (TEA) Committee has developed these tech tips to help families and caregivers find, access, and use digital devices and online resources. The following sections explain using technology for learning:
  1. Get a digital device and access the internet
  2. Find resources at your public library
  3. Use technology safely
  4. Utilize technology for equity and to meet your child’s needs

Part 1: Get a digital device and access the internet

Today’s world of technology involves three important areas:
  • Hardware—such as computers, tablets, and phones.
  • Software—applications or programs on your hardware, such as web browsers or video conferencing.
  • Internet connection—access to the internet, often through a WiFi hotspot or hard-wired cable.
Step 1: Get a computer or other digital device Many public schools loan computers to students. Please ask your school about options. Public libraries can also help families gain access to a computer or tablet in several ways: Step 2: Find the right software The software you choose will depend somewhat on the hardware you have. For example, Chromebooks use Google software, like the Google Suite. Apple computers can run many Microsoft products if purchased, but not all. The same can be said for Microsoft computers and Apple software.
  • Many computers come with a lot of software already installed.
  • Computers on loan from public schools and libraries may already have certain software installed. However, families will not be able to make changes to loaned computers.
  • If you purchased a computer, you have some flexibility with what software is installed. For instance, Chrome and Firefox web browsers are free for both PCs and Macs, but Microsoft Edge is only on Microsoft computers. Apple’s Safari browser is only available on Apple computers.
  • Be careful downloading new software and ensure that the website it downloads from is reputable.
Step 3: Connect to the internet Internet providers often offer packages and services for educational purposes. If you call them, providers can guide you to the services that best fit your needs. Two ways to find available options are: Note: When contacting internet providers, be sure to ask for any special discounts. Your school’s website or your child’s teacher may also be a valuable resource, providing tech tips, videos, and other materials to help in areas like hardware, software applications, digital safety, and educational resources. Often, school websites have dedicated web pages to support families regarding their technological needs. Homeschooling associations can also provide this type of information and support to families.

Part 2: Find resources at your public library

Did you know your local public library is open to everyone in the community? All libraries support youth and families with print and electronic resources to support education and learning. Libraries are skilled in helping families regarding their technology needs, particularly families who are not connected with a specific school or educational organization, such as homeschool families. Visit your public library to learn about free resources and programs. If you cannot visit in person, call your local library branch to talk with a librarian who can answer your questions. Or, go online to find your local public library and learn about their available resources. Ask your child’s teacher for more information about how the school and public library work together to support learning. These partnerships often help children and families access shared resources, attend joint programs (e.g., summer reading, reading night), and sign up for free library cards. All Maryland public libraries offer library cards for minors that will not incur overdue fines.

Part 3: Use technology safely

This section is not an exhaustive guide about technology and online safety but rather a series of guideposts to assist families and caregivers in finding information about online safety. Today’s technology is powerful, but it is also used for scams, fraud, and bullying. All children should be with a trusted adult when accessing new technology. Speak with your child about the risks of being online.
  • Personal information: Children should learn to protect their personal information while online. They should not share their name, age, address, school, or other information about themselves. This type of information can be used by scammers, thieves, and predators to gain your child’s trust and lure them into harmful situations.
  • Email/passwords safety: Children should not use their real names, either first or last, for their email addresses. Passwords, too, should be a random mix of numbers and letters, not easily guessed by others.
  • Social media: Despite age guidance suggesting 12 and up for most social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, many young children find themselves on these platforms. While social media can connect friends and family, there is also a risk, especially for young children and teens.
Get tips and resources on keeping children safe online from the United States Department of Justice website.

Part 4: Utilize technology for equity and to meet your child’s needs

Families come from a variety of backgrounds, and their needs are different. Challenges to accessing and using technology may include financial difficulties, limited English proficiency, multi-generational or multi-family living arrangements, and low technology literacy. Here are important tips and strategies to work through these types of challenges.
  1. Share your family’s technology needs, including challenges that may limit your child’s ability to participate fully. Consider the following:
    • Are there limited resources at home, such as no printer, intermittent WiFi connections, or other limitations?
    • Are there multiple children in a small space or using a shared computer?
    • Are the primary caregivers able to provide help with technology?
    • Do you need tips on using shared devices, like library computers?
    • Do you wish to join an online parent or school group for support, if available?
    • Do you or your children have other commitments that compete with school, such as work or family care obligations?
  2. Inform your child’s teacher(s) about your preferred communication method and ask about the best way to reach your child’s teacher.
    • Use various communication tools and apps to communicate with your child’s teacher(s), including emails, text messages, phone calls, in-person meetings, or notes sent to school.
    • Include the date, your child’s name, and grade on all written communications.
  3. Contact the school and request language support for all communications if family members speak a language other than English and need language access for interpreting and translating documents.
    • Schools or school districts should provide language support, including American Sign Language, foreign-language interpreters, translated documents, and other resources.

Get additional resources from the following community organization websites

All families and caregivers can advocate for their children. Here are some additional resource websites for families to support their children’s use of technology:  


CAFE TEA would like to express our gratitude to the many people who inspired, advised, and assisted in the creation of this document, including Shirly Bloomfield (CEO, Rural Broadband), Cory Williams (National Education Association), Duane Mattise (Principal, Smith Valley Schools, NV), Megan D’Arcy (Rural Maryland Council). We are also deeply grateful to the past and current members of the CAFE TEA committee: Young-chan Han, Sheila Jackson, Randall MacGill, Carrie Sanders, Kayla Solinsky, Dorothy Stoltz, Heather Tomlinson, Bumsuk Won, and Rachel Wright. MAEC is an education nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to high-quality education for culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse learners. Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE), a project of MAEC, is a Statewide Family Engagement Center for Maryland and Pennsylvania. MAEC is committed to the sharing of information regarding issues of equity in education. The contents of this document were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the Statewide Family Engagement Centers Program. However, the contents of this guide do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Department of Education or the federal government, generally.   © 2022 Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, Inc. All rights reserved. Suggested citation: Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, Inc (2022). Tech Tips: A guide on technology

Download: Tech Tips

Post Image The Choice is Yours: A Families Guide for Equitable School Choice in Maryland and Pennsylvania

Families will find information on

  • Equity considerations in school choice
  • Different educational options for early childhood through high school
  • Specific information tailored to English Learners and students with disabilities
It aims to provide comprehensive information to families from diverse backgrounds on various aspects of school choice. Not all school districts offer the same programs detailed in this guide, highlighting the importance of understanding the available options to make informed decisions for children.


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