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Rural Resilience

A case study in collaborative action to leverage strengths of rural communities and support child wellbeing
Children standing holding hands

Over 8.9 million students attend rural schools, yet rural communities often experience a gap in mental health and medical services. As people in contexts all over the country manage health concerns, stress, and isolation, COVID-19 has only heightened disparities between students in rural and non-rural areas.

A recently released case study from the Education Redesign Lab highlights work by Resilient Southern Illinois (Resilient SI) to leverage the assets of rural communities and foster cross-sector collaboration to strengthen child wellbeing.

While distance, transportation, and limited access to partners and resources are common challenges across rural contexts, the case study notes that one of the tremendous strengths of this region are close-knit relationships and culture of communal responsibility.

Using those relationship-based assets, Resilient SI was able to:

Create a backbone organization supported by local leadership.

Stakeholders have deep personal motivation for engaging in this work as many grew up in the region and have lifelong connections to the area. Leadership’s close ties with the teachers’ union allowed it to gain traction and the union allocated a part-time director position to the initiative.

Implement trauma-responsive practices and student Success Plans to create a “continuum of care.”

With the Partnership’s support, Resilient SI hosted 15 trauma-responsive training sessions and two eight-week book studies with approximately 900 participants, including teachers, staff, and administrators. They are continuing to adapt trainings to respond to needs, particularly around connecting more remote schools and communities. To ensure that each student has a relationship with a caring adult, the district is implementing individual student Success Plans alongside trauma-responsive practices.  

Applying Lessons Learned

As an initiative of the nonprofit Partnership for Resilience — a member of EdRedesign’s national By All Means network — Resilient SI works to bring school districts and health care providers together to build the resiliency of children affected by trauma.

The case study demonstrates that in rural contexts, collaboration is an integral element in improving child wellbeing.

Though the diversity among rural communities makes it difficult to apply lessons across contexts, the initiative’s work may provide insight into the opportunities for collaborative action:

  1. Local leaders are well-positioned to tap into existing networks of trust and communal responsibility to advance and sustain cross-sector collaboration.
  2. Teachers’ unions can be valuable partners in this work. In this case, the union helped provide backbone support and brought teachers together to advance the initiative’s goals.
  3. Technology can minimize obstacles like distance and transportation. Broadband connectivity is still a challenge. But using technology like zoom meetings alongside adaptations that make resources and training accessible — multiple training site locations and designated point-people for remote areas, for instance — can help ensure communication and connection.
  4. Look for support at regional, state, and national levels to bring in expertise and resources. The Partnership and the By All Means national network provided backbone support and learning opportunities with other communities engaged in similar work.
  5. Strategically engage a wide range of stakeholders. Systems and structures like a Children’s Cabinet that convenes community members and stakeholders to advance a common agenda can help ensure wraparound supports and opportunity for kids.
  6. Prioritize investigating funding opportunities. Rural districts and communities historically have a hard time accessing funding. To ensure the work is sustainable, find creative ways to diversify funding streams. Look for philanthropies and grants across business and government sectors.

Key Takeaways

  • There is a tremendous diversity among rural areas across the country. Still, continuing to share strategies across contexts is key to advancing child wellbeing.
  • Invest in relationships. When stakeholders feel they have a shared agenda, cross-sector collaboration helps move resources to support children.
  • Look for ongoing, creative ways to bridge distance and diversify funding streams, to make the work accessible and sustainable.

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