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Tackling Challenges in Rural Schools


Many rural high schools don’t offer calculus, physics and Algebra II courses – building blocks for STEM careers. 

For Black, Latino and low-income students in rural areas, access to math and science has an even bigger gap, and that’s NMSI’s challenge and why we partner with schools to support teachers, school systems and leaders to sustain their work,” says Muriel Alim, NMSI senior program manager.

Alim joined Remake Learning and Get More Math! founder Josh Britton for conversations with educators during a Rural Math Educators Meetup this month.

The meetup primarily included Pennsylvania educators, where NMSI has served schools since 2012, but participants in the virtual session came from other locations around the country. “NMSI has a really deep relationship with schools in Pennsylvania, and we’ve had the opportunity to partner with Remake and the relationships they provide in the state,” Alim says.

Sabina Sattler, NMSI program manager, adds, “As we continue to listen and learn, we’re finding that partnerships have been key to supporting students and teachers.”

Remake Learning is a Pennsylvania-based network that “ignites engaging, relevant and equitable learning practices in support of young people navigating rapid social and technological change.”

NMSI serves rural schools with a federal Education Innovation and Research grant focusing on Advanced Placement. NMSI considers ways to support students living in areas that may have less access to reliable internet, economic challenges and geographic isolation. Where there’s limited capacity for educators to teach AP courses in rural communities, NMSI provides virtual learning and helps schools identify areas where there’s an opportunity for growth.

Educators have access to NMSI’s PreK-12 supports, including synchronous online and in person (when possible by health guidelines) trainings, expert coaching and asynchronous online modules available 365 days a year. NMSI also provides classroom lab equipment and other resources and helps students pay for AP exams.

We often lump rural areas as all like-minded places, but it’s not the truth,” says Sara Leikin, NMSI’s director of Strategic Initiatives. “Rural communities have different needs, make-ups and assets. We think more kids are in urban areas, but that’s not true. Most students attend rural schools.”

Rural Challenges, Solutions

Shai McGowan, a math teacher at State College Area High School in rural central Pennsylvania, shared that during remote learning, she’s had to put videos on thumb drives for students without reliable or no internet access. For students living in two homes with separated parents, McGowan finds one may have access to the internet, while the other doesn’t, so there’s a discrepancy in resources for some of these children. Her district is providing MiFis to 70 families to help with internet access, while others receive support from an internet service provider partnering with the school district.

“In the fall, we’ll have in-person classes every other day, so we’re going to need internet access because students are expected to do some things remotely and some in class,” McGowan says.

Kelly Di Leo, a math teacher at Caroline High School in rural Caroline County, Virginia, shared during the meetup that 25 percent of her students don’t have internet access. She’s had to print hard copies for students.

Britton of Get More Math! says they’re now offering printed worksheets to help meet this need. Get More Math! “provides cumulative practice sessions uniquely tailored to each student’s needs, supporting mastery of new skills and long-term retention.”

NMSI’s Leikin mentioned that many districts across the country partnered with public television stations to offer lessons this way. Students in rural areas may not have reliable internet, but they do have antennas that access public television.

In response to Di Leo’s comments, McGowan says, “That’s your equity that NMSI is trying to address. COVID really did exacerbate the problems we have with inequities across the United States and world.”

Interested in learning more about how NMSI supports rural schools? Contact us.