One-size-fits-all solutions don't meet the needs of ignored and misunderstood rural schools.
A springtime drive down North Carolina Highway 194 in Watauga County is a feast for the senses. Once the rains recede, the trees and fields explode in green. The scent of honeysuckle hangs heavy in the air, a sure sign that summer is around the corner. Cattle graze beside old barns while horses swish their tails. White-framed churches dot the hillsides, looming over the granite markers of their faithful departed. It is, in a word, idyllic.
Seated back from the road on a hill with a breathtaking view of a fertile valley and nearby mountains is Green Valley Elementary School. The school looks like a postcard, but its students do not live picture-postcard lives. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's Child Nutrition Services (2009), 48 percent of children attending Green Valley live at or below the poverty line. Other elementary schools in Watauga County share similar statistics: Valle Crucis, 35.53 percent; Parkway, 36.76 percent; Cove Creek, 50.36 percent; Mabel, 60 percent; and Bethel, 61.94 percent. As one historian writes, "The region's natural beauty [makes] its poverty all the more ironic" (Drake, 2001, p. 174). And, one might add, inconvenient.
The Extent of the Problem