Families Living in Rural Settings...
How Full is the Glass?

By Janet DesGeorges

"Rural educators and families can either focus on the feeling of isolation and lack of understanding they get from the urban-oriented American media, or they can appreciate the benefits of smaller communities and open spaces. But whatever their hangups or blessings, they must become more vocal if they are to have a voice in how national special education policy is shaped."

- Marty Strange, director of policy for the Rural School and Community Trust.

So you want it all..you want to live in a beautiful location in the rural setting, away from the crowds and the smog.  You also need to advocate for a good education for your child who is deaf or hard of hearing, with what sometimes seems to be limited resources, as well as limited expertise from your lead educational agency for deaf/hh kids.  Following are some resources and excerpts from writings about the rural setting.  After two hours of searching on the internet, I have to tell you that there seemed to be a huge amount of articles/research/projects that identify the problems of rural life for kids in special education, but not very much innovative practice in meeting the needs of kids.  Let us hear from you how you have meaningfully advocated for your child in the rural setting.  A few tips I have heard from other parents and educators are:

Use technology:

  • Your child can find a deaf/hh peer through the internet, do research on deaf/hh contributions to society, etc.
  • Videoconferencing - access to activities from other parts of the state through videoconferencing (see TIDBITS section for update on Storytelling)

Get Creative - Be Optimistic and Aggressive at a Grassroots Level:

  • Think outside the box
  • Don't let the old excuses prevail

Don't compromise what you know is needed:

  • You have the right to ask for communication access for your child.
  • You may have to wait longer, but don't give up.
  • Work with the school board, the community (example:  a fundraising community group in a small community is helping to raise money for FM systems)

An Excerpt from " A Look at Rural Families Weighing Educational Options " says this:

"Rural schools comprise the majority of the nation's school systems and remain extremely diverse (Helge, 1984a). With the passing of federal legislation, rural schools have been forced to address the educational needs of children with disabilities within the local school system. Rural school districts serving students who are deaf often face unique problems. Because of the low incidence of deafness, these districts lack the critical mass of students needed to ensure proper grade-level placement ( Moores , 1996). Often teachers are required to teach a small group of children with varying degrees of hearing loss and at multiple grade levels. Other problems that may plague small rural districts include a lack of qualified personnel, inadequate transportation, and reduced funding.

A study conducted in 1990 by Stone (cited in Wengerd, Hayes, & Luetke-Stahlman, 1995) found that teacher turnover rates in rural areas are 30 to 50 percent annually, and the most common reason cited for teachers leaving centered on feelings of isolation. In rural districts many of the educators who provide services to students with disabilities do not have specialized certification or training in deafness. Consequently, many educators are issued "emergency certification" in order to fill positions requiring a special educator (Helge, 1984).

Parents in these districts must wrestle with questions such as: If the professionals and service providers working with these students who are deaf have no specialized training in the area of deafness, how can they adequately inform parents about the educational placement options available to their children? Furthermore, are they equipped to assist the parents in assessing the individualized needs of children passing from one educational level to another?

Rural school districts, however, do have certain advantages when compared to urban settings. On the positive side, rural districts often have a relatively high trust factor, close family ties, a sense of community, and a willingness to volunteer in helping individuals with disabilities (Helge, 1984a). Another conceivable advantage of working in rural settings is that special education teachers often have the same group of students over a period of several years. In that environment, teachers may enjoy watching the children grow and mature from year to year and develop a special bond with pupils." (Wengerd et al., 1995).  (Entire Article available at http://clerccenter2.gallaudet.edu/KidsWorldDeafNet/e-docs/rural-families/index.html)

When you are living in a rural setting, is your glass half empty, or half full?  As professionals and families from rural settings who have children who are deaf or hard of hearing speak out, positive change and creative, innovative solutions to problems can begin to be implemented and shared throughout the state.  For more resources, check out the websites below.






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