Rural school systems have a unique set of challenges primarily involving scale and funding that often fail to meet their needs, especially in sparsely populated states like Maine. In general, there are fewer students in each school; fewer dollars going to teachers and more going to fixed, administrative, and overhead expenses; fewer teachers who are also needed to cover multiple subjects so there tends to be less specialization; less choice in curriculum, and unfortunately, less choice in schools.
As of today, 56% -Percent of Maine high school students proficient in reading, 33% -Percent of Maine high school students proficient in math, Maine 62% NE 65% - is the percent of students completing a college degree within 6 years in Maine and New England, with the goal being to close the gap. (Source: Educate Maine, Research & Reports, https://www.educatemaine.org/research-reports, January, 2021.)
To improve these statistics and create true innovation in rural education that could result in significant systemic change, our goal is simple - to provide opportunities to ensure all students develop the knowledge, skills, and aspirations to reach their full potential. Snow Pond is concentrating on the vital areas where we believe policy and procedural changes will have the greatest impact on student results.
A more balanced, impactful, and inventive curriculum can be made available for each student within a nurturing, supportive culture. Summer programming provided here at Snow Pond for the last 85 years offers consistent and valuable insights into proven pathways for innovative solutions. Students who come from all parts of the US reflect a balance of both economic and cultural diversity. These students live and participate in an intergenerational community (for 4 -6 weeks) that offers a balanced and supportive program of arts, recreation, and social activities.
Snow Pond often finds in this summer program that students from rural communities have had very different learning experiences than their peers from other more urban/suburban areas. However, in a short time, we often see transformational results. Parents consistently comment on the astounding change they see in their children musically, socially, and especially aspirationally. Talent is not the differential factor in these students; it is the lack of exposure to opportunity. The challenge lies in how to take the triumphs and culture of the summer program, plus the successes of our expanded year-round programs, and over time apply them to rural public school and community settings more broadly and consistently.
We believe transformational results can be consistently achieved through a combination of the four foundational components of our educational programming:
As an example, many rural areas now have a disproportionate share of senior citizens, many of which are anxious to interact with students and share their “stories”. They are also interested in learning from students about new technologies, or playing an instrument, for example. This creates a very powerful learning experience for students who directly witness this lifelong interest in learning. As more community members encounter Snow Pond, the more this culture and experience radiates throughout the region. When we ask students to describe Snow Pond, the most common answer is “magical.”
As is the case with all kinds of innovation, sustainability and leadership is paramount. Without question, additional resources are needed in rural regions and most importantly these resources need to be equitably allocated to each student. Additional resources include federal and state school and student funding, facility grants and loans, and operational grants. Also, public education systems need to provide more flexibility and openness: to leverage regional assets and programming that have had long-term sustainable success; to adapt to changing conditions and new technologies; and to find new methods and approaches to enhance every student's individual potential.
There also needs to be a better understanding that quality arts and education, including workforce education, are the essential drivers to rural prosperity. Making this happen will require coordination and explicit support from State and Regional Economic and Community Development agencies, the Department of Education, and the politicians that fund them. Snow Pond is at the forefront in providing leadership on building awareness of the major issues and opportunities in rural education, and importantly driving sustainable results and systemic change over time.
In 2015, Snow Pond Center for the Arts launched and is today the home of Maine Arts Academy (MeAA.) MeAA is the only free public high school in Maine dedicated to arts education. Today, MeAA has over 200 students and is gaining traction for their innovative and diverse curriculum.