Gifted Education in Rural Areas

    Does it make a difference where a child lives with regard to their education? Why, yes … yes it does! In fact, it matters a great deal. In the U.S., 40% of American schools are considered rural; towns with populations of less than 2,500 people.[1] In other parts of the world, the percentage is even higher.
    The University of Iowa conducted a survey of rural educators and found some strengths in rural education overall. As might be expected, the role played by the community-at-large was greater than that of an urban area. Smaller numbers of students allowed for more inclusive participation in activities of all kinds. Less mobility of students resulted in greater stability of cohesive classrooms. Teachers got to know their students and were more invested in influencing educational outcomes.
    What does this mean for gifted education? How do these factors influence the way in which teachers deliver services to gifted students? There are pros and cons to rural life when considering the education of academically gifted students.
    Many advocates today – me included – would like to see ability grouping in the classroom. In rural communities, multi-grade/age classes are more common than in other settings. It’s an easy transition for teachers to segue into grouping students by ability without regard for age. If truth be told … it’s a rather ‘natural’ way of educating children. Now if we could only convince other educators of the benefits of this method!
    For one reason or another, people in rural areas tend to value education more; another finding of the Iowa study. This is a huge benefit for schools; having the support of family and community members. Children are expected to work hard, complete assignments and generally to do their best in school.
    The cons of rural life for gifted students often involve lower actual numbers of students identified as intellectually gifted. In Mary St. George’s (New Zealand) excellent post, “Are Rural Needs Different in Gifted Education?”,  she wrote,

        “Whatever rural teachers in small schools can do, they can’t organise

        rural parents to synchronise the delivery of gifted babies in convenient

        batches so that gifted rural children can grow up rubbing shoulders

        with others like themselves.”

Parents of gifted children often struggle to find intellectual peers for their kids, but this can become a more daunting task in rural areas. One response to finding peers for your child is to search online gifted communities. Parents need to be active participants in connecting their children, and it can be a very rewarding endeavor.
    In an article in The School Administer , Donald Kordosky suggested 4 key points to improving gifted education in rural areas. They were 1) raise awareness of the needs of gifted students, 2)establish clear standards for identification/eligibility for gifted programs, 3) professional development in gifted education for regular classroom teachers, and 4) GIEPs for all gifted students. Come to think of it … those are excellent suggestions for all gifted education.
    Dr. Susan Assouline of Belin-Blank at the University of Iowa offers the following strategies for gifted students in rural school districts: 1) meet the child where they are at, 2) utilize acceleration when appropriate, 3) utilize online classes if available, 4)increase opportunities for students to come together  (such as at competitions and conferences), and 5) consider mentoring or study abroad opportunities.
            I would leave you with these sage words penned by Dr. Joy Lawson Davis in her blog post entitled, “Rural Area Gifted Learners” ~ “While we are considering the needs of gifted learners ... this is just a brief appeal to NOT forget about the young scholars sitting in 'the country' in classrooms where they are bored, looking out of windows contemplating the solar system, the earth's ecology, designing a futuristic vehicle, writing the next classic novel in their minds, creating poetic verse, or developing a solution to world peace OR the cure to cancer.. these students need our attention too.”

[1] Gifted Education in Rural & Small Districts, Colorado Department of Education, 2005.


  1. I love this post, probably because it's a subject near and dear to me. We live in rural America by choice. Our kids get to grow up creating memories with their grandparents...from tractor rides to walk a bouts as my dad says, where they search for fossils and other interesting things. But, while we love our school, it's small. Our gifted program consists of 10 kids from all grades and only five different families.

    That's how I found your blog! I was searching for ways to utilize technology. It evens the educational field for these rural kids, if they have access to it, and are encouraged to utilize it.

  2. Thanks, Vicki! I grew up in a small town in a rural school district. I think there are many things to be learned from rural living. Please come back!

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