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Serving: IN
group photo of high school kids Tom J. Bechman
HANDS-ON LEARNING: This agriculture mechanics class gathered for a picture in their workspace. Obviously, this was long before COVID-19 affected daily routines. Teaching hands-on concepts virtually is virtually impossible.

5 reasons rural kids should be back in school this fall

Kids learn life lessons from interacting with others.

I could have written this article weeks ago. But I was counting on common sense prevailing and schools opening for in-person schooling this fall. Then on July 13, Washington Township in Indianapolis, which includes North Central, one of Indiana’s largest high schools, announced school would remain virtual for the foreseeable future.

No, it’s not a rural school. But it was a big domino to fall. Obviously, fear trumped common sense and scientific fact. So, it’s time to lay out five reasons why I believe all kids, especially rural kids, deserve in-person school.

Upfront, understand I’m not against taking precautions. I have confidence that administrators and school boards in rural districts can develop sensible safety measures.

1. Online learning doesn’t work for everyone. Many teachers tried hard last spring to make e-learning work. But if a student decides not to get online, how do you reach out through the computer and bring him or her into class? And even if a student is trying but doesn’t understand some new concept, getting specialized help is much tougher. A teacher only has so many hours in a day to devote to emails or instant messaging. Many teachers report e-learning was far more work than regular school.

2. Internet learning fails if you can’t access the internet. Randy Kron, Indiana Farm Bureau president, says that’s one big thing people have learned since the pandemic started. Access to high-speed, high-quality broadband in rural areas is spotty at best, and not up to the standards some people thought existed. There are students who can’t access virtual lessons due to poor internet service. There are others who can’t access it because their family can’t afford it. And there are school districts where those students fall through the cracks.

3. You can’t duplicate face-to-face social interaction. One of my memories from freshman year of high school is my ag teacher challenging me to stand up in front of class. We had to recite the FFA Creed. I was terrified — the first time. I was scared the second time. By the time I was a senior, talking in front of class put butterflies in my stomach, but most days they flew in formation. I became a teacher and have delivered numerous public speeches. Could a computer help me do that?

4. Don’t underestimate the agony of defeat and thrill of victory. I ranked 33rd in speed on a 32-person junior high track team. I was a shy, backward farm kid with limited athletic talent. So, the day I beat a “cool” kid in a wrestling match in physical education class was a tremendous boost for my ego. For the first time, people stood around cheering — for me! Duplicate that turning point online.

5. Boy meets girl. This is part of the ritual of growing up. Then sometimes the boy and girl break up, yet they’re still in the same class. Each must learn how to go on with their lives and realize it’s not the end of the world. Many variations of this happen in social media, but it’s not the same in person. School settings allow kids to learn about all kinds of interpersonal relationships. It’s a type of learning kids need — just as much as learning a foreign language or calculus.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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