Catching up with Remake Rural

The small towns and rural communities of southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia are frontiers of engaging, relevant, and equitable learning. Catch up with what Remake Learning Rural Outreach Coordinator Allie Mullins is learning from educators across the region.

Since its inception, Remake Learning has been a regional effort encompassing hundreds of rural communities across southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. While the city of Pittsburgh has been the center of gravity for much of the network, you don’t have to travel too far outside of the city’s boundaries to encounter educators and community members instigating innovation in the Appalachian countryside.

Rural school districts are expanding access to modern learning, like Canon-McMillan’s computer science immersion initiative and Burgettstown Area Elementary Center’s makerspace. Regional colleges and universities are partnering with schools and communities in new ways to increase access to creative technologies, like through the CREATE Lab Satellite Network, the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit, and the Center for Arts & Education at West Liberty University.

Allie Mullins

In 2018, Remake Learning launched an intentional rural outreach strategy to find more of these cutting edge innovators from the farther reaches of the Pittsburgh region.

For the past year, Remake Learning Rural Outreach Coordinator Allie Mullins has been traveling throughout the region, connecting, linking, and weaving rural communities together with each other, and with their peers in Pittsburgh.

In that time, Allie has met with hundreds of educators, visited dozens of communities, and convened network members in local settings far and wide.

What makes rural communities an important focus for Remake Learning?

It’s important to know and understand what’s happening with learning in rural areas and to extend Remake Learning’s reach there because educators and learners in those places are doing just as amazing things to remake learning and need equal access to the network’s resources and connections.

It’s a matter of broadening and deepening Remake Learning’s work. Rural communities have a lot to share with one another, and with their urban peers in places like Pittsburgh.

How far does Remake Learning’s reach extend?

We use an hour radius outside of Pittsburgh as a rough guide. This means our reach includes the counties surrounding Allegheny and into north-central West Virginia and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

That large of a region means that there’s a lot of diversity. But we’re all part of the same region, so we recognize a lot of the same issues and opportunities, we see a lot of similar wants and needs. It’s the diversity of outlooks and perspectives that we want to share.

K-12 education varies state-by-state. What have you noticed as a result of across state boundaries?

Structurally, the arrangement between the state and the local schools is a little different between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, we have Intermediate Units that typically serve many different districts across several counties. In West Virginia, it’s a little more consolidated at the County level. The County Schools are often the intermediary with the state and the district administration. This means there are more people with a direct role in oversight.

That aside, there are a ton of regional similarities. Communities in both states have gone through post-industrial economic hardships. Many communities have a similar sense of pride in their place and the people they call neighbors.

Where have you been and what have you learned in the past year?

I’ve learned that it’s important to meet people where they are. Every school, every district, every nonprofit, every organization that does youth-based work is different. They’re doing different things, operating in different contexts and with different capacities. So meeting them where they are and understanding the route they’re on to reach and serve the youth in their community is a critical first step.

Practically speaking, this has meant broadening my outreach beyond education. There are tons of people and organizations catering to the broader needs and wants of the whole child, so they need to be engaged just as much as the schools.

When I organize a Meetup or Lunch & Learn, I try to draw people from all across the spectrum of youth-serving organizations, not just education. So we’ve got community groups, after school programs, childcare providers, and educators all in the same place. Breaking down those silos is not the only first step, but it’s a really important first step.

When we’re successful, the partnerships that can blossom out of cross-sector collaboration creates really great opportunities for everyone.

What should everyone know about learning in rural communities?

Educators and learners in rural communities are just as eager and willing to form new partnerships and do the work that we see happening in places like Pittsburgh. Everyone is really interested in connecting more with higher education institutions, striking up remote partnerships across the region — even across the country.

Also, rural communities have their own assets to bring to the table. I really love to see when people in Pittsburgh are wanting to work with rural communities. There’s an abundance of energy and ideas out there.

What’s coming up for Remake Rural?

I’m focusing a lot of my attention on sustainability: how do we keep what we’ve started going? So expect some new approaches to doing that, too.
We’ll be hosting more virtual events to help people connect across great distances. We received great feedback from our first virtual session back in August, so I’m excited to schedule more of those this fall.

Later in October, I’ll be part of a panel at the National Forum to Advance Rural Education sharing our approaches to rural outreach and network building with people doing similar work around the country.

It’s a research-based conference focused on what’s affecting rural educators. It’s also a place for rural educators to come together to share tools and resources to take back to the communities they’re from.

I’m excited for this because it’s useful and interesting to hear what rural educators across the country are experiencing, and also finding some new tools and perspectives I can bring back and share with the Remake Learning network.

How could people learn more and get involved if they want to?

First, visit the Remake Rural portal. There you can see a snapshot of the events we have coming up and sign up for the Remake Rural newsletter. And of course, people can get in touch with me directly. I’d love to hear from them!

Published October 09, 2019