Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Small towns and counties on NPR

Yesterday, NPR ran two stories back to back on Morning Edition about small towns and rural places.

The first was about the pros and cons of city and county governments consolidating services, and among the cons was the loss of identity for local government units that consolidate.  Amy Kiley reports from Waukesha County, Wisconsin under the headline, "Communities Debate Whether Sharing Services Saves Money." But near the end of her story, where she is focused on what is lost in consolidation--acknowledging it can be something quite "nebulous:  civic identity," Kiley references a rural place and provides a poignant quote from Mike Nolles, who formed Class Ones United eight years ago to resist a wave of school consolidation in Nebraska that ultimately closed more than 200 small school districts.  Nolles says:
When you lose a school like this, it's the exact same feeling you have when your home burns down with all of your family photographs. It's the exact same feeling, because I've experienced both.
The second story--really a little radio vignette--is also about education.  It is out of Dickenson County, Virginia, population 15,690, and billed by NPR as "one of the poorest in Virginia."  The poverty rate there is 21.3%, and its population is 98.8% white. Dickenson County is in Appalachia, and its coal-dependent economy was in decline even before the Great Recession.  The story focuses on Tammy Smith, retiring after 32 years as speech therapist in the Dickenson County Schools.  The story quotes her regarding how she held onto hope even as she watched her community decline:
Well, they're basically everything that the county's got to look forward to, because it is a struggling town population-wise, economically, and their children really need all the encouragement and education we can give them to promote the future.
She cites Seth Baker as a Dickenson County native who has come home--after getting a law degree.  Smith says:
And he didn't have to come there. He could have gone, you know, to a larger city, but he's come back home.
As for Baker, he explains his motivation:
I guess you can be a small fish in a big pond, or you can be a big fish in a small pond. But I just like the people around here. The roots are strong. 
I know my education that I received here, and when I got to college and elsewhere, I was able to keep up with everybody else. I did talk a little bit funny. I guess you can tell. But I felt like I had the tools to compete and survive anywhere, with what I got here.

No comments: