In the past, television shows such as the “Andy Griffith Show” have portrayed rural life as wholesome and peaceful. However, more recently media attention has provided a glimpse into the combination of rampant unemployment, poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, high incarceration rates, and lack of educational opportunities that plagues places of concentrated rural poverty. Documentaries such as “Rich Hill” are a prime example.
“Rich Hill” tracks a year in the lives of three boys in a small Missouri town and highlights the challenges that these boys face in achieving academic success. Only one of the three boys in the film lives with two parents, neither of whom has a steady job. Appachey lives with a single mother who has been working minimum-wage jobs, and Harley lives with his grandmother while his mother is in prison. From the documentary it seems that healthy food is scarce, and only one of the three homes seems to offer a quiet space conducive to studying. All three boys live in environments that affect their mental and emotional well-being, and their schools are ill-equipped to address these challenges.
According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, a larger percentage of public schools in rural areas reported being underenrolled, reported a lack instructional computers with internet access, and a lack of counselors, social workers and special education teachers. Most rural schools face higher costs with lower revenues, and spend an average of 10 percent less per student than metropolitan communities. Teachers in rural communities often have less training, receive lower pay, and are overall less educated than teachers in non-rural communities
Past studies have also shown that when students do not experience quality individualized attention in the classroom, they are more likely to doubt their abilities and feel that no one cares about their performance. If students do not feel that school benefits them, school can begin to feel like a burden and often they will stop going. In “Rich Hill” we see that Harley is a chronic truant who does not seem to be school as beneficial or worth his time. Truancy among rural youth has been associated with decreased parent education and a less structured home environment. Truancy rates can be buffered by more educated parents, or parents who are more involved in a student‘s education, however; in many poor rural areas parents are forced to work long hours or more than one job. In such circumstances it is often impossible for a parent to spend much time with their children.
Participation in school sports or other after school activities can also be a way to prevent truancy among children, but rural communities provide far fewer opportunities for students. Isolated areas rarely have community centers or other safe places where children and teens can go and spend time or engage in extracurricular activities. But although after school programming is essential to the academic success of children, because many students have to travel long distances to and from school, it may not be possible to engage in such after school activities even if they were available.
Even more than poor urban areas, poor rural areas lack resources such as quality education, health care, nutrition education, physical activities, mental health resources, and social enrichment activities. A lack of resources can impede on academic opportunities and successes and eventually a child’s preparation for adulthood. However, because urban poverty has been the basis of the majority of these studies rural poverty and its effect on education often goes unnoticed.