Written by Ginger Felburg
I had a vision of all public high schools having the same opportunities, education, and structure. I knew there were some variations on funding due to the income of surrounding neighborhoods, but in general I believed the public education system was standardized. This misconception began unveiling itself around the beginning of my junior year in High School.
I met a girl name Kyndra Wolf this past summer. She lives in Canby, Oregon, a rural environment about forty minutes away from Wilson. Once we became friends, she would spend weeks at my house over the summer. She was often surprised by features of my life whether it be taking public transit, going downtown, or walking to school. All of these ideas were completely foreign to her.
¨It was weird to be able to take transit, being able to do Lyft, Postmates, Uber. Those things that we don’t really have,¨ Kyndra said ¨It’s so easy for everyone to hang out. For us it’s way more of a commitment. We live far away, it takes a lot to make plans with someone. You have to pretty much leave to do anything”
We chalked it up to her living in a rural town and me living in, or at least near, the city. We didn’t think much of this difference until the school year came around. As we talked about what we were doing in class, daily activities, and our teachers, we began to realize the public high schools we went to were completely different. For example, while during my sophomore year we studied immigration, she read half the Bible. We both laughed at the thought of swapping that curriculum around. We were positive that classroom discussion would look very different.
About a month ago I had the idea to visit her school and talk to their faculty about what we had discovered and report back to Wilson. So I set up a day to visit Canby High School, and a local elementary school, named 91. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arrival, so I tried to be prepared for anything,
I started my trip visiting the elementary school, which I then found out was actually a K-8 school. Kyndra toured me around the school and introduced me to a variety of teachers and administrators. I kept my eye peeled for differences that I noticed from the middle schools back in Portland. The first thing I saw that was out of the ordinary was Christmas decorations and a surplus of Christmas themed arts and crafts. I thought it was odd that a public school didn’t get complaints from parents of non-Christian families about the blatant display of only one religion. When I pointed out my realization to Kyndra, she simply laughed and explained that we would be surprised if there was one family that did not celebrate Christmas in the district.
We then made it back to the main office in time for our interview with Skyer Rudolf, principal of nine years at 91. Rudolf grew up in a rural area on 100 acres of land. He explained to me why he liked the rural environment and working in K-8 schools.
“I always associated the K-8 schools being rural, not big enough to have a middle school,¨ Rodolf said. ¨Having kids for 9 years is a fun benefit of a community, and I think they grow up a little slower. It’s tough with larger middle schools. I think being a K-8 allows that transition to be a little smoother. Our kids get to be kids longer, vs a school with 600 seventh or eighth graders where you´re just lost”
Rudolf was a huge advocate for the benefits of being educated in a rural community. So much of what he told me was so foreign to my upbringing. I was surprised that I was only 40 minutes from my Wilson.
“We don’t have a public library right down the street, we don’t have five parks within walking distance, so 91 is the epicenter of our community. And this is a difference with all rural schools,¨ Rodolf said. ¨On weekends, community members are walking the track, they’re coming to the school to have their kids playing on the playground, so there’s a real sense of pride and ownership amongst the community.”
There’s a lot of perks to living near the city that we take for granted, but Rudolf also showed me there’s more to it than that. Sometimes desperate times bring people together. 91 brings this small town together, because they don’t have easy access to much else. They’ve used this as an opportunity to build a strong community that takes pride in what it has to offer.
“There’s times I’ll get a text on weekends: ‘Hey, somebody parked that looks a little funny at the school,’ or ‘Theres a broken water pipe out on the garden,’ and they’re from just community members,” Rudolph said.
People learn to look out for each other, even if it might not just directly benefit them. I can’t help but think that definitely rubs off on the kids, seeing as how they spend most of their time in the heart of their town.
“Being rural, you have agriculture as a foundation. A lot of our kids have grown up having to dig nursery stalk, having to get up and feed their animals, participating in 4-H and FFA (future farmers of America),¨ Rodolf said. ¨That’s not every kid, but I see more of a down to earth work ethic. Our kids are generally more respectful to each other,”
Rudolf had pride in his school and community. Walking down the halls, I noticed it too. The kids were quiet and respectful. Now I’m not there to peek under the curtains of this school and see what it’s like on a daily basis, however, I remember my middle school never having a dull moment. We were always wandering the hallways and talking through class.
“I think some of our kids don’t have to deal with some of the same stresses and pressures, whether that’s drugs and alcohol, it’s just not as prevalent,” Rudolph said. “There’s good and bad to both growing up rural and urban. Both environments experience different difficulties when it comes to education.”
“I think the difference in the curriculum vs a larger school district like Portland Public, when we adopt a curriculum, we have maybe three teachers from every school coming together with district leaders to evaluate curriculum. That allows everybody to have buy-in and match your community. Being a smaller school district, that’s a novelty that we get to have,” Rodolf said.
Rudolf explained how curriculum can vary based on school district. The smaller the district, the more personalized the information might be.
For me, the elephant in the room seemed to be politics and religion, the stereotype being that all rural areas are conservative. So being the blunt person I am, I asked him what the political environment was like in Canby and why he believed it to be that way.
“I think you could probably stereotype Canby as that Protestant Christian community (but) we have a pretty large Russian old believer community. It’s still the Christian background, but a very unique community,” Rudolph said.
I had never thought of diversity in that way. Every school has diversity in one way or another. I’m sure there will be cultures and customs that are different everywhere I go, whether it be a public institution or not. Rudolf helped me to see that, and understand that it’s not necessarily a negative thing.
After goodbyes, we hopped in the car and raced over to Canby High School to take a look around and grab one more interview before my return to Wilson.
Canby High School was huge with long dark hallways. We walked into the main office where again I was surprised to be greeted by a large Christmas tree. I grabbed my visitor pass and was on my way to interview Troy Souls.
Souls has been teaching at Canby High School for seventeen years. He did his student teaching at South Eugene High School, then taught at Celoge Middle School in Portland, right off Powell Blvd. When that school was shut down, Souls taught at South Eugene High School before eventually moving on to teach English at Canby High School.
I was interested to hear what Souls had to say because of his well-rounded perspective on the topic. From teaching at an inner city middle school to ending up at Canby, Souls has seen both sides of rural and urban environments.
“I’ve been in other inner city schools that aren’t depressing; Wilson is a pretty good school, and in those places I think the urban setting is fantastic. Sadly some students who grow up in Canby think of Portland as a foreign country, and they’re terrified of going into the city,” Souls said.
Being so close to downtown, not only do we have access to the activities of a city, but we’re exposed enough to know how to get around a city without fear. A student from Canby doesn’t have constant access to the kind of education living in a large city can provide.
Souls tells me that he encourages his students to explore downtown Portland. He gives extra credit for watching theater. He wants students to feel comfortable in a city. For his students spring paper, be brings in books from public libraries and pushes his students to visit the libraries themselves. He hopes that he can expose them to the benefits a city has to offer, while diminishing any fear of the unknown.
Both Souls and Rudolf mentioned the benefit of being in a smaller district. Canby happens to be one of nine schools in its district, where as Wilson is one of 78. This means funding is more limited school by school and curriculum becomes less personalized based on our environments.
If you go to Grant, Madison, or Jefferson you’re going to see this impact far more than at Wilson, Cleveland, or Lincoln. We are lucky here at Wilson because we have a community around our school that will support our education. There’s enough money in the neighborhoods around us that we don’t have to see extreme poverty reflected in our high school.
“Lincoln, Wilson, Grant, they do pretty well. They also have neighborhoods around them, with money who have done some rather creative things to preserve those schools,” Souls said.
Souls stressed the advantages of going to an urban high school. Ultimately though, he enjoys teaching at Canby High School and tries to equal out the opportunities given to urban students to rural students.
“There are advantages to both. I never saw myself teaching at this high school. Circumstances landed me here, and I love it here. I couldn’t see my self teaching anywhere else.”
After thanking Souls, I wandered the high school asking ten randomly selected students to answer a survey about some basic ideological beliefs. Once returning to Wilson, I did the same. These results aren’t conclusive, they’re just interesting. Here are the results…
What religion do you identity as?
What political party will/have you registered as?
After talking to staff and students at rural schools in Canby, it was time to to drive home. My little experiment however, wasn’t quite over. The next day I was bringing Kyndra to visit Wilson for the day to experience what going to an urban school would feel like.
The next day Kyndra and I grabbed our coffee and drove to Wilson. She went with me class to class hoping to get a feel of the differences of the two schools.
“Everyone seemed to be way happier in general,” Kyndra said. “I noticed a generally more relaxed attitude by the teachers. They treated students more like miniature adults.”
She commented on the freedoms that we have as students at Wilson. Kyndra noticed that teachers and admin at rural high schools seemed to be way more rules focused. Wilson students seemed to have more respect and freedom.
She also commented on how much she learned about college from being at Wilson for one day. She said at Canby there aren’t college focused classes or nearly as much assistance in college prep.
“I visited Avid and saw other more college-based classes,” Kyndra said. “Our classes seem a lot more high school based than the ones at Wilson.”
Kyndra agreed with Rofolf on the benefits of a small town mindset.
¨Everybody is so polite, it’s insane. That small town attitude is really not a joke and I appreciate that,” Kyndra said.
“I gained a new perspective I didn’t know existed solely from one visit to a place forty minutes away from Wilson.”
Kyndra ultimately enjoyed the urban environment and wishes that she could access the resources that we have. Both of us enjoy the experiences we had visiting the other ones’ schools.
¨I feel like spending time in a city school after growing up in so many rural schools, and not just the highschool being rural, but the very rural elementary and middle school that I went to, I didn’t know that there were so many different options and environments at urban schools,” Kyndra said.
After this eventful day my perception of urban schools and rural schools was changed. Not all public schools are the same. They are built to vary based on the student’s environment. There are advantages and disadvantages to both rural and urban schools. We urban students need to utilize our access to the public libraries, local theater, and museums. This type of learning is extremely valuable and students at Wilson are so lucky to have access to hands-on learning experiences.
Ultimately, I highly recommend spending the day in the outskirts of Oregon. I gained a new perspective I didn’t know existed solely from one visit to a place forty minutes away from Wilson. You can learn a lot from traveling outside of your bubble and talking to people.