Theme 1: Rural School Definition

The following discussion paper is posted online using a new technology that allows for citizens to comment on a document on a paragraph by paragraph basis. Comments can be added by clicking on the bubble next to each paragraph. Each comment will be moderated so your comment will not appear immediately. Please read the B.C. government moderation policy prior to posting.

Many of the contributors to the online discussion in Phase 1 understood the challenge with creating a one-size-fits-all definition of a rural school. They mentioned that while there are situations where a rural school exists in a more urban district, there are also situations where a remote school exists in a rural district.

Contributors offered a variety of definitions and criteria. Many identified small community populations as a key factor, though their suggested population sizes varied. For example, while one person said that any school in a community with a population of less than 25,000 could be considered rural, others felt that the community should be smaller than 5,000 for the school to be considered rural.

Many felt that distance from an urban centre was a main factor, though there were varying ideas about what the distance should be. While some felt that a drive of 12 or 15 minutes should be the criteria, others felt that the school should be at least 30 or 45 minutes from the closest town. Contributors also identified a range in distances of between 15 km and 80 km.

Others felt the definition should include the degree of difficulty in getting to school, travelling by road or water. A lot of people talked about a rural school as being one where kids rely on school bus service and those where students have to travel by dirt roads. Others said a school that has students arrive by ferry should be considered rural.

Some said that rural schools could be identified by their small student population, and those with a wide range of grades. There were several mentions that multi-grade classrooms should be part of the criteria.

A few people mentioned that rural schools should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that each school should be assessed on demographic, economic and human factors. A few people mentioned that the focus on agriculture and industry could also be part of the rural definition.

Question: Is there anything additional about the definition of a rural school that you want to share?

30 responses to “Theme 1: Rural School Definition

  1. Erna

    A rural school can be defined not just by one factor alone. A rural school is situated a certain distance away from an urban center. The school can be situated in town or outside town. It can take the students a considerable amount of effort to get to the school. The number of students in the school define how elaborate the school curriculum can be; this number also dictates the level of difficulty to get needed services and support in for the students.

  2. Jennie

    Anything more than 20 kilometres on a major road or a distance across a major water form requiring a ferry from an urban center should be considered rural. The problem with putting a "driving time" on it is affected by the types of roads that are used.

  3. Wayne

    I suggest having several definitions, like we have for villages, towns and cities based on population. Schools could be classified as remote or rural or semi urban depending on the size of the community that they serve.

  4. Rhonda

    In B.C., we used to hold the "Health and Welfare of Children" to a much higher standard in Rural B.C. (everywhere outside of the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Is. is Rural now). In our School District – Rocky Mountain School District #6 – 4.5 year old to 5 year old Kindergarten students are expected to ride approx. 120 km return to go to school 5 days per week (from Field, B.C. – east of Golden – and from Harrogate, B.C. – south of Golden). That is what Rural means in 2017…

  5. Amber

    I agree with Adrienne who said above that if the quality of education becomes an issue, the family could be forced to move. Education should enable families to live and choose the lifestyles they want for their children, whether those choices are towards a rural farm life or an urban city life.

    I would like to suggest that the policy makers, whoever they be, choose the most rural schools and then choose the furthest student and request that they travel with the student to and from home for at least a day or two. To walk a mile, so to speak, in the shoes of the students and families that will be living with the policy-makers decisions.

    These factors majorly shaped my husband's upbringing in rural Alberta, and the long bus rides were a big cost weighing down the scales opposite of his love of school, teachers, education and learning. For someone who enjoyed and thrived in an academic setting, the hour long bus ride was a big cost that still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    My concern is that for children who do not thrive and love their time at school as much, the rural experience may deter them from further academic learning, which is a much greater loss and much more difficult to calculate.

  6. Anne

    25k in a community can support options of schools, accommodation & amenities to attract teachers. If it is within a reasonable drive to a city centre it offers opportunity for sports & culture. A true rural setting has 1 or two primary schools and one secondary. It is a serious burden to consider travelling outside the community to attend a different school or events.

  7. Dan

    In many small rural communities schools are often regarded as the hub of the community. Schools are the places where the community plays sports, enjoys public performances by both local and outside performers, a place where community gathers for meetings as well as many other countless functions. When young families look at moving into rural areas, access to a good local school is often a major consideration. I have watched rural schools be closed down and it's frustrating because once a school closes the struggle to maintain or revitalize those communities becomes even more difficult.

  8. Dan

    I'm reading the posts and several themes seem to be evolving in terms of the definition of 'rural'. The first has to do with distances student must travel to get to a school. The second is distance from that community to a larger urban center. The third issue has to do with the actual size of the school itself. These are all important, but separate issues. If students are travelling great distances to attend a school with 400 student, the school they are attending is not necessarily rural — the community they live in is rural.

  9. Laura

    There needs to be clarity of the term "rural" in regards to the community(ies) the school serves. In Terrace, children are bussed from many out-lying communities. Some children are bussed / driven over an hour each way to attend classes. To consider after-school programming and extra-cirriculars is not an option if these children want to get home on time. Enrollment numbers may not be as high as some communities, but based on the area the district serves per capita of student to school – we lack funding to ensure equal education opportunities compared to higher density spaces in the province. Just transporting the child to and from school is an expense that other districts may not have to consider – rural school or not.

  10. Adrienne

    One of the things that I have found frustrating in our rural community is the charge for the use of the school field. There is no other area in our community to play sports or have an open field for running or any activity that requires a field, and everything that is done in our community is don on a volunteer basis. When fees are imposed to use the field, and high insurance premiums are forced to be paid, it makes it impossible for events to be held, and sports to be played in our communities. This is a hardship for the children in these communities. I would love to see something do to make these areas more accessible to the community.
    There are so many other important things that have been brought up in the other comments. It is clear that there are a lot of things to consider in the rural education situation across our province.
    Thank you for allowing our input to be heard, I hope that it is taken to heart when making these very important decisions.

  11. Adrienne

    A case by case system has me concerned because it would depend on who was making the decision, if it was a strict set of criteria that had to be met, and if those things considered every aspect of the communities and the outlying area and families. As I have mentioned in other comments, it has very wide swiping implications on communities, business, farming, and native american families, it is not just as simple as what is the population of this community and how far away are they from the nearest urban center.
    In the past, we have had to fight hard to keep our small rural school open. This is not something that communities should have to do. Rural communities should be looked at as an integral part of the province, and treated/supported as such.

  12. Adrienne

    It is a fact of life that if you are in a small community, you will have split and/or multi grade classrooms. There are a lot of positive things that come out of split and/or multi-grade classes, however when the schools are forced to look at having 5 grade splits that include primary and intermediate students in the same class, the level of learning is just not educationally sound. There are some fantastic teachers in our area, and I respect them tremendously, however, I don't feel that any teacher can effectively teach that many different grades and cover all the necessary curriculum effectively. Rural communities must receive the same level of education as the children in urban areas. The families in an urban area would not tolerate a grade 3 – 7 multi-grade classroom, and it should not be something that rural families are subjected to.
    The level of learning should be even across the board for all children in every district. When put in the situation to remove your child from your local rural school because they are in a classroom situation that is not educationally sound, it puts undue hardships on families. Typically families in rural areas have lower incomes than those in urban areas, and many of them only have one vehicle, so they have no choice but to move if they are not being supported by the rural schools. This leads to other problems because the de-ruralization of the province effects the farming and agriculture in the province, and negatively effects small businesses in rural areas. So it is bigger than just education.

  13. Adrienne

    This ties in to a comment that I made in the previous section. Our small rural town does not use dirt roads, but the farming families/reserve families that are in our area and are considered a part of our community do have to travel by dirt roads to get to our rural community. Some of these families have over 30 mins of dirt roads to get to the highway that will take them to our community. So the full scope of all the families in the area must be looked at, not just the small communities themselves. Many agriculture/native american families depend on our education services as well.
    That being said, if the distance is considerable or the roads are poor, it shouldn't have to be a dirt road or boat that is the deciding factor for a community to be considered rural.

  14. Adrienne

    Sorry, I already commented on this section, but realized another important factor that I forgot to mention. The area around our small rural town has lots of farming families, and a reserve that are outside of our community, and for these children, the drive into an urban center is much longer. Some of these children have 3 hours added onto their day due to travelling to high school in the nearest urban center. They have a longer day than the children that are in our community to attend elementary school also.
    So the rural communities must also include and consider the needs of families that are even more rural, but still use the services in the towns. Agriculture/farming families are vital to our province and their needs must be strongly considered.

  15. Adrienne

    The drive from our rural community to the next urban center is 30 mins by car. The community has an elementary school for K – 7 students. The high school children take a bus to the high school in the nearest urban center. The buss ride is 1 hour, because of stops and the additional time of picking up and dropping off students.
    This is a long day for the high school students, but they are better able to handle this length of day at their age. The younger students would not do well, and their education would suffer with this length of day 5 days a week.
    Also the roads are something to take into consideration. The stretch of highway that our children are on every day is not a great stretch of road, and it has lots of accidents, especially in the winter months. Safety and quality of education are definitely very important things to take into consideration.

  16. Adrienne

    I agree fully with the comment that Yoriko made. I live in and grew up in the same town of approx. 600 people, and don't feel that a population of 25,000 people have the same issues around education as the very small communities around the province do. Although they would have different challenges that an urban center. So I guess one way to think of it would be different degrees of support for different sizes of communities.

  17. Debbie

    It is difficult to define a rural school using population, although I understand the reason for using population as a factor. I live and teach in a community of 10,000 population, with a couple of schools on the outlying border of the district. They are both roughly 20-25 minutes drive from the school to the local board office. I would consider that "rural". I would rather use distance from the local board office as a factor over population.

  18. James

    Take a look at average travel times. I would suggest that any school with an average travel time of >30 min, or possibly a distance # (20-30 km) _for the furthest away student_ is a rural school, even if said school is located in a urban area. Another moderately easy to use metric is that a rural school is one which students have no other viable alternative to attending that school.

  19. Yoriko

    I agree with Silvia … I also think discussion with front line staff and at the grassroots level with the communities would give a lot of insight as well to the "decision makers" (who are probably all living in urban centers)

  20. Yoriko

    In the community I live in (less than 600 people) we have a K-7 elementary school. The closest urban center is 30 minutes away. Our high school students go to the urban center for school … school bus picks them up around 7am and they get home between 4-4:30pm depending on the roads. I would not want this for our elementary school aged children. It's hard enough for the high school students. The reason why the pick up is so early and drop off is so late for the high school bus is because the bus picks up other high school kids along the way to the urban center … at least two stops before getting to school …

  21. Yoriko

    I believe that the the definition of rural community is really a matter of perspective … I hardly think that a community with 25,000 people is a rural community, but I live in a rural community of less than 600 people and raised in a community with less than 1500 people. So from my perspective a community with 25,000 people would not be rural. But from a person who lives in a location with 100, 000 people the 25,000 may seem rural. The rural community I live in now has an elementary school (K-7; with three classroom teachers), but all our high school aged children are bussed to nearest urban center for high school – takes about an hour on the school bus as it picks up other high school ages students along the way.

  22. Liza

    Rural schools maybe situated in an urban setting but the children attending it come from rural communities. The local schools near us have closed due to decrease student enrollment and the children have to be bussed to the urban centre. Often there are special late busses made available twice a week for these students in the older grades to attend clubs and participate in sports and activities that are specifically scheduled on these days to accommodate these students. Schools that have Multigraded classes and grade beyond the normal definition of elementary for example k to 8/9/10/11 or even 12. Schools that have students that rely on distant education programs to supplement their school offerings due to low populations for example grade 9 French, other languages, first nations classes like first nations English, first nations 12.

  23. Liza

    I rural school is one that children have to drive to by bus over 30 minutes from next biggest city and under 200 children. As well as having children bussed or driven in from agricultural lands under 30 minute bus ride.

  24. Silvia

    this should really be a case to case decision.

  25. Silvia

    a school which is 30 min or more away from the next bigger town should be considered a rural school. Who would like to have his/her child as of the age of 5 to travel 30 min on a bus twice a day, if there is a chance to have a local school.
    Regarding the number of kids needed to have a local school, this should be around the 50 kids number.

  26. Quinton

    I agree that to define a "rural school" is difficult Especially as this definition will likely have funding and service ramifications. for instance my daughter attends school in town (urban) but is bussed from over an hour away as we live over 50 km from the school. I believe we are close to being the furthest from this school but there are many Rural families serviced by the school and thus challenges for the school to address this need.

  27. Clinton

    I think you either need to assess on a case by case basis, or you need a comprehensive list of metrics, and perhaps schools could be scored on each of those metrics to see where they fall on a scale. I don't think you can really have a hard line where schools on one side are rural and schools on the other side are urban.

    I attended Pass Creek Elementary in the last year before it was closed. There were 17 students in three grades in one class in a relatively remote rural area. I have also gone to school in Robson, Castlegar, Smithers, Hazelton (New and Old), and finally Armstrong. Anyone from a larger city would consider the schools in Armstrong to be rural, but for someone coming from Hazelton, I was amazed at the amenities, programs and equipment available at Pleasant Valley Secondary. Think about the additional budget that goes towards heating costs for Northern schools. Think about the additional money available through fundraising in more prosperous towns where the cost of living is lower. Think about the money available to students through scholarships, bursaries and employment opportunities. There can be a huge economic gap between schools in different areas where "rural" can mean very different things. When you think about all of the things that may or may not be available to students, there can be a world of difference between Hazelton and Armstrong, and a world of difference between Armstrong and Kelowna.

    Distance from a major centre is another factor. Students from a rural farming community may be able to travel 20 minutes for a field trip to a university, art gallery, museum, swimming pools, etc. Students in a rural Northern school may rely on fundraising to send a small group of students on a single field trip of any significance. They may have a basketball or volleyball team with the opportunity to visit a few other schools in their region. Field trips to pools and museums just aren't an option. And then you have the truly remote rural schools where travel, especially in the Winter months simply isn't an option.

    On the flip side, students in rural schools can enjoy more frequent nature walks, camping trips, survival training, orienteering, cross country skiing, and other activities that require nearby wilderness, but not a lot of expensive equipment.

    The rural experience is also a challenge for teachers. From what I experienced, teachers in rural areas needed to be much more creative. They had to make do with less. The resources available in larger schools often don't scale down well for smaller schools. In Hazelton, they couldn't offer the same variety of courses that you find in larger high schools. There was Computer Studies 9/10 for example, rather than having a Computer Studies 10 course that built on Computer Studies 9. We had Directed Studies, where the student could pick a subject area or topic and find a teacher who would act as a mentor on top of their regular workload. One teacher kept tabs on all of the students opting for this self guided course, and multiple teachers acted as mentors and subject matter experts for the students. In a larger urban school, students would typically have the option of taking a structured course in that same subject area.

  28. Morgan

    I feel the number of students ie. 100 or less or maybe 200 students would fit the criteria of a rural school. Also the school shall be more than 100 km from a major centre.

  29. Melody

    I believe a definition of rural schools should include nearness to amenities – if you used Costco as an example – from my school right now it is at least 3 hours away – the nearest town to my school is 30 minutes away – it's population is under 25,000. Access to resources as well as access to people as resources should also be considered. Some of our specialists come from as far away as a 5 1/2 hour drive. Or they have to fly in from Vancouver because there is no one else closer. So if you don't have access to these kinds of things you should be considered rural – I am sorry to hear that some parts of BC are considered rural just because they can grow a great herb garden and make a profit off of a small small chunk of land – the raised garden behind their million dollar house on the beach front.

  30. Dan

    Over the past 26 years, I have worked in five different schools throughout BC including Valemount, McBride, Penticton, Gulf Islands and Invermere. From my own personal experience, I only consider two of those schools 'rural' — both Valemount and McBride. In both cases, the defining characteristic was the impact that student population had on the ability of the school to deliver a via educational program. While other schools were located away from large centers, they still drew from a large enough population to create a vibrant, diversified program. In fact, two of those school (Gulf Island and Invermere) were isolated in some sense but at the same time represented what some researchers regard as the best size (400 to 600 students). In short, size matters — especially when the funding formulas are often based on the number of students in the school.

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