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Hello Literacy Voices Readers!

Yesterday I (Rachael) received in the mail a photo taken by a friend who grew up on a farm close to mine in rural North Dakota. Sarah Christensen, the artist, now lives in San Francisco, California where she is a highly successful professional photographer. The focus of her work centers around the lives we lived in our small farming community as well those of the oil boom in Western North Dakota. The photo is of our home church, the center of community for us, taken in the bleak, cold, snowy tundra-like winters that are all too familiar in the depths of my mind. The note attached read, “I hope this photo reminds you of home.” It did. Whether it be the icy roads leading to my parents’ farm, the golden wheat fields ripe in summer, or the scalloped potatoes and Jell-o salad served at church, my farming community is deep within my soul.

Many Montanans share similar stories, often hard to articulate stories, but those which resonate deep within our souls. However, far too often, we look at rurality from a deficit perspective,often drawing upon stereotypes described by Donehower, and Shell (2007, p. 1) as “rhetorics of lack, lag, and the rosy past. However, rural life embodies a richly complex life, far reaching beyond the stereotypes portrayed in news media. The othering of rural America further complicates approaches to rural education.

In this issue, we explore rural literacy education from a variety of perspectives. Ellsworth and Ewbank’s (2019) article, How Rural Schools Can Learn from Finland, explores rural education in Finland in three schools, including a nature-based rural school environment. Lessons learned from the experience of these two professors from Montana State University can be applied in our own places in rural Montana, capitalizing on our vast nature scape and mountainous playgrounds that surround our communities.

I (Kari) appreciate the relationships in rural communities, like I experienced at the local coffee counter growing up in rural Montana and listening to my communities members chat with one one another. I learned the value of neighbors helping each other and the comfort of community while drinking coffee and trading jokes. Lain (2019) explores power of relationships in our next article that explores an increase in reading scores associated with the implementation of one-on-one tutoring. Caring community members engaged in tutoring and reading with kids because a need was identified and volunteers came forward. This demonstrates the strength in the bonds of community.

Finally, we explore the concept of restorative justice (Larsen, 2019), a practice holding potential for bring justice to rural communities and schools. Restorative Justice is more than a behavior management system, it is a philosophy for engaging in community. At the heart of restorative justice is the notion that if one community member does harm to another, then the focus should be on that harm and not the action itself. This is a method for holding students accountable to others in their community such as fellow students, teachers, parents, coaches, etc.; further, when a student does something wrong, they are responsible for restoring the community and rectifying the wrong. Zero Tolerance policies have not achieved strong school communities so it is time to shift our epistemological beliefs and restorative justice provides this opportunity.

We hope that this issue sheds light and inspiration on your practice through the dark winter days. We also hope that this issues challenges you to see rural education through new, restorative lenses.

Happy Reading!

Drs. Rachael Waller and Kari Dahle-Huff

kari.dahle@msubillings.edu
rachael.waller@msubillings.edu  

 

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