By Elizabeth Winn, JA District Director, Northern Colorado & Wyoming
I’m a product of rural America (and a proud one at that). I grew up in the Nebraska panhandle in a small town not far from my grandparents’ farm. Rural communities feed America through farming and ranching and supply most of the country’s energy. I hold a passionate view that rural America matters. I also recognize that these communities can suffer from a variety of challenges. The median household income is lower than that of urban locations and young people are leaving rural areas en masse because they can’t find jobs.
I joined Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain (JA) as the District Director of Northern Colorado and Wyoming in October of 2016, and I believe JA can play a critical role in helping to preserve rural America. Our selection of K-12 programs have the ability to not only inspire and engage rural youth, but they also provide rural teachers with much appreciated educational resources.
The regional JA office in Fort Collins, which serves Northern Colorado and Wyoming, is constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to engage regional youth. With only 2.5 staff members, and an incredibly large geographic area to cover, we find that outside-the-box thinking is a necessity to try and meet our program demand, and sometimes this means looking beyond traditional classroom delivery of our programs. This is especially true for our rural areas.
In Wyoming, for example, Boys & Girls Club of Central Wyoming is the largest low/no-cost youth development provider in the state, and we are proud to partner with them to deliver JA programs. This year, more than 480 elementary students received our curriculum at 10 Boys & Girls Club branch locations. In addition to serving a number of low-income students in Casper, this partnership allows us to engage students in smaller rural communities such as Glenrock, Midwest, Buffalo, and Kaycee.
The Family Resource Center (FRC) in Sterling, Colorado, is dedicated to encouraging the development of healthy children and strong family units by providing support systems, education, and referral services. This is our first year partnering with this amazing organization. Through their Monday Fun-Day Club, FRC is providing JA programs to three elementary groups, one middle school group, and one high school group.
Our JA High School Leaders program engages high school students as JA volunteers who deliver our curriculum while also serving as role models to K-3 students. This was our first year implementing JA High School Leaders in our region, and we are incredibly pleased with the results. University School and Dayspring Christian Academy, K-12 schools in Greeley, served as excellent pilot locations, and teacher feedback was fantastic. One teacher told us that her high school students were able to make valuable connections with the younger students, and that the two groups came together to create an incredible learning environment. There are a number of K-12 schools in rural areas of our region, so we hope that, after our first year of launching the program, we will see it successfully thrive in rural districts.
Big or small, we want to ensure that we are serving schools in our entire region to the best of our ability. In order to do that, however, we know that we will need to continue to find new ways to engage schools in our territory. It is our job to build and foster long-term relationships that ensure that every school—regardless of size, location, or socioeconomic status—has access to the amazing resources and programs that only JA can provide.