Appalachian teachers say ‘intense’ challenges ahead for education in region

by Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service

Educators in Appalachian Kentucky said significant school disruption and remote learning during the COVID pandemic combined with the devastating flooding in the summer of 2022 have caused major education setbacks in the region, according to a recent survey.

More than 70% of teachers said their schools lack adequate tools to address the ongoing drug epidemic and minimize its impact on student learning.

Bridget Blom, president and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said the region’s teachers feel they do not have opportunities to expose students to tech skills in in-demand occupations they will need as the next generation’s workforce.

“The teachers expressed, kind of comparing what’s available in Appalachia to other areas of the state, where they see a lack of things like stem labs, college activities, career shadowing,” Blom outlined.

The National Rural Education Foundation flagged Kentucky’s educational outcomes as “urgent” and linked to poverty, lack of internet access and other resources, and school funding.

According to the group’s Why Rural Matters 2023 report, the Commonwealth has nearly double the nation’s average number of rural students, but the students receive just 35% of the state’s education funding. More than one in five students live in homes where the household income is below the federal poverty line of $30,000 annually for a family of four.

The Pritchard report pointed out many students, especially those in eastern Kentucky, remain displaced from flooding and wildfires, and academic performance cannot be a priority for children struggling for basic needs. Blom believes policymakers should do a better job of helping communities identify resources that are lacking and work to bring those resources into districts.

“So that our schools and our teachers are not trying to reverse the learning loss from COVID, or the declines in education that we saw well before that, and positively reverse generational poverty on their own,” Blom explained.

According to the report, Kentucky teachers said the climate of a strained workforce, declining population and uneven political support for public educators added to teachers’ sense of an uphill battle to achieve student and school success in the region.

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