Rural Alliance for College Success logoThe Rural Alliance for College Success was recently awarded a three-year, $120,000 grant from College Spark Washington to reduce the number of students who require remedial math in college. Jerry Dyar is a guidance counselor in the Mary Walker School District in Spokane, and he has been a leader in the Rural Alliance partnership for the last four years.

The Rural Alliance is a collaboration among rural school districts in Eastern and Central Washington with a focus on college and career readiness for all students, as well as post-secondary program completion. It began as a collaboration between nine or ten districts in northeastern Washington in 2002 and grew from there.

The alliance is now made up of 51 school districts that have about 35,000 K–12 students between them. The majority of the districts in the alliance have very low-income students, with a population where more than 70 percent of students are free and reduced lunch-eligible (FRL). Forty percent are Latino, and 20–25 percent are English Language Learners (ELL). Jerry also estimates that 10-12 percent of all students live in homes with parents who are migrant workers.

Jerry says that the ultimate goal of the Rural Alliance is to help students complete college, but he splits that goal into three parts:

  1. Get kids ready for college.
  2. Get kids into college.
  3. Get kids through college.

Since the alliance’s inception, Jerry says that they have been doing a good job in the first two areas of focus, but that they need to improve in the last area—getting students to complete college. To achieve this, the alliance has partnered with all of the public two- and four-year colleges east of the Cascade Mountains, along with one private college.

Jerry also says that the alliance is working to increase its data capacity and continue building on its collaborations between districts. They are also putting together a Digital Learning Cooperative in partnership with Eastern Washington University as a way to put hard-to-staff classes online.

He uses his own school district as an example. “Mary Walker only has about 30 students in the graduating class. It’s virtually impossible to offer a class like calculus to just three students, but when we partner with other districts, we can offer that class to all of the students in the Rural Alliance and get to the class size we need to make the class viable.”

Several districts in the Rural Alliance have also implemented the AVID program, a college readiness curriculum that has been shown to help close the achievement gap, with the help of a six-year College Spark grant. The initial goal of the grant was to see if AVID could be implemented successfully in a rural environment.

One aspect of the AVID plan is known as the High School and Beyond Plan, which is basically what it sounds like: a plan for students to prepare for high school—and beyond.

Jerry says that the High School and Beyond Plan is like a “touchstone” for the school. Students start planning in third grade, which drives home the idea that college is an attainable goal for students beginning in elementary school. Students update and manage the plan with teachers and their parents through high school.

And was it successful? Jerry says yes, unequivocally. “It helped establish a college-going culture in our schools—even for students not enrolled in AVID sections. To an entire generation of students, college is suddenly within reach.”

But the Rural Alliance is doing more than helping students—it’s also helping teachers. Jerry says that one of the emerging projects that he’s excited about is creating networks for rural teachers and administrators. “In my school, for example, we just have one math teacher for the entire school. By strengthening networks between rural districts, that teacher can find colleagues throughout the state in the same subject area.” In addition, says Jerry, “This will help teachers with their careers and professional development over time.”

The three-year College Spark grant is being implemented with the ALEKS math program, which is also used by Eastern Washington University. ALEKS is an online program in which each student masters math subject matter at his or her own pace. Jerry is confident that the grant will increase capacity throughout the Rural Alliance to offer advanced math coursework to students.

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