Thomasville Rendezvous Celebrates Place-Based Learning

Last Updated: May 30, 2012

This article appeared in the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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The third annual Thomasville Rural Schools Partnership Rendezvous was held last month in Thomasville, Missouri, and over 100 participants enjoyed a day of sharing and learning about place-based education from all over the region. The Rendezvous was sponsored by the Rural Schools Partnership, the Rural Trust Center for Midwestern Initiatives, and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Professor at the University of Texas-Pan American and Vice-chair of the Board of the Rural School and Community Trust was the keynote speaker at the event and inspired the group with his talk about the value of personal stories, both to the community culture and to individuals. Guajardo’s remarks focused on the inspiration behind the founding of the Llano Grande Center, a twenty year old nonprofit he co-founded in Edcouch, Texas. Edcouch-Elsa is in the Delta Area of the Rio Grande Valley, an area noted for both deep poverty resulting from the displacement of agricultural industry as well as for the origins of the social justice movement to change racially oppressive school environments that rejected children of agricultural workers.

Llano Grande is a youth development program, helping students prepare academically, culturally, and socially for elite post-secondary education. However, Llano Grande is unique in that it places strong emphasis on the students' awareness of self and community. Empowered by the processes of place based learning — developing connections to community and emerging as community participants and stakeholders — students become empowered to take on the social, political, and academic rigors of higher education. More than 60 Llano Grande alumni from the Edcouch-Elsa community have attended and graduated from Ivy League universities. The Center has trained students, educators, and community development agents locally, nationally, and internationally on how to find, tell and use their story to achieve community change.

The Rendezvous also celebrated the awarding of the Coover Placed-Based Education Grants by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. The 2012 awards totaled over $125,000 and will support a wide array of placed-based educational opportunities, including a garden project to be created by students in gardening, science and recycling clubs; a student storytelling project that will use well-known local history characters and eventually be developed into a fall fundraiser for the local youth philanthropy group’s grantmaking fund; and the creation of an on-campus store that will offer job-training skills for special-needs students. (Editor’s note: Another one of the Coover Grant winners was Artworks, featured in last month’s RPM here.)

In addition to these projects, five regional schools were awarded Coover grants to participate in the 2012 Place-Based Institute hosted by the Rural School Partnership and the Rural School and Community Trust.

The Coover Grants are funded through a partnership with the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation Regional Grantmaking Program of Commerce Trust Company. The late Mrs. Coover was a longtime Commerce Bank employee who established the Foundation in honor of her husband. Since its inception in 1992, the Coover Charitable Grantmaking program has awarded about $3.3 million to communities and schools across central and southern Missouri. And, for the past three years, the Rural School and Community Trust has provided training and technical assistance to the Coover Grant Program participants.

Another highlight of the event was the presentation of the members of the 2012 Class of Ozark Teacher Corps. This year, nine students from four Ozarks universities were awarded $4,000 scholarships for their final two years of college. The recipients are all from rural communities and have committed to teaching in a rural district for at least three years. Ozark Teacher Corps members also have the opportunity to receive in-depth training in place-based education and to participate in a close network of place-based learning experts and other rural teachers and leaders. The Ozarks Teacher Corps has attracted national attention for its success and the dedication and talent of its members, and has also provided an opportunity to highlight the unique nature and needs of rural teaching for larger audiences.

Event attendees came away inspired by the beautiful setting, and with new and renewed relationships and connections around shared work, hopes and goals. As Gary Funk, director of the Center for Midwestern Initiatives points out, "In a very short time the Thomasville gathering has become a much anticipated event where people who care deeply about their schools and communities can come together. The old school and its proximity to the beautiful Eleven Point River seem to have as much to say as the presenters themselves."

Read more:

The Rural School and Community Trust Center for Midwestern Initiatives (CMI) has additional coverage of the Rendezvous here, including photos and videos of the projects here:

CMI coverage, including photos, of the 2012 Coover Grantees here:

CMI coverage of the Ozarks Teacher Corps here:

Website of the Llano Grande Center here:

Read more from the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.