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Rural Teaching Gives Teachers Unique Opportunities To Make a Difference and Feel at Home

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Having grown up in rural Stanwood, Washington, Alyssa Khoury knew she wanted to do her two-year Teach for America corps service in an equally rural community.

So she was thrilled to end up at Park Intermediate School in Weiser, Idaho, a town of 5,800 people 75 miles northwest of Boise on the Oregon border. In the spring of 2020 she had just graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle with a degree in early childhood education and family studies.

“I was done with city life and Seattle, and was so excited to be somewhere rural, which is why I made Idaho my first choice,” Alyssa said.

Weiser filled the bill perfectly. Alyssa was welcomed into a tight-knit community, where parents and grandparents attended Friday night football games and other extracurricular activities. She loved her fifth-grade teaching team and the town’s diverse population.

Teaching was a huge challenge right off the bat, because the nation was in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, and learning had been disrupted. But Alyssa said she thrived off the sense of urgency this created among her colleagues.

“I had no idea what I was doing at first, and it was a wild ride that first year, starting out hybrid and then going fully in-person,” Alyssa said. “But thanks to the great team I was a part of, the second year was much smoother, and the school and the town started feeling like a home away from home."

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Park is a small school, with fewer than 200 kids and just two grades – fourth and fifth. That intimate size contributed to making the school a tight-knit community.

Despite her love for the school and community, as her two-year commitment neared its end, Alyssa decided to move on. She said she felt the need “not to forfeit my early childhood degree altogether,” so she wanted to give teaching kindergarten a try. Also, she had married, and her husband worked at Micron in Boise, so remaining in Weiser seemed impractical.

Alyssa and her husband moved to Caldwell, and she took a kindergarten teaching job at MOSAICS, a local elementary public charter school. There, too, she found herself part of a strong, close-knit team. She loved the experience, and appreciated working in a school with more resources.

But she missed Weiser. She missed the community. She missed the challenges inherent in rural education. She missed the sense of urgency created by working with children for whom education was the only possible route out of poverty.

So when February rolled around, Alyssa found herself longing to return to Weiser and Park Intermediate. The commute from Caldwell would be about 50 minutes, which seemed reasonable, especially given the fact that Weiser operates on a four-day week.

This year, Alyssa is back at Park, teaching fourth-grade this time. And though she loved teaching at MOSAICS and has nothing but kind words for that school, its students, and staff, she is overjoyed to be back in Weiser.

“I had a great experience at MOSAICS, but all I could think about all year was how I wanted to be back in Weiser,” she said.

One of her goals in being back there, she said, is to help students build their “educational stamina.” Something about the Covid learning disruptions caused kids to lose their ability to focus for more than about 15 minutes at a time, she said.

Working with a strong team, Alyysa said, gives her confidence that they can help restore that stamina, and build foundational skills, like phonemic awareness and number sense, that kids who were in kindergarten during the height of Covid might have missed.

“One of my biggest learnings during TFA was to become more intentional in my instruction,” Alyssa said. “I just have this sense of urgency that there is no time to be wasted with these kids.”