Publication: W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Five organizations make up the initial Mid South Region Rural People, Rural Policy (RPRP) network. Beatrice Clark Shelby heads one of the groups, the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center, Inc., in Marvell, Arkansas. One of the problems she sees in her rural area is that many people don’t think they can, or don’t know how to, influence change. In her group’s work with children she sees the need for early childhood education in rural communities. Shelby supports the Mid South Network’s group decision to work for the empowerment of parents to impact early childhood development as their main focus issue.
“If we are to close the education gap, we are going to have to empower our parents,” says Shelby. That means finding the funding so every school has a full-time parent coordinator whose job it is to involve parents in their children’s education. “Parents involved in their children’s schools help with homework, work for smaller class sizes and proper resources for teachers, and attend school board meetings,” notes Shelby.
“Many of our rural children are being left behind at the starting gate,” adds W. Marty Wiseman, director of The John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. He points out that a focus on early childhood development touches many other rural issues, such as rural transportation and rural income. “If we could solve our age 0 to 5 problems, we would solve a lot of other rural issues along the way,” says Wiseman. The Stennis Institute is another one of the five members of the Mid South Region RPRP Network.
The Mid South Region Network is developing a strategic plan to advance its “empowering parents” issue. Another five groups from the region, which includes Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, will be added to the network each year until it reaches 25 in five years.
And while the groups in each region’s network become more proficient in advocating for their rural interests, the regional networks will meet and network with other regional networks at annual meetings – thereby developing a national movement to advance rural issues.