Monday, April 10, 2017

Rural listeners tell NPR about challenges they face; includes lack of internet, teachers, health care

NPR's "The Call-In" on Sunday focused on the challenges of living in rural areas, with host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro taking calls from rural residents. Recurring themes were poor internet service, trouble accessing health care and teacher shortages.

Littleton, N.C. (Best Places map)
Cheryl Sebrell, a retired teacher from Littleton, N.C., a farming community of 659, told Garcia-Navarro, "We have trouble attracting and keeping good teachers. Sometimes we have substitutes keeping a class for half of the year." Sebrell, who taught for 40 years, said, "In the '80s and the early '90s, there was a big focus on education in North Carolina, and we were a leader in the country. It's all about cost cutting and budgets and things now. And it's tough to be in a rural area when that is happening."

Once they get teachers, it's tough to keep them, Sebrell said. "There's not always a lot to offer to people who are coming in to teach. Housing sometimes can be a problem. Living in a home in the country, you're going to deal with leaking roofs and mice, and sometimes that can be a problem, finding a place that you want to live in, just a house, so that you're not driving back and forth. So a lot of our teachers do come in from the triangle area—Raleigh, Durham—and they drive, you know, an hour in the morning or an hour and a half in the morning and again in the afternoon. And when you have long hours, that makes it really tough as well."

Winthrop, Minn. (City-Data map)
Poor or missing internet service is a problem in many rural areas, such as Winthrop, Minn., said Mark Erickson, head of the town's economic-development agency. He told Garcia-Navarro, "A third of our students in our school districts live in the country, and they were unable to do their homework when they got home. Most of them had dial-up, which is just archaic. Some used satellite connections, which were good when the weather was fine, and some had poor DSL from their phone companies."

Erickson said the economic development agency is running a project that will build a fiber-optic network across 10 communities—populations from 400 to 2,300—and the agency has formed a cooperative, where the subscribers to the network are the owners. He said, "We expect our children to leave our communities when they graduate from high school and go to college and learn about life. But they have to have a reason to return. And the millennials today, and those who follow, will find it difficult to come back to a community that doesn't offer the kind of internet connection that they want." (Read more)

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