Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Community Development in Rural Texas: A Case Study of Balmorhea Public Schools

Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Community Development in Rural Texas: A Case Study of Balmorhea Public Schools

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Hispanic Americans account for an increasing share of the population in rural areas and are considered the fastest growing rural minority group. Communities with proportionately higher concentrations of Hispanics tend to have greater poverty, lower median incomes, and smaller proportions of residents with high school or college degrees. The rural Hispanic population represents an increasing opportunity for community developers. The local school is often the center of a rural community and offers a good institutional base for a local community and economic development program. This article discusses a case study of a rural community development program in rural Balmorhea, Texas that features a school-based clinic, service learning classes, and other community services. This school-based community development model offers one approach to community development in rural Hispanic communities.

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INTRODUCTION

It is obvious that human capital development is an important part of increasing opportunities for rural Hispanics in the U.S. while contributing to self-development skills (Allensworth & Rochin, 1998a). Rural schools serving Hispanic populations are both well positioned and obligated to contribute to human capital development among this growing population. However, schools can go beyond merely successfully fulfilling their educational responsibilities for the younger generation of the Hispanic population. By also teaching students practical business skills and leadership skills, they can contribute to capacity building in their local communities. By providing social services, such as health care and adult education, they can further contribute to the social development of the local community. By working hard to engage parents in their children's education, working to increase trust in the educational institution, and encouraging collaboration among parents and educators, they can work to build community social capital that is critical to both community development and educational achievement. All of this can result in a positive feedback loop whereby the community supports the local educational institution and student achievement that ultimately strengthens the community.

Research on school-based community development with rural Hispanic populations is limited in scope. While there is a great deal of opportunity in these communities, it is difficult to find documentation on school-based community development projects focused mainly on rural Hispanic populations. The public K-12 school in Balmorhea, Texas provides an interesting case study of an ongoing school effort that provides school-based community capacity building. Drawing upon data from participant observation, interviews, and documentation, information has been collected on this school's approach to supporting a school-based community development effort. Community case studies usually offer a depth and texture of information that is rarely achieved by other methods of empirical research, and offer the advantage of using a variety of research techniques to collect information (Yin, 1994). This case study approach is largely exploratory and descriptive (Yin, 1984, 1994), in an attempt to contribute to the sparse theoretical and empirical work on the role of schools in community development, particularly in Hispanic communities. However, the information generated in this case study will also be used to assess existing theories about the role of schools in community capacity building (e.g. Hobbs, 1995; Miller, 1995).

Rupasingha, Wojan, and Freshwater (1999) provide a useful theoretical lens for understanding the self-development effort that is described in this case study. Rupasingha, Wojan, and Freshwater (1999) suggest that communities that initiate self-development activities in the face of stressful economic or social conditions can be understood through the self-organization paradigm. The emergence of community-initiated development projects in rural communities can be understood by looking at four characteristics of a self-organizing system. …

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