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A Rural District in Western Illinois Embraces Optimism and Change


This blog post is written by high school senior, Whitney Koss, and is reposted from Rural School Collaborative.

When thinking of a small town school, it’s common to think of the close-knit communities that give teachers and students the opportunities to work together to create individualized learning. I am a proud senior at one of those small rural community schools. ROWVA High School is located in Oneida, IL and consists of five towns: Rio, Oneida, Wataga, Victoria, and Altona. Although we are small, we pride ourselves on making academic improvements. Improvements to the buildings and grounds; however, has been a slower process. Originally the four towns all had their own schools for different ages of kids. Over time, more and more of the age groups began to come together at the Oneida location. We built a new elementary building in 2013, so now all students, K-12, are in Oneida. Although the elementary was new, not much else had changed. The board and superintendent realized we couldn’t keep going off of an improvement plan from 1993. It was time for change.

As a student, I would walk over the old mismatched flooring and plain walls, and just see time. Time showed in our school. Other than some small changes, the school had looked the same for years. The appearance of the school has been the same since before I was even born. Alumni from the 1970s could walk through the school and feel as if it were the same from when they went to school. The building should have seen some change from then to now. Change needed to come and it needed to come soon.

Becoming “Future Ready” is something that grabbed the whole school’s attention. It is a program where the students, the teachers, and the community have a voice in the changes they want to see in their schools.

The small changes were instant. We, as students, were able to say what we loved and wanted to change about our school. Teachers could voice their opinions and share what they thought needed to change. The community could help us update our image and bring in an outsider’s perspective. Because of a new mindset, I watched our school become truly future ready.

The first change the community saw was the physical changes within our school. Students led projects like painting stripes down our hallway to show our Tiger pride and creativity. Then, a new floor was put in. A new floor might seem like a minor change, but it meant our school made a leap away from the way things used to be. At this exact moment, a new entryway is in the process of being finished. Students are even working on a plan to redesign our Learning Media Center in a way that is more comfortable and open for students and teachers to use.

The first change that students and teachers saw was a mindshift towards innovation. Teachers began to show their creativity and experiment with their styles of teaching. This has led to more interactive styles of teaching that vary from teacher to teacher and keeps students engaged all day. Our teachers don’t have to fit a specific mold. They are encouraged to be creative. Technology has also become a strong part of our curriculum. All students in the Elementary have access to multiple computer labs and all students in the Junior High and High School have chromebooks that they take with them to all of their classes. Genius Hour projects are also being integrated into the curriculum. Through Genius Hour projects, students have the opportunity to choose subjects of interest, such as engineering, architecture, and fine arts. They then create a project related to their subject and present it. Our school has accepted a growth mindset.

ROWVA schools have grown so much in the past year. Now as I walk through the halls, I see optimism. Our school has big dreams. With our Future Ready plan and the help of our community, we have many more projects and goals that we wish to accomplish. We now have hopes to build new chemistry, STEM, and innovation labs, and to upgrade all of the classrooms to be 21st century learning spaces. I have seen our community come together in an amazing way, and I can’t wait to see what we will accomplish next.

— Whitney Koss, ROWVA Schools Class of 2018