Education Beyond the Classroom

by: Kelly Elder

Montana is geographically, and in many ways economically, isolated from the rest of the United States. Professional educators in this vast rural land constantly strive to connect their students with the outside world, while providing equity of opportunity to all. There is a sizeable sub-population within our school coming from fragile communities. Over 40 percent of our district’s middle school students receive free/reduced lunches. Many of my students live on the rural fringe, often coming from poor households without access to the internet, heating beyond a wood stove, and other amenities most of us take for granted. They will one day be first-generation college students, if such aspirations are cultivated and become a reality. The barriers to such an education and the ensuing social mobility are many. Indeed, our schools and our community often struggle with providing equity of opportunity for all students.

In the spring of 2019, two at-risk youth were ‘scholarshipped’ for a 10-day adventure in Costa Rica and Panama. The time, energy, and support needed to make this a reality proved to be far beyond what I envisioned going into the process. Indeed, the biggest obstacle in providing for our youth — especially those from fragile communities — is expending the extra effort and devising and implementing supports to ensure a level playing field as a means to foster success.

As professional educators, it is imperative we provide equity of opportunity to all young learners, allowing those from fragile communities to have experiences that help build a bridge to social mobility. We must continue to find and/or create solutions to barriers that prevent children from those communities from having opportunities to expand their experiences by moving past the boundaries that threaten to limit their possibilities. These life experiences help remove the blinders that prevent some youth from seeing options and opportunities in life that lie before them.

Kelly Elder has taught 6th grade World Geography for over a decade at C.R. Anderson Middle School in Helena, Montana. Mr. Elder began his career working as a Montana Exchange Teacher in Kumamoto, Japan. He holds National Board Certification in Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History, is 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year, is involved with the Montana chapter of Educators Rising. He was one of five teachers of the year to represent U.S. educators on a weeklong-investigation of Finland’s Educational System in 2017 and served in South Africa as a National Education Foundation Fellow in 2018.Read Kelly Elder’s narrative in A Sacred Space: 12 Expert Teachers Share Stories of Resilience, Success and Leadership.