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A Note from the Teacher: Rural schools provide more than education for students

McKenzie Moreland
McKenzie Moreland
Monett Elementary special education teacher McKenzie Moreland

In this round of our ongoing series Making a Difference, we hear first person essays from teachers in the rural Ozarks. This segment features McKenzie Moreland of the Monett School District.

Hi. My name is McKenzie Moreland and I am an elementary special education teacher at Monett Elementary in the Monett School District. Monett is a town of around 9,600 residents in Barry and Lawrence County.

I’ve been teaching here in Monett for four total years, and my students range in age from six to nine.

McKenzie Moreland and dad
McKenzie Moreland
McKenzie Moreland with her father Russ Moreland

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to become a teacher. My father Russ Moreland was an incredible educator and I wanted to be just like him growing up. He taught middle school students for a few years in Monett before becoming a principal and then a superintendent. He was my superintendent growing up and as my boss working in Monett. I grew up wanting to help and serve others and now I get to do just that with my own classroom. Finally becoming a teacher and having a classroom of my own was the most incredible feeling. It was overwhelming and exciting. My mom Kellie Moreland and I spent countless hours that first summer arranging furniture and decorating bulletin boards so everything would be just right. I loved getting ready for open house and meeting my students and my parents and loved showing them my room. I still have trouble sleeping the night before the first day of school because of all the excitement and nervous butterflies that I still get.

I absolutely love my job. The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of your students both academically and non-academically is both awesome and incredibly humbling.

Being a teacher in a rural school comes with unique challenges and benefits.

Here in Monett, the school plays an important role in many of our families’ lives and not only in helping their children learn.

Approximately 56% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and the school plays in important role in meeting their needs.

Students have the chance to receive medical services without leaving school. They are able to access counseling services from the Clark Center while at school. The Ronald McDonald Tooth Truck also visits our school and many students receive dental services that they might not get elsewhere.

Students in need can also get new clothes, shoes, school supplies, food, and even glasses through our Care to Learn fund. We also have a Friday backpack program so students in need can take home a bag of food on Fridays to have over the weekend. It is so incredible that we are able to meet so many different needs for so many students. How would we expect them to be ready to learn when their basic needs are not met?

McKenzie Moreland at school
McKenzie Moreland
Monett Elementary teacher McKenzie Moreland in her classroom

My students mean the absolute world to me. The bond between a teacher and student is incredibly special. I love them and would do anything for my students. They have taught me every success is a cause for celebration and not to take myself too seriously. They continuously teach me to be patient and to laugh every day. They have taught me the importance of building relationships and connections.

Typically, in a rural school district, there’s a high level of community involvement in the school, and that’s the way it is in Monett. I love getting to interact with families and students outside of the classroom. For example, on Halloween, my neighborhood typically sees 600 trick or treaters by 7 p.m. I love seeing my students and past students in their costumes enjoying time with their friends and families and seeing my students outside of school is such a fun experience in itself. I will never forget the shock on their faces when they realize that I do in fact exist outside of school.

In my experience, rural schools have a stronger sense of community and family within the buildings. Everyone is kind. Everyone is supportive of one another, and we are even good friends outside of school. We all have each other's back. And all teachers know how important it is to feel supported.

Everyday I see the importance of my connections and relationships that I've built with my students. I have so many students that — when I first started working here — didn't like school. They didn't like reading. They didn't like math and now I have students who come to me asking for extra practice work to take home because they're so proud of themselves that they want to take their work home to show their families how they solve problems. They love learning now. They love coming to school, and I have so many students that I'm able to be that safe place for when they're upset, when they're feeling frustrated, when they're not feeling like themselves. It's such a gratifying experience to have students bring you notes and tell you things like 'I love school now. Math's now my favorite subject' when a year before they hated math and they were often in tears because of how frustrating it was. It just really goes to show important it is to really get to know your students and to take the time to really invest in their lives and to show them how important they are to you in school or outside of school.

I love working in a rural school district and I look forward to one day seeing my own children here at my building.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.