Jay A. McIntire
The University of Virginia
It seems obvious that gifted students living in large cities, moderate-sized towns, and rural or small towns would tend to have different experiences, but rural students have not generally been recognized as a distinct subpopulation of gifted students until very recently. Although rural gifted students have been noted only occasionally in gifted education literature over the past twenty years (Caudill, 1977; Plowman, 1977; Spicker, Southern, & Davis, 1987), this population is now receiving considerable attention. Recent literature has addressed specific strategies for meeting the needs of this population (Benbow, Argo, & Glass, 1992; Guzik, 1994; Spicker, 1993), provided empirical research about the rural gifted (Cross & Stewart, 1993; Jones & Southern, 1992), and reported experiences of specific rural gifted children (Kantrowitz & Rosenberg, 1994; Whittemore, 1991). Two federally funded programs are currently providing services to some rural gifted students as well as providing much-needed data about this population (Spicker, 1993; Spicker, Fletcher, Montgomery, & Breard, 1993; Swanson, Elam, & Peterson, 1993).
Plowman (1977) stated that rural gifted students may be “unsophisticated – uninformed, lacking in social and learning skills, and deprived culturally and educationally” (p. 73). This implies that enriching experiences, whether provided by the school or available through the community, may be very important for rural gifted students. Jones and Southern (1992) reported that many existing programs for rural gifted children consist of “sporadic extracurricular programs,” and enriching cultural and educational activities have been provided as one aspect of a recent innovative program for rural gifted students (Spicker, 1993).
Participation in extracurricular activities has been found to correlate with academic achievement (Laubscher, 1988). It has been reported that participation specifically in high school athletics increases educational aspirations (Cutright, 1987; Holland & Andre, 1987). Participation in athletics may be of special value to rural students, since they have lower educational aspirations than other U.S. students (Cobb, McIntire, & Pratt, 1989; Haas, 1992).
In light of existing literature, it seems that the availability of enriching extracurricular activities may be very important to the rural gifted. Caudill (1977) wrote, “The major problem that one faces when programming for gifted education in rural areas is the lack of enriching experiences and cultural opportunities for the students” (p. 91). Shore, Cornell, Robinson, and Ward (1991) concluded in their review of research that this and other assumptions about rural gifted students “would benefit from investigation” (p. 255).
In order to test the assumption that rural gifted students have fewer educational and cultural opportunities and experiences, investigators from the University of Virginia have gathered data from a survey of rural and suburban students from collaborative school districts of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. In this study, rural students were defined as those attending schools in towns outside of U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), New England County Metropolitan Areas (NECMAs), and having fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. Suburban students were defined as those attending schools in towns outside MSAs and NECMAs with more than 10,000 inhabitants. Research in education uses inconsistent definitions of rural and suburban communities, but these criteria were deemed “reasonable” (W. G. McIntire, personal communication, Spring, 1992). A total of 235 gifted seventh and eighth grade students, representing 8 states (AK, CT, GA, HI, IL, MI, MT, & NE), were surveyed. Any students who were identified by their local schools as gifted were considered gifted for the purposes of this study.
Students were asked to report how many times they had personally attended each of the following cultural events during the year prior to the survey: plays, musical performances, dance recitals, athletic events, art exhibits, and museums. Students were also asked to report how many of each of the following experiences were available to them as a participant in the 2 weeks prior to the survey (either in school or out of school): sports, vocal music, instrumental music, drama, visual arts, dance, interest clubs, service clubs, academic clubs, publications, student government, school-sponsored trips, and church activities.
With gender and grade level controlled for by the use of multiple regression, several significant differences (p > .01) were identified. Rural students had attended more musical events and athletic events in the year prior to the survey than suburban students. Rural students also reported having attended a greater total number of cultural events in the prior year than their suburban counterparts. Suburban students did not report attending greater numbers of any of these types of events in the prior year than did rural students.
However, in comparing the number of activities available to the students as participants during the prior 2 weeks, suburban gifted students reported significantly more opportunities in the following areas: instrumental music, drama, dance, and school-sponsored trips. Rural gifted students reported more opportunities to participate in sports activities than did suburban students.
This survey yields mixed results with respect to the question of whether or not rural gifted students have fewer educational and cultural opportunities and experiences than their counterparts from larger towns. Rural gifted students attended a greater number of cultural events in the last year than their suburban gender and grade peers, and specifically attended more athletic and musical events. Suburban gifted students had greater numbers of available activities to choose from involving instrumental music, drama, dance, and school-sponsored trips, while rural gifted students had more opportunities only in the area of sports.
It appears that rural gifted students have access to a narrower spectrum of local opportunities than their suburban counterparts and are particularly limited in the cultural areas of drama, dance, and instrumental music. In spite of their limited access to experiences, rural gifted students attended more cultural events than their suburban peers. This finding is consistent with the report by Schmuck and Schmuck (1992) that most teenagers in small rural schools “felt involved in extracurricular activities” (p. 19). Rural gifted students, though they may be disadvantaged by the breadth of opportunities, take advantage of them more than their suburban peers. It does not appear, based on this study, that rural students in grades 7 or 8 have fewer cultural experiences than suburban gifted students. If the rural gifted are, in fact, “unsophisticated uninformed, lacking in social and learning skills, and deprived culturally and educationally” (Plowman, 1977, p. 73), it does not seem that lack of locally available opportunities is the source of these traits.