Rural education is just plain different from the cities and suburbs.
Many students in El Paso County's eastern districts attend school four days a week instead of five. Everybody knows everything about everybody. Hats are whisked off and on - the superintendent might also be the principal and the bus driver.
And the school is often the hub of the community, with a big focus on supporting the home team, no matter the sport, performance or club.
All that sounds good to Patty Atkinson, a Colorado College student from Boston who will receive a degree in psychology in May and is thinking about becoming a teacher.
"I like the fact that students and teachers get to know each other well and that people fill in when they need to," she said. "It's a more community-based approach."
Atkinson is one of 23 CC students doing "field experience" this semester in four rural districts east of Colorado Springs. The opportunity is part of new federal funding to develop programs aimed at shoring up Colorado's rural teacher workforce and student achievement.
"Just to create the awareness of what it looks like, and what are the differences in rural education is going to be worth the time spent," said Pat Bershinsky, executive director of the Pikes Peak Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES.
"Teacher prep students will get an idea about working with a smaller class size and when there's not a McDonald's right around the corner," he said.
The BOCES, which contracts with nine rural school districts to provide shared services, such as special education and professional development, has paired with Kathy Randolph, a visiting assistant professor in the Colorado College Education Department, to put a $42,000 grant to work.
The Colorado Department of Higher Education recently awarded a total of $300,000 in federal funding to seven colleges and universities statewide to benefit rural programs.
"Although the educator shortage has affected all areas of the state, Colorado's 147 rural and small rural districts have felt it most acutely," Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of CDHE, said in announcing the awards.
"These grants will go a long way in recruiting and retaining more great educators to rural classrooms as we work to ensure all Colorado students have an equal opportunity to learn and succeed."
Randolph's proposal develops a partnership between CC and rural districts in the region, including Miami-Yoder JT-60, Calhan RJ-1, Peyton 23-JT and Ellicott D-22, where the field experiences are happening. Students are doing 30 hours of field experience, Randolph said.
In addition, the money also will pay for workshops for 60 educators from rural districts to talk about the realities of working in remote areas of the county and their needs.
A needs assessment, plans and goals will be created from the workshops, Randolph said, to better match curriculum in CC's education department to the rural school workplace.
"Our students are from all over, but not many grew up in a rural setting," she said. "This is important because there's a gap between what students are learning in college and what's going on in school districts."
Because of such factors as distance, sparse populations and a lack of diversions, rural school districts are having a hard time attracting teachers to work in their communities, particularly in special education, the STEM subjects of science, technology, math and engineering, and foreign languages.
Atkinson said she was impressed by the amount of technology in the Miami-Yoder district.
"I was surprised there is a 1-to-1 students to iPads in my fifth-grade class, and there are 3D printers and a library with computers the community can use," she said. "There's also trades training like welding and woodworking. I didn't necessarily expect that."
A recently completed state report identifies possible solutions to addressing Colorado's teacher shortage, which lawmakers and state education leaders are working on in various ways.
CC has a new rural education course, Randolph said, and students studying for a master's degree in teaching will have the opportunity to complete a fellowship while conducting thesis research in rural schools.
CC's bachelor's and master's degree programs in education are growing, she said, with 40 master's students and about 60 doing undergraduate work this year, out of the college's total enrollment of about 2,000.
"As more students get the hands-on experience and talk to each other, interest is increasing," Randolph said.