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    When Schools Close in Rural Communities

    by Charles Borst posted August 7, 2017

    Schools across the country close down each year for a variety of reasons. In rural areas  like Hughes, Ark., it’s often because they are serving smaller numbers of students and it no longer makes economic sense. More than 60 districts in Arkansas have consolidated or merged since a 2004 state law required at least 350 students to keep a school open. But research suggests that such closures sometimes have a disparate–and disruptive–effect on communities. Photographer Karen Pulfer Focht and Education Week reporter Denisa Superville recently visited the rural town to document the disruptive effects that students and families now face as a result of these school closures.

    A sign welcomes visitors to Hughes, Ark., which is 37 miles from Memphis, Tenn. When schools are closed in rural areas like Hughes, they are less likely to be replaced, according to research.

    A sign welcomes visitors to Hughes, Ark., which is 37 miles from Memphis, Tenn. When schools are closed in rural areas like Hughes, they are less likely to be replaced, according to research.

    Eugene Williams, (right) and Lawrence Harden, visit sitting on an abandoned building.The town and businesses of Hughes, Arkansas have struggled for many years. The jobs and agriculture that once sustained the area are gone. Businesses are boarded up and vacant through out the town. Many of the town folk still come and sit and visit in the decaying town center.(Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    Lawrence Harden, left, and Eugene Williams sit in an abandoned building window front in Hughes.

    The town and businesses of Hughes, Arkansas have struggled for many years. The jobs and agriculture that once sustained the area are gone. Businesses are boarded up and vacant through out the town. Many of the town folk still come and sit and visit in the decaying town center. (Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    The town and businesses have struggled for many years. Jobs and agriculture that once sustained the area are gone, and businesses are boarded up and vacant throughout the town as a result.

    A cat jumped through a broken window to seek shelter in downtown Hughes, Ark. The town and businesses of Hughes have struggled for many years. The jobs and agriculture that once sustained the area are gone. Businesses are boarded up and vacant through out the town. Many of the town folk still come and sit and visit in the decaying town center. (Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    A cat peers out from a broken window in a deserted storefront in downtown Hughes.

    Zion Robinson, 7, is bused to West Memphis to first grade from Hughes, Arkansas. Since 2004, more than 81 schools have closed in Arkansas as a result of the state’s Act 60 law — a measure meant to consolidate school districts whose enrollment fall below 350. (Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    After a lengthy ride from her school in West Memphis, Ark., Zion Robinson, 7, heads to her home in Hughes.

    Zion Robinson, 7, is bused to West Memphis to first grade from Hughes, Arkansas. Since 2004, more than 81 schools have closed in Arkansas as a result of the state’s Act 60 law — a measure meant to consolidate school districts whose enrollment fall below 350. (Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    Like many school-age children in this rural town, Zion Robinson, 7, gets on a school bus around 6:30 a.m. for the ride to school in West Memphis, Ark. and gets off the bus around 3:30 p.m. In the winter, Hughes students can both leave home and return in the dark.

    The Hughes, Ark. school district, consolidated with the West Memphis school system in 2015. Now, the Hughes High School buildings sit closed, vacant and in disrepair following school closures in this tiny Arkansas town. Since 2004, more than 81 schools have closed in Arkansas. (Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    The Hughes, Ark. school district consolidated with the West Memphis school system in 2015. Now, the Hughes High School buildings sit closed, vacant, and in disrepair.

    The Hughes, Ark. school district, consolidated with the West Memphis school system in 2015. Now, the Hughes High School buildings sit closed, vacant and in disrepair following school closures in this tiny Arkansas town. Since 2004, more than 81 schools have closed in Arkansas. (Photo By Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week)

    Closed in 2015, the Hughes High School still stands, littered with remnants of its past, and marked by graffiti from vandals.

    Mildred Jackson Elementary School was among those closed in Hughes, Arkansas a few years ago. Today the school sits covered with vines and trashed rooms. Just a few feet away is an active pre-school building filled with little children. Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week

    Mildred Jackson Elementary School was among those closed in Hughes last year as a result of Act 60. Today the school sits covered with vines and trashed rooms.

    Mildred Jackson Elementary School was among those closed in Hughes, Arkansas a few years ago. Today the school sits covered with vines and trashed rooms. Just a few feet away is an active pre-school building filled with little children. Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week

    Discarded books and supplies in the vacant Mildred Jackson Elementary School.

    Mildred Jackson Elementary School was among those closed in Hughes, Arkansas a few years ago. Today the school sits covered with vines and trashed rooms. Just a few feet away is an active pre-school building filled with little children. Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht for Education Week

    Children lie down during naptime at a preschool program in a building near the now-shuttered Mildred Jackson Elementary School in Hughes. The parents of these children must decide in a year or two whether to put them on a school bus for the hourlong trip to West Memphis schools or move closer.

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