January/February 2005

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Center Awards $530,000 in Grants to Study Wide Variety of Rural Issues
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors has awarded more than $530,000 in grant monies to eight faculty from the Pennsylvania State University and four faculty from the State System of Higher Education universities as part of the Center’s 2005 Grants Program.

As in years past, this year’s round of research projects focuses on a variety of topics that are critical to the health and vitality of Pennsylvania’s rural areas, including emergency food assistance availability, economic development, health insurance, education, agriculture, biosolids and telecommunications. The 12 grant projects officially got underway on January 3, 2005.

Representative Sheila Miller, Center board chairman, says the grant projects will offer the General Assembly, local governments and community organizations the kinds of information that will support future policy recommendations and programs.

“As the board, independent reviewers and staff review grant proposals, we are mindful of the issues that need more focused attention and we try to choose the projects that will build on the Center’s information base,” Miller says.

This year’s research topics and project directors are listed below.

Targeted Topics
Examination of Food Availability in Rural Pennsylvania
Dr. Suzanne McDevitt of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania will examine emergency food assistance availability in rural Pennsylvania by analyzing secondary data and surveying food banks that serve rural areas in Pennsylvania.

Dr. McDevitt will identify gaps in the emergency food system in rural Pennsylvania, identify best practices in emergency food delivery, and identify specific policy considerations.

Economic Development Service Delivery in Rural Pennsylvania
Todd A. Behr of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania will analyze the current economic development service delivery system in rural Pennsylvania by: building a database of these organizations; analyzing their impacts and outcomes; identifying gaps and/or duplication of services, if any; evaluating their effectiveness in meeting current and future Pennsylvania needs; and identifying policy considerations.

A Rural-Urban Analysis and Comparison of Health Insurance Benefits Offered by Small Businesses
Dr. Martin Shields of Pennsylvania State University will investigate the numbers and types of health insurance benefits offered by small employers, evaluate the health insurance plans available to them, and identify policy considerations.

The research study will also provide a comparison between rural and urban small employers and their health insurance patterns.

Biosolids Disposal in Pennsylvania: Cost Comparisons and Policy Considerations
Dr. Herschel A. Elliott of Pennsylvania State University will inventory and analyze the costs of current biosolids disposal practices in the commonwealth, since the growth of land-based biosolids recycling has had such a huge impact on rural communities in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanians’ Knowledge of Agriculture
Dr. A. E. Luloff of Pennsylvania State University will survey Pennsylvanians to assess their knowledge about agriculture, including its role in the commonwealth’s economy and current farming practices. Dr. Luloff will explore the relationships between knowledge and the respondents’ personal characteristics, experiences, and behaviors. Regional differences also will be explored.

A Statewide Investigation of the Progress, Including Obstacles and Successes, in Meeting the Mandates of No Child Left Behind
Dr. Faith H. Waters of East Stroudsburg University will analyze the impact of No Child Left Behind on Pennsylvania schools by focusing on initiatives undertaken in response to the law by successful rural schools. Survey data and focus group input will provide policy and programming considerations for state officials and school districts.

School Nurses on the Front Line: Challenges in Meeting the Diverse Health Needs of Rural Pennsylvania School Children
Dr. Marianne Hillemeier of Pennsylvania State University will document the scope of school nursing practices since school nurses are the health professionals most involved with school-aged children, particularly in rural areas.

Dr. Hillemeier will assess effectiveness through a three-part survey of school nurses, principals and parents; a nursing policy standards review; and the quantification of nurse:student ratios.

Impact and Analysis of Act 50
Dr. William Hartman of Pennsylvania State University will examine those districts that adopted Act 50, the local tax reform law for school districts. The results of this mini grant will include district and community profiles and a thorough fiscal analysis of Act 50 on district revenues, emphasizing the use of property taxes versus earned income taxes. The characteristics of districts where Act 50 might be beneficial also will be identified.

Open Topics
Pennsylvania Local Government and Water Resources Management: 1991 and 2005
Dr. Charles Abdalla of Pennsylvania State University will identify municipal water issues and concerns through key informant interviews and a mail survey of local governments.

The goal of the research is to help policy makers, local officials, and others enhance local management of the quality and quantity of water resources.

Migration for Housing: How Rural Communities Adapt to Social Change
Dr. Sherri Lawson Clark of Pennsylvania State University will conduct an exploratory ethnographic study that examines the characteristics and forces, as well as the experiences, that drive migrations in poor families. The study will also examine the subsequent response of those with longer ties to the community and the effects on local public policies and access to social services.

Evaluation of Pennsylvania’s KOZ/KOEZ Program
Dr. Paula Duda Holoviak of Kutztown University will examine the effectiveness of the Keystone Opportunity Zone/Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone program in promoting job growth, job retention, and overall economic development in Pennsylvania’s rural counties.

Broadband and Rural Development in Pennsylvania: An Evaluation of Opportunity and Use
Dr. Amy Glasmeier of Pennsylvania State University will provide a detailed analysis of the range of broadband Internet applications that might be of particular use to businesses and institutions in rural areas. The research will involve detailed case studies of several rural communities in Pennsylvania, precisely identifying how, in each of these communities, businesses, health, educational, and government institutions are using broadband Internet services to advance economic and community interests.

2006 Grant Program
As this year’s grantees begin their projects, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania is preparing for its 2006 Grant Program.

The Center’s Board of Directors is identifying additional research topics that address relevant issues impacting Pennsylvania’s 2.8 million rural residents. After topics have been identified, the Center will issue the Request for Proposals (RFP).

The 2006 RFP will be issued in February and is available to faculty at SSHE and Penn State universities. The Center encourages cooperation and collaboration between these faculty and other public or private organizations on grant projects.

The grant program offers a maximum funding level of $50,000 per project per year. Grant projects may be renewed for up to three years if further research is necessary but each grantee must meet the current year grant requirements and continue to submit yearly competitive proposals.

Call (717) 787-9555 or visit our website at www.ruralpa.org for more information about the Grant Program.

Chairman’s Message
“Notice anything different?” Whether sporting a new hairstyle or a new attitude, people look forward to positive change and the effect it has on our outlook and recognition. This new format for Rural Perspectives is our way of ringing in 2005 with a new look that will help us pass along great information on rural Pennsylvania in style!

What’s changed? Take a look at the cover page and you’ll see an updated nameplate for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, along with a table of contents so you know what to look for inside each edition. As you turn the pages, other graphic changes will make your reading enjoyment of the content continue to grow as we present current information on rural research and issues in a user-friendly format. We hope you like our new look, and always welcome constructive comments.

Our feature story highlights the Center’s research projects for the New Year. Our 2005 grant projects will be looking at a mixture of topics, and will be conducted by faculty from the State System of Higher Education universities and Penn State University. The board of directors for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania looks forward to the completed research and subsequent reports, and their application to future policy in Pennsylvania.

I am always happy to learn from the experience of others. In this edition of Rural Perspectives, we all have the opportunity to gain knowledge from others that can be applied to our communities. In a series of articles, called “Rural Works,” we will be sharing ideas gleaned from rural communities and organizations that are making things happen in our state. These innovative programs, projects, and partnerships will be filling the pages of future issues of our newsletter with stories that will be encouraging, entertaining, and exciting to apply to your hometown or township. We applaud those communities who have had the courage to implement these innovative programs and celebrate their perseverance.

We owe a big Thank You to those who responded to our invitation to share their success stories with the readers of Rural Perspectives.

Overweight children have been featured in numerous news reports during the past year. They were the topic of a special legislative review by the House of Representatives that gathered expert testimony on the impact of excess weight on our youth.

On page 6 of our newsletter, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania shares some details on an analysis we conducted on overweight children, with data from the state Department of Health, to learn more about this issue as it relates to rural Pennsylvania.

While most of us hate to be interrupted by unsolicited telephone calls to our homes, please delay your do-not-call reaction if you hear that it is Penn State Harrisburg’s Center for Survey Research on the line. This winter, the Penn State center is conducting a population survey of rural Pennsylvanians, much like the survey conducted by the Census Bureau at the national level, on behalf of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. The information will help us continue our work to improve policy and programs for our rural areas. More information on this survey can be found on page 6.

As always, we will work to keep you informed and keep rural Pennsylvania’s needs in the forefront.
Representative Sheila Miller

Rural Works
How are communities tackling issues at the grassroots level in rural Pennsylvania? We have some great examples. In this issue of Rural Perspectives, we are starting a new series on how communities are acting on their vision for a better rural Pennsylvania. The projects and programs highlighted in the series cover a wide range of issues, from health and education to community building, telecommunications and financing. Thanks to those who shared the details of their projects with us. Now, we can share them with you so that we can all learn how rural works in Pennsylvania.

Internet technology is generally not one of the first things to come to mind when people try to think of ways to build and nurture their community.

For Suzanne Foust, general manager of the Keystone Community Network (KCNet), Internet technology equals community. She knows firsthand how the Internet and computer technology can create connections, ties, and relations that keep a community together.

KCNet, based in Lock Haven, Clinton County, is a non-profit corporation formed in 1995 to provide access to Internet and computer technology resources to the county. According to Foust, its goal was to provide Internet service and technology education to an underserved area.

KCNet originated through the support of Lock Haven University, and expanded through the Keystone Central School District, which had connected various school buildings with a fiber network. Community members then came together to find ways to expand that access to the general community, because they believed the Internet could be used as a community outreach tool.

“When KCNet started, there was no local dial-up access to the Internet,” Foust said. “Many service providers were around us, but none of them serviced anything in Clinton County with a non-toll number.”
Currently KCNet offers a wide variety of Internet and technology services to the community. In addition to providing fast, reliable Internet and technology services at reasonable prices, it also offers web hosting and design services, and classes and technology training at reduced prices or free. According to Foust, about 300 people per month attend the training sessions.

KCNet was started with a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. After the initial grant funding ended, the organization became essentially self-sustaining, with about 90 percent of its operating budget coming from membership dues. The other 10 percent come from federal, state, and local grants, and computer repair service fees.

Over the past 10 years, the network has grown almost exclusively through word of mouth, using little advertising to inform people of its services. There are currently 4,500 paying members, in a county with less than 15,000 households.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” commented Foust on the community’s reaction to the organization. “When people realized what this project meant, and how it could help them and the area, they lined up in favor of it.”

According to Foust more than 400 businesses currently have web pages obtained through KCNet. Between memberships and services provided to businesses, KCNet takes in an average of $12,000 per month.

And perhaps most impressive, all of the network’s operations are run by a staff of nine full-time employees and two part-time employees. Eighteen volunteers and one student intern also assist the network.
When asked why KCNet was so successful, Foust responded, “There was nothing else like this in the area – people found out about this project and rallied around it. It really fostered a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation and brought people together.

“It’s been amazing,” Foust continued. “We’ve managed to help people in ways that we never anticipated.”

The Rural Works Breakdown: Keystone Community Network (KCNet)
Mission/Goals: Maintain a rural area network that offers electronic services for the educational, cultural and economic advancement of local communities and provide access to electronic information for all citizens, using a variety of resources

Funding and In-Kind Support Sources: Began with a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Organization is now self-sustaining, with about 90 percent of its operating budget coming from membership dues and the remaining 10 percent coming from federal, state, and local grants, and computer repair service fees

Manpower: Nine full-time staff, two part-time staff, 18 volunteers and a student intern

Measurable Outcomes: About 4,500 paying memberships in a county with less than 15,000 households
Challenges: Keeping up with the demand for services

Advice for Replication: “Community support and involvement is extremely important – you can’t do it without the help and support of the community. The lesson is one of persistence and tenacity. Defining goals, planning, re-planning and promotion play significant roles.” – Suzanne Foust

Contact Information: KCNet, (570) 893-8111 or www.kcnet.org

It all began about 11 years ago when two concerned teachers from the Claysburg-Kimmel School District were visiting a preschool student at a subsidized apartment complex. As they drove around the complex, they noticed other children of the same age, so they began to knock on doors and ask to make monthly visits with the children and their parents. “We had no participants and no supplies, so we started working out of the trunk of my car,” said Mona Eckley, former sixth-grade teacher and current assistant to the Claysburg-Kimmel School District superintendent.

The original visit was the brainchild of Claysburg-Kimmel School District Superintendent James O’Harrow, who thought that home visitations by teachers could help parents of preschoolers better prepare their children to enter school ready to learn. Starting with one family, the teachers adopted the door-to-door approach. Word of the home visits spread, as Eckley and Cheryl Zwick, now-retired home economics teacher, shared parenting skills and offered critical support to parents of preschool-aged children in their rural, high-poverty district, which spans parts of Blair and Bedford counties.

Over the last decade, these avant-garde educators and their allies have built an impromptu service into a thriving, grassroots-supported resource for area families that has earned the endorsement of the school district, county and state agencies, and a national service program.

“The PREP program actively involves parents in their child’s early education during a time research shows to be most important in determining a child’s personality and educational future,” said Eckley, now a Ph.D. who coordinates the PREP (Providing Resources for Effective Parenting) Preschool Parenting
Room Program through her position as assistant to the superintendent. The program’s goal is to help preschool children develop school readiness skills so they may enter school ready to learn and to help parents adopt healthy beliefs and clear standards of behavior for their preschool children.

A Child PREP Preschool Parenting Room in the elementary school was created to house the program’s services, which have grown to include a popular book, game, and multimedia lending library; education and support for parents; organized recreational activities and field trips; screening and intervention for learning and developmental disabilities; and critical early childhood education that builds cognitive, motor, language, social and other skills. Services are offered for children from birth through age six.

“The children who come in begin to see the building as ‘my school’ and are ready to enter kindergarten with positive feelings about learning and peer interaction,” Eckley said. Children achieving certain benchmarks are rewarded with free books and monthly incentives. Children also receive special rewards for program participation, and each spring, those starting kindergarten in the fall are sent home with a backpack full of learning materials and school supplies.

The district’s kindergarten teachers report that PREP kids are better adjusted and enter school ready to learn. Parents and other caregivers report that children become more interested in learning activities in the home, such as reading and counting, have improved social skills, and are more attentive after starting the PREP program. When a need for special parent training is identified, PREP Room workers try to provide that training.

Organizers stress that parents must become active participants in their children’s learning, and the PREP Room offers a family-centered environment to facilitate that bonding. “We provide them with information and training on everything from discipline to health to the influence of television on children, as well as access to school, county and state programs and services,” said Eckley. “Parents are the first and most important teachers.”

The Rural Works Breakdown: Claysburg-Kimmel PREP Room
Goals: Prepare children for school; build parenting skills; facilitate family growth

Funding and In-Kind Support Sources: Blair County Human Services Agency, Family Service System Reform Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Communities that Care Grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Claysburg-Kimmel School District

Manpower: AmeriCorps volunteers, program coordinator, parents, high school student volunteers

Measurable Outcomes: 2004 enrollment of 135 children from district and surrounding communities; 3,752 individual visits recorded; 18,864 recorded uses of resources; parent and preschool developmental screenings indicate student progress on Pa. Department of Education early learning indicators

Challenges: Maintaining funding; possible loss of classroom to full-day kindergarten

Advice for Replication: “This is a program that would benefit all schools and communities, and it’s easy to replicate. It requires a strong commitment to improving the lives of young children, collaboration, creativity, and secure funding. It was made possible by the vision and support of our superintendent.” - Mona Eckley

Contact Information: Mona Eckley, Claysburg-Kimmel High School, (814) 239-5141

Overweight Children in Pennsylvania
The number of overweight children and adolescents in the U.S. has reached epidemic proportions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2000, the CDC estimated that 15 percent of the nation’s youth were overweight.

Children and adolescents who are overweight are exposed to many health risks, most notably the increased risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. And over the long run, overweight children have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults and experiencing many other health risks.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a flood of academic and governmental research on the issue of overweight children, most of which documents the surge in overweight children and the potential health impacts and risks of being overweight. There has been little research, however, on rural overweight children, especially children in rural Pennsylvania.

To address this information gap, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania analyzed data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on overweight 7th graders in 151 school districts throughout the state.

The analysis showed that in 2001, rural school districts had a higher percentage of overweight students than urban districts and that the problem of overweight rural students was increasing. Between 1999 and 2001, for example, the number of overweight students increased faster in rural schools than in urban schools.

To better understand the characteristics of schools with overweight students, the Center also analyzed data from the state Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau. The Center analyzed 27 demographic, economic, and educational indicators, such as population, income and test scores, to find out if these indicators showed any statistical relationship with the problem of overweight students.

For rural schools, the results generally showed a weak statistical relationship between the indicators and the number of overweight children. The opposite was found for urban schools, however, where the majority of indicators were related to the number of overweight students.

The Center concluded that the weak relationship of the indicators for rural schools might be attributed to the fact that the schools share many of the same demographic, economic and educational characteristics.
From a policy perspective, the Center found that additional studies are needed to identify those indicators that contribute to the problem of overweight rural children and the steps that may be taken to curb the problem.

For a copy of the analysis, Overweight Children in Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email info@ruralpa.org.

Answer That Call for Rural Information
Current Population Survey on Rural PA
To gather current data on Pennsylvania’s rural residents, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania is conducting the first annual Pennsylvania version of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS-PA). The telephone survey, administered by the Center for Survey Research at Penn State Harrisburg, will begin in January 2005.

If you get a call, please take the time to answer questions about you and the other members of your household regarding topics like basic demographics, health insurance, work status, and income. Surveys will take an average of 15 to 20 minutes to complete, depending on the number of people in the household.

The identification of survey respondents is, of course, completely confidential. The results of this annual survey will provide state and local data that cannot be gleaned from the small sample in the national CPS. The CPS-PA will provide yearly information on indicators like the makeup of rural Pennsylvania households, how many rural Pennsylvanians have various types of health insurance, what kinds of jobs rural Pennsylvanians hold, and the various sources of rural income.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania will share the results with the Pennsylvania General Assembly and other data users.

So, if you answer the phone and hear that Penn State Harrisburg’s Center for Survey Research wants to talk to you on behalf of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, please take the time to provide whatever information you can. Good information is the best way to help rural Pennsylvania.

Just the Facts: Poverty Levels Decline

Poverty levels in rural Pennsylvania are slowly declining. According to recent data estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of rural Pennsylvanians at or below the poverty level has declined 11 percent between 1997 and 2002, from a rate of 11.9 percent to 10.5 percent.

The poverty rate is calculated by dividing the number of persons at or below the poverty level by the total population for whom the Census Bureau determines poverty. In 2002, a family of four with a total income of less than $18,392 was considered to be living below the poverty level.

The decline in rural poverty is partially attributed to the decline in the number of rural children in poverty. In 2002, an estimated 106,864 children lived in poverty, for a childhood poverty rate of 17.5 percent. Five years earlier in 1997, it was estimated that more than 144,200 children were in poverty. This represents a 26 percent decline.

In urban areas, the decline in poverty was less dramatic. Between 1997 and 2002, the estimated number of urban poor declined 5 percent and the estimated number of children in poverty declined 15 percent.

Despite the declines in both rural and urban areas, the rural poverty rate remains higher than the urban poverty rate. In 2002, the rural rate was 10.5 percent and the urban rate was 9.8 percent.

Nationally, there was only a 3 percent decline in the number of persons in poverty between 1997 and 2002. The national rate was 12.1 percent.

Change in the Number of People Living in Poverty, 1997 to 2002