Small Town USA Kaitlyn VanHooser

I grew up in the small town of Louisiana, Missouri where everything is within walking distance. The town itself has about 3,500 people. 1 grocery store, 3 gas stations (that's what we call them), and 2 fast food restaurants; all within 3 miles of each other. Follow my journey as I describe my experiences and how they can relate to larger social issues in today's world.

There are positives and negatives to living in such a small town. The positives are that it's very easy to get involved in something and stay involved, whether its an organization or a sport. Another positive is that the school is the center of the community because there isn't much else to focus attention to. A downfall to growing up here is that everyone knows everything about you, sometimes before you even tell anyone! It's honestly crazy how that works and to this day, I still don't understand how. HA! Another negative is the fact that there isn't much room for growth in a profession. I think this is what drives people to the city.

My graduation class was a total of 75 people. I can honestly say that I knew everyone on a personal level, which I think really helped me develop as a person.
I don't think my educational experiences should be looked over just because I am from a small town. In fact, they have helped shape me into who I am today. If it wasn't for the many educational experiences that took place at this school, who knows who I would be today!

My school was a very traditional school. I never had more than 20 students in my classes, sometimes not more than 12. This made learning a lot easier because I could focus better. I was able to connect with my teachers on more of a personal level. I believe this to be one social issue in itself. Students have such hard times connecting with their teachers, and that is often one of the reasons why some don't succeed. They need that support system. I am very thankful for this learning experience.

Another aspect was that I got more one-on-one time with my teachers, which really maximized my learning. I would say that my relationships with my teachers were very positive. I received an overwhelming amount of support from my teachers and administration. I always felt like I had someone to go to when I was having trouble. This just goes to show the culture of my school. I always felt that the community had my back as well, because everyone wanted the children to succeed.

I want to take a moment to talk about the extracurricular activities/organizations I was involved in, because I think they have everything to do with my educational experiences and the culture of my school. I was involved in softball, basketball, cheerleader, and many school organizations. That's the beauty about my small school; it would be odd to find someone that's not involved in something. Being involved in activities and my community drove me to have a strong work ethic that I would carry with me in the future. I think this is another social issue we face in the world today. Kids are finding that they can't be involved in certain activities because they aren't "cool enough" or fit for a certain organization. This shouldn't be the case. This drove me to step out of my comfort zone and do things that I wouldn't normally do, but I'm glad I did! For example, the picture above is when I tried out for the school musical and got the role of Belle. This was a once in a life time experience that I wouldn't have even considered if I were in a different school environment.
One thing I want to stress is how easy it was to fit in at my school. Everyone was one. We all supported each other in whatever we did. I had the same friend group throughout all of K-12, but I didn't stick with just my one friend group. I was kind of friends with everyone. My outgoing personality enabled me to make many friends and have great relationships with many. This is exactly why growing up in a small town has it's own culture. I was never faced with the problem of trying to fit in and find friends; it just came natural, and it was much easier for me because every the same. My school was almost all white. We all spoke the same language, and everything went smoothly. This is yet another social issue. Students have such a hard time fitting in at school and being different from their classmates; I didn't personally have this issue but it happens all over the world.

One of the main points I want to stress in this is that not all students in America have the same positive experiences as me through education. I am very privileged and honored to have been given such a great opportunity to have such experiences that have shaped me for my future. However, the reality is that there are thousands of students that dream for this sense of belonging and positive experience, and those are the immigrant students. Not being faced with this diversity has definitely had an impact on my experiences because I have never had to face the challenges of not fitting in; I have never been the minority. I have never been faced with the challenge of learning a new language. I think it's so easy to get caught up in our own world that we forget what it's like for the students that feel like they don't belong and aren't welcome in this country.

It's important to not only to reflect on your own experiences with diversity, but to consider the experiences of the immigrant students themselves. In "Made in America" I read through several students' experiences, and I found most of them to be negative.
One student reflected on how hard it was for him to learn since he didn't speak English. "I remember all the classmates make fun of me because I couldn't spoke English. I felt very upset because I didn't have no friends who can help me with my work, and it is very hard for me to understand the teacher. The teacher didn't see me. i felt I wasn't there at all." Another student said, "I'd get so tired, my head would hurt. All day, sit in classes and hear English, English, English, and try so so hard to understand, but I do not understand. I was afraid the teacher would call on me....by the end of the day I couldn't listen any more- it was so hard."
Here is a look of my classmates. This is what I grew up with. We were all the same race, culture, language, etc. I faced nothing like these immigrant students face everyday, and I almost feel guilty because they face this on a regular basis. I never had to worry about not understanding my classmates, or face the horror of not knowing what my teacher was saying. My experiences differ greatly than the immigrant students in the book, but this is a major social issue we face in today's education, and it shouldn't be taken lightly.
I hope that one day, there won't be a challenge for immigrant students. I hope one day they don't feel like the minority, and instead feel a sense of belonging. It's very disappointing that they have the experiences they do, and I wish they felt more welcomed here.
Created By
Kaitlyn VanHooser
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Created with images by pasa47 - "McGuire Law Firm"

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