After completing the documentary “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” director Joe Winston got what he least expected – a government contract.
After seeing the documentary, a representative of the U.S. Department of Education offered Winston a chance to bid on production of a short documentary on the Walton Rural Life Center, an elementary school in the tiny town of Walton, KS, about forty minutes north of Wichita.
In 2007, the Walton School was in danger of being shut down. It was a good school, but population decline in the area had left it with too few students to justify staying open. For a town like Walton, with fewer than 300 people, losing its only school could be a crippling blow.
Instead of giving up, the school reinvented itself by using a U.S. Department of Education charter school grant to incorporate agriculture into every aspect of the curriculum, being perhaps the first public elementary school in the nation to do so. Now, students as young as five years old take care of cows, chickens and goats as part of their studies. But they aren’t just learning to farm – they’re conducting hands-on experiments and projects to learn math, science, reading, and other basic skills. Bright-eyed in their enthusiasm, Walton students have embraced the new model of hands-on learning through agriculture.
Five years later, the school is bursting at the seams with students, and academic achievement, attendance, test scores, etc. have all risen to make Walton one of the very best schools in the state.
Walton is an unequivocal Kansas success story: the same school, with the same staff, is now thriving as a rural public school, in partnership with parents, family farms and small businesses. A small agricultural town gets to survive by being a small, agricultural town.
You can see the video below and the Department of Education blog post about it here.