Rural By Choice: Chris Spriggs

When Christina Spriggs applied for a teaching position at Glenns Ferry School District, she figured she could handle a year or two in the small Idaho town. Fifteen years later, she still hasn’t left.

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Name: Christina (Chris) Spriggs
Where I live: Glenns Ferry, Idaho
Why I live here:: My willingness to live in this small, rural town comes down to two things: my desire to raise my children in a community that is safe and traditional and my desire to help improve the lives of the children in Glenns Ferry.

Tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, how you spend your time.

I am first and foremost a wife and mother. I take these roles very seriously and cannot imagine my life without my children in it. Second, I am an educator. Teaching is a multi-faceted job that pulls me in many directions. I probably spend too much time at school trying to perfect my lesson plans and helping kids with any issue they might have, including but not limited to homework. Outside of school, my family loves to camp, watch the Seahawks play, and spend time together. I am Basque and proud of my heritage. I love to read, write, watch movies and the news, and attend educational conferences to improve my teaching.

Where do you live?  Paint us a picture.

Glenns Ferry is one hour away from the capital, Boise (Idaho), and is nestled between the mountains and the Snake River. It has a population of a little over 1,000 people. The town is most notable for its Oregon Trail crossing and the three islands the settlers used to cross the treacherous river. It is a town with history and its buildings show their age. The city limits of the town are dated yet constantly being maintained and improved by a revitalization committee seeking to make the area more aesthetically pleasing for tourists who camp at Three Island State Park, a park that is filled to capacity all summer long due to its beautifully maintained campsites and recreational area. The town is also very proud of its Equine Dentistry School, which draws students from all over the world.   The school and the farms, though, are the major businesses in town. When I first moved here, people told me that folks in the town either worked for the school or for the farmers.

Downtown Glenns Ferry, Idaho. Photo by Jasperdo/Flickr
Downtown Glenns Ferry, Idaho. Photo by Jasperdo/Flickr

How did you come to live where you do?  How long have you lived there, and how long do you plan to stay?

Glenns Ferry was never a possibility as I was dreaming of where I would live once I was graduated from college and married. However, as luck or the omens would have it, I was asked to interview for an open English position after the district saw my file through my university’s career center. Driving into the town for the first time, my husband complained immediately that he didn’t see a McDonald’s and jokingly declared that the town obviously didn’t have a lot to offer. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of anxiety going into my interview because I wasn’t planning on sticking around.

Fifteen years later, I can now look back on those initial reactions to the town and laugh at my ignorance and naivety. I can’t imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t accepted the job offer. While my husband and I often contemplate moving away from the town and closer to our families, we always find better reasons to stay, including our students, our colleagues, and the small, safe community. I can’t predict the future, but I see this town in our future for a long time.

In what ways is the place you live now similar or different to where you grew up or have lived in the past?

I grew up in the relatively small town of Emmett, Idaho. Emmett is rural and nestled in a valley. While its population was larger than Glenns Ferry’s, there were still few businesses and entertainment opportunities as I was growing up. The community, though, was close-knit and, for the most part, dedicated to the traditional values of family, hard work, government for the people, and respect for nature, which are also prominent in Glenns Ferry.

What are the benefits of Living in Glenns Ferry?

After taking the job as the high school junior and senior English teacher for the school district, I obviously learned more about the community and the people who reside here. I was hesitant, admittedly, about living in a town without major conveniences and forms of entertainment, but I have come to love the family-feel of the school and the town. It was difficult at first to get used to the idea that I have to give up some privacy living in such a small, rural area, but I ultimately found that “knowing everyone” had its advantages.

My husband, for instance, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2012. Coping with such a devastating diagnosis, I honestly believe, would have been more difficult if we hadn’t been living in Glenns Ferry. The tremendous amount of support we received was unbelievable. While we were in the hospital, the community rallied together to hold fundraisers and to start a “Fight Like Hell, Rob” campaign with blue shirts and bracelets that were sold all over town. People mowed our lawn, helped with our children, brought food to our home, and prayed for us. One of the most touching moments for us is when the varsity football team that my husband coached ran to our house (literally) during practice and brought Rob a football they had all signed. We were never alone in our struggle, and to this day, the town still stands with my husband in his fight against cancer.

It is a combination of all of these things–the community’s support, the sense of safety provided, the laid-back comfort, the connection to nature, and the desire of the town to hold on to traditional values and beliefs that has kept us here.

Chris and her family.
Chris and her family.

How do you think being a teacher in a rural place differs from working in urban or suburban schools?

I could sit here and say that rural schools have more obstacles to overcome than larger schools and that we have less resources for dealing with these issues, but that wouldn’t be fair to the city teachers who must go head-to-head with their own issues. Instead, I can say that we are understaffed and often take on numerous jobs to make up for this loss. We struggle financially and as a result have lost our music, art, family and consumer sciences, and carpentry programs, and we work with some kids with significant learning disabilities and mental issues. Overall, we are simply more isolated, which makes it difficult to reach out to others for help, to locate resources, and to garner the support we need from those making all of the decisions at the government level.

Your school is part of the NW RISE program. Tell us about the program and what it’s like to be part of it.

NW RISE stands for the Northwest Rural Innovation and Student Engagement Network. It is a network of small, rural schools from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska who work together to bridge the gap for teachers working in isolated areas. It is a way, ultimately, for teachers to develop PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) across state lines and with teachers in similar situations and subject areas–small, rural schools with low student numbers and few resources. Its focus is on giving these rural teachers a voice and a means of communicating with their colleagues.

Most importantly, though, we work together to plan very challenging, Common Core-aligned lessons and projects that we can have our students complete together. This is very exciting for our students because they not only get to “talk” with students from other schools and states, but they also get to see that they, too, are not alone and that there are other kids facing some of the same issues they face. I enjoy it because I now have colleagues who I can speak to whenever I need help. Not only do we meet face-to-face twice a year at our conferences, but we continue our work online through an LMS (Learning Management System).

My time with RISE has been such an inspiring, rejuvenating experience. I feel so blessed to be able to work with the folks at the Northwest Comprehensive Center and the professors from Boston College. Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley are two of the most prominent voices of education in the world so to say that they have walked the halls of my school or that I have sat in a room and discussed academic achievement, rural challenges, and the future of education with them is such an honor. Our school district has made some great strides in student engagement and achievement as a result of our membership in the NW RISE network.

What are the drawbacks of living in a rural place?

The drawbacks of living in a rural community can be significant. There is obviously less business volume, which results in fewer places to shop, higher prices on goods, and fewer entertainment possibilities. We are forced to do a lot of driving whenever we need to shop, visit the doctor, or seek out leisure activities that don’t involve hunting or fishing. There also seems to be a higher rate of poverty and a less formally educated populace in comparison to the urban areas. The presence of drug and alcohol tends to weigh heavily on small, rural towns as well.

What’s your favorite thing about your town? 

My favorite thing about living in Glens Ferry is by far my students. Through their struggles, their persistence, and their dreams for the future, I am inspired to continue evolving as an educator so that I can offer them every opportunity for achievement and advancement possible.

 

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