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Location Matters: Urban, Suburban, and Rural Children and Families

PTA structures and strategies should fit the varying needs of families in urban, suburban and rural locations. Each of these settings has unique features that may offer both advantages and disadvantages for family involvement and PTA impact.

In Focus: Urban Children 

  • Nearly one-third of Americans live in urban areas.[1]

  • Children in urban areas are more likely to live in low-income families than are rural or suburban children.[2]

  • More than half of American cities are now majority non-white.[3]

In Focus: Suburban Children

  • Poverty in suburban communities has been growing at a faster rate than in urban areas.[1]

  • According to the 2010 Census Bureau report, more than one-third of all 13.3 million new suburbanites were Hispanic, compared to 2.5 million African Americans and 2 million Asians. Caucasians accounted for one-fifth of suburban growth.[2]

In Focus: Rural Children

  • More than 65% of rural children are non-Hispanic and white.[1]

  • More than 25% of rural children live in families with household incomes below the federal poverty level, and more than 13% of children under age 6 live in “deep poverty,” defined as a family income less than half the federal poverty level.[2]

  • 40% of boys and 36% of girls in small rural areas are overweight or obese.[3]

Key Strategies for Inclusion

  • Be sensitive to location-specific issues. These might include transportation, language, safety, community character and resources. Any feature of a community might pose both opportunities and problems. Consider the following questions when planning programs and events:
    • What are the primary cultural, ethnic and racial groups in your area?
    • How are neighborhoods distinguished by parental income and education?
    • Is there local public transportation? Would a PTA carpool increase participation? Is teen driving an issue?
    • What are the primary pastimes of local families, and are there differences across neighborhoods? Where do children and teens gather?
    • Are there attractive places that might provide appealing settings for PTA activities?
    • Are there areas that pose dangers to children that might be addressed?
    • Are there groups and organizations with missions regarding families, children and education that might want to collaborate on projects with PTA?
    • Are there groups or organizations that might be willing to donate money, resources, or volunteers to PTA projects?

  • Make an action plan. Depending on the needs of your local area, you might consider one or more of the following activities: an after-school “care fair,” PTA carpools, a PTA Night Out celebrating families’ diverse cultures, a district-wide seminar on alternative funding for schools, a workshop on bridging generational and income technology gaps, or a workshop on another location-specific student issue (e.g., isolation, driving, well-being, nutrition and weight, favorite pastime activities).

  • Communicate effectively. Develop strategies and messages that are adapted to local families and address issues of distance or proximity.

  • Create opportunities that make use of local resources.

  • Engage in community outreach. Create a partnership network among local organizations, youth-serving groups and the business community

PTA Resources

Other Resources

[1] U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). (2015). The health and well-being of children in rural areas: A portrait of states and the nation, 2011-2012. Retrieved from http://mchb.hrsa.gov/nsch/2011-12/rural-health/index.html 

[2]USDA Economic Research Service. (2015). Child Poverty: http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/rural-economy-population/rural-poverty-well-being/child-poverty.aspx.

[3] HRSA, The health and well-being of children in rural areas: A portrait of states and the nation, 2011-2012.