May. 28, 2013
Students have been imagining the prairie grass and oxen herds of old through initiatives of the Rural Lit. RALLY at St. Mary's School the past few months.
Having been in operation for two years in April, the Rural Lit. RALLY is pursuing efforts to restore the art of rural-based literature in the United States. Dr. Paul Theobald is the project director of RALLY, which stands for "Reinvigorating American Life and Learning through Literature of Yesteryear."
Theobald, dean of the school of education at Buena Vista University, visited with five St. Mary's School students once every three weeks to discuss their impressions on a book they were simultaneously reading. One selection was the award-winning "Wild Geese," published in 1925 by Martha Ostenso of Minnesota.
The ninth-graders who participated in RALLY this year were encouraged to write a paper analyzing some aspect of the book whether it be a character or a theme. The reading was extra-curricular for the students who take part in the group although they meet during homeroom.
Ryan Berg is the St. Mary's language arts teacher for the freshmen. After Theobald shared in early February his idea of setting up a student group, Berg proposed to his classes that they consider joining the movement. Five students volunteered and met in Berg's classroom. The St. Mary's instructor continued to establish times for book discussions to take place.
The students had other activities that they were involved with on top of writing a paper and reading "Wild Geese."
"The first thing was the fact that they were reading," Berg explains the benefits provided by the program. The RALLY group was the motivation for them to commit time to literature.
The students also learned from identifying with the past that is presented in the novel. Through the eyes of pioneers in one-room schoolhouses, rural literature has given familiar notions for readers to dissect.
"It's important for them to identify with the past," says Berg. "Themes can last over a long time."
The stories are often about young people experiencing conflicts while growing up.
The St. Mary's students participating in RALLY this academic year were acknowledged during an academic awards banquet before commencement. Both Berg and Theobald hope that the St. Mary's group will grow next year.
Theobald expects to reach more schools with a RALLY student group started already in Nebraska.
RALLY looks to develop after its second anniversary. There are plans to digitize books to ensure their future accessibility while still collecting books that are no longer being printed. Different author displays have been exhibited in local libraries to spread awareness of the cause with both life facts and reviews of their books available.
"Farmers have always been a voice for the people," says Dr. Theobald.
The RALLY Web site offers discussion forums and blogs advocating for the end of disappearing rural-based books. Through the Web and personal connections, RALLY hopes to spread its message around the country.
Theobald started the program and sustains it as a volunteer.
Note: This story was written by Kevin Coriolan, a BVU sophomore corporate communications major from Worthington, Minn., during an internship at The Times.