PACERS is a non-profit (501c3) association committed to sustaining and celebrating Alabama’s rural communities and schools and linking them together to build the good futures they seek. As a statewide caucus and advocate for rural communities, it organizes and supports comprehensive rural education and community development programs of national quality.
How Did PACERS Begin And What Are Its Goals?
PACERS began as an in-service program for rural teachers sponsored by the Program for Rural Services and Research (PRSR) at the University of Alabama. Realizing that their common interests-including keeping small schools open-participating teachers and PRSR staff began planning for an organization of rural schools. The outcome was the PACERS Cooperative, an informal association of thirty schools representative of rural Alabama. The Cooperative’s program, Better Schools Building Better Communities, created projects and approaches that gained state and national recognition for their academic outcomes and contributions to local life. They became the models for PACERS present activities. Over a period of years, participants decided that the future of the work depended upon the development of an independent rural non-profit. Although this step meant the loss of institutional support from the University of Alabama, it placed the setting of agendas, decision making, and responsibility for the program in the hands of rural communities and their members.
This new grassroots effort has focused upon developing local groups, continuing and expanding projects, and identifying and addressing the basic issues facing small rural communities and schools. Receiving its 501c3 status in late 2005, PACERS now has ten community chapters with more than 500 total members with a goal of forty chapters and 3,500 members by 2011. Its project in rural media has eight participating schools/communities. PACERS Rural Science for Life has five schools/communities sponsoring aquaculture projects with two additional sites engaged in its new solar project. PACERS expects by 2011 that its rural science network will have 30 school/community participants in solar, aquaculture, and hydroponics/greenhouse projects with its community documentation/publishing network having an additional 25 members.