I was one of those kids raised in a large school. My graduating class was more than 600 students. Nobody knew me and I did not have any close friends. School was a place that I went to at 8 am and left at 3 pm. Although it was a large school with a lot of students, I found myself isolated. The popular kids were the football players and the cheerleaders. I could not tell you the name of one person from my high school and there were over twenty five hundred. I was not connected to my school or my fellow students.

Fast forward a few decades and I have observed the school connection within the rural community. The rural community is a place where everyone knows you by your name or your family. There have been songs written about people in the town square, the church, local festivals, the local cafe, and in some cases the barbershop. However, it is remarkable that the central focus in the community is the school.

Small community schools provide a social connection for residents. They come together for sporting events, band concerts, school festivals, and special events. The school gym may be the largest indoor area for social gatherings in town. These activities offer opportunities for people to connect socially to the group.

At the end of the school year, the high school graduation is the central focus of a community. The graduating class may have fifteen to thirty students. The ceremony is supported by the community and is very personable. Some graduating ceremonies have a photo slideshow of each student from birth to the events of the senior year. They each have a connection to the other.

Adults that grew up rural in these schools have life connections as they grow older. The members in the community watch each other grow up, get married, have children, experience life troubles and blessings together. They are connected and their lives intertwine.

However, some of the adolescents never feel connected to the group and find themselves isolated for various reasons. As they struggle to find their place in the group, the feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and isolation become part of their belief system. They believe they are worthless and irrational thoughts begin to infiltrate their thinking. They have not developed or have not been taught appropriate coping skills.

Adolescents are impulsive, and without coping skills they may resort to behaviors that are detrimental to their safety and the safety of those around them. These dynamics have been identified as factors in school violence studies.

It is important to recognize students that are struggling with these feelings and intervene. Intervention can be as simple as listening to the students concerns, encouraging interaction with fellow students and a referral to a mental health professional.

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Ronald N. Martin
Ronald Martin is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor in Texas. He currently works at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock with the TWITR project providing mental health assistance to adolescents in rural schools. He also provides mental health assessments in local emergency rooms. Ron retired from law enforcement after thirty-seven years. He retired as a Chief and National Chaplain from the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Field Operations, El Paso, Texas in 2013. During the course of his career he served as an instructor and course developer for the National Chaplain Academy presented at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Artesia, NM and Glynco, GA.