Rep. Mike Castle and Sen. Tom Carper were joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Delaware State Fair July 23 to mingle with Delaware 4-H, FFA and FCCLA students, as well as others. Duncan is reaching out to rural areas to find their education strengths and weaknesses.

Chicagoan and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan got a feel for a more rural life while perusing everything from homegrown vegetables to zoology projects with students July 23 at the Delaware State Fair.

Duncan joined Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle July 23 to reach out to students from rural areas, and talked to members of Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

“I’m a city boy so I’ve got a lot to learn,” Duncan said to a group of students from the Caesar Rodney district.

Duncan talked to students about after-school activities, the healthy cooking contest, and winning science projects. He also asked Smyrna Middle School teachers why they chose to stay in their home state when it came time to teach.

Attracting and retaining outstanding teachers is one of the challenges facing rural communities, according to Duncan. Communities need the funds to get teachers to travel there, and stay there. They also need to be paying more for qualified science and math teachers, working on staff development, and supporting excellent teachers already in place, Duncan said. After-school and weekend programs for students also are beneficial, he said.

The next step for rural communities is to invest in technology as many students do not have access.

“Technology can be the great equalizer,” Duncan said.

As for the Delaware students he met during his brief visit, Duncan said they had great vision.

“I’m extremely hopeful and inspired by these young people,” he said.

Doug Crouse, 4-H program superintendent at the fair, said Duncan, Carper and Castle got a good feel for what the state’s 4-H students are doing. When they found out less than 24 hours in advance about Duncan’s visit, students were quick to organize.

Crouse said the visit was a boon to the secretary as well as students.

“We always think it’s great when any official comes down and speaks directly to our youth,” Crouse said.

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