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South Dakota Rural Enterprise Opportunity Roundup - Rural revitalization in New Mexico

New Mexico Rural Revitalization Initiative (NMRRI)

[The following information is gleaned from the article, “Rural Revitalization in New Mexico” by Gerald Pitzl, dated October 16, 2007, appearing at]

New Mexico is the only state in which rural revitalization is official state policy. The New Mexico Rural Revitalization Initiative (NMRRI) is in its third year, and is patterned after a similar successful program in South Australia.

NMRRI stresses the key role that public schools play in rural revitalization. The impact of a school closing can be devastating to a small community: the school may be the largest single employer, as well as a community center. Development of both school and larger community is helpful to all.

Currently 13 rural New Mexico school districts, including 5,000 K-12 students, are involved in the program. The involvement is expected to rise in the near future.

Communities interested in implementing a NMRRI program begins with a series of community conversations involving key members of the community: the mayor, business and civic leaders, interested townspeople and the school superintendent. These conversations identify community strengths and weaknesses and the direction the community wants to go in future development. This grass-roots initiative places the impetus for change and the initiative for that change to be directed by the community.

The role of the school:

  • Is crucial to the process;
  • Must work together with the community in revitalization process;
  • Incorporate programs that bring community leaders into the schools, to counteract the feeling of isolation from the community that students may experience;
  • Incorporates programs that send students out into the community for mutually meaningful and rewarding experiences – known as “place-based education.”
    • Place-based education creates a greater awareness of community for students and appreciation for its positive attributes and
    • Can reverse a trend of out migration by youth.
Participants in NMRRI in its first year toured the South Australian seacoast village of Cowell. What they saw in action there has encouraged their initiative at home in New Mexico. The South Australia village of Cowell had been a traditional farming community. When the land no longer was able to support the community’s economy, the community turned to farming the ocean. Successful oyster farms now ship their oysters as far away as Japan. Local students who worked at the oyster farms have now chosen to stay in the community to continue their work. Similar entrepreneurial thinking can work in rural communities anywhere.

Entrepreneurial initiatives are the economic future for small communities. Traditional methods may no longer work in the new economy. Finding new ways to do things will revitalize rural communities.

Additional Resource: Gerald R. Pitzi, et al (2007). “Rural Revitalization in New Mexico: A Grass Roots Initiative Involving School and Community,” The Rural Educator, 28 (3), 4-11.


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