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Our Towns Flyer Back to School Edition
Sea turtles, libraries, road trips, heading back to school, and more!
Our Towns has been busy on the ground, in the air, and by the sea this summer. Here is our end-of-season collection of stories for you from all those perspectives.
On the ground: Ben Speggen and Michelle Ellia made a Steinbeck-inspired road trip to the Carolinas. Ben previews the stops to several different towns, including a prison-turned-farm for at-risk youth and three towns where a community foundation opened the door to all kinds of local initiatives. Jordan Sandman tells another story from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, where the town library has created a reading garden that serves as a place of reflection for the community.
In the air: Deb and Jim flew the Cirrus to northwest Ohio to visit three small communities, also jump-started toward action by the local community foundation. Deb and Jim also visited Sandusky, a stone’s throw from where Deb grew up on Lake Erie, to witness the change from a gritty industrial town (Deb’s era) to a community with all the potential to become the next Bend, Oregon or Greenville, South Carolina.
Since it is back-to-school season, we’re also presenting these stories originally written for The Washington Monthly’s college rankings issue, including the story of Ball State University and the roles the university and also its school newspaper play in the town of Muncie.
Stretching the back-to-school theme is the more sobering commentary from Jim about the attack on Salman Rushdie at Chautauqua. This attack struck close to home, as we are great fans of Chautauqua and of Henry Reese at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh. Henry was about to interview Rushdie on stage when the stabbing prevented their conversation from happening.
By the sea: Along the southwest Florida coast is where Deb found baby turtles and the local volunteers who document the mother turtles’ nesting and the beginning of the life for the tens of thousands of hatchlings. This is reported in multi-media StoryMap form – please click and scroll, watch and listen – thanks to Esri’s ArcGIS technology, and designed by Our Towns’ Michelle Ellia.
Our Towns Goes Back to School
Our Towns partners with The Washington Monthly, where Jim had his first magazine job exactly 50 years ago, to present two features in The Monthly's annual college rankings issue. Jim explains the history of college rankings, The Monthly's pioneering approach, and why it matters.
The Monthly's Editor in Chief Paul Glastris offers the issue's origin story here.
JAMES FALLOWS | EDUCATION
The Ball State Daily News, the student newspaper at Ball State University in Muncie, helped fill an important gap in response to a historic change in the city’s public schools. Deb writes about how this new role is an important illustration of how colleges can innovate to address community challenges – and fill a civic gap by serving as communities' papers of record.
DEBORAH FALLOWS | EDUCATION
It is time to judge colleges by their contribution to the economic and civic life of their communities. Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, passes the test brilliantly.
Here is how Ball State has embraced a "let's do it" attitude, expanded the definition of a "college town" by running toward challenges, not away from them, and played a significant role in the community's public schools.
JAMES FALLOWS | EDUCATION
This is a story of Think Global, Act Local. The volunteer Turtle Patrol of a southwest Florida key documents critical information about the nesting and hatching of sea turtles on their beaches. The data add information to build public awareness and affect planning and policies around coastal life. We’re presenting this turtle-tale as a StoryMap for a multi-media experience.
DEBORAH FALLOWS | ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABILITY
Voices from America
In 2015, Dillsburg, Pennsylvania relocated the town’s library to a bigger space to better serve its growing population. A year later, the community stepped up to add a Reading Garden, which converted a tragic loss into positive change for the community.
JORDAN SANDMAN | LIBRARIES
What happens in the parts of our country that don’t get covered by the national media? Jim and Deb Fallows traveled along the Lake Erie coast to share stories of innovation and progress while challenging what people think about small towns, villages, and other communities in Northwest Ohio.
JAMES FALLOWS | CIVIC LIFE
National narratives don’t tell the full story about rural America. Ben Speggen, Michelle Ellia, and their dog Remi recently visited rural South Carolina and North Carolina to see that people there are hopeful about their towns.
BEN SPEGGEN | CIVIC LIFE
On Friday, Aug. 12, an assailant rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution. He stabbed Salman Rushdie in the neck and abdomen. Rushdie was not the only victim in this attack. Also on stage was Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh which hosts persecuted and exiled writers, and friend of Our Towns. Henry lost his chance to interview Rushdie, but you can read his story about the experience here in The New York Times.
DEBORAH AND JAMES FALLOWS | JOURNALISM & CIVIC NEWS
More on (the theme of education in) American Renewal
An Unusual Way to Bridge the Town-Gown Divide. Ball State's contributions to the community aren't a new development. Here is an earlier Our Towns report from Jim about the university's plan to assume responsibility for the city’s schools.
The University of Dayton is Reinventing Town-Gown Relations. A century ago, Dayton was known mainly for the things it created. Today, the story is different, as Jim writes in a piece on The University of Dayton's efforts to find new opportunities in and for the town.
The Power of a Community College. Community colleges continue to be important for America’s economic and civic future as we revisit Jim's report on the power of these institutions after attending a conference in Michigan.
An Engineering School Pulls off an 'Epic Trick Play'. A cannily analytical approach to possibilities can pay off in many realms. Jim writes about how a little bit of daring and guts paid off for Trine University.