Boomtown Effect Impacted the Ranier 'Methodology' chapter

Excerpt from 'Methodology' chapter :


While there were students of color in the community, their race was rarely, if ever, a source of conflict. The unfortunate outcome, however is that in being "Color Blind," and believed that everyone is being treated the same. In reality, the outcome does not celebrate the uniqueness of those same ethnic groups. The bigger implication in my work will be the study of the blending of economic classes. Prior to the consolidation of the schools, Rainier had numerous rural one to four room schoolhouses. Each school had its own distinct area of the county and each group was resistant to blending with the others. This was an area of generational poverty. Families were land rich and money poor.

In the early 1970's, when Portland General Electric began construction on the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, there were the beginnings of a local population explosion. The first group to come to the community was the more transient construction workers. Their jobs were finite in nature, many did not bring their families and businesses opened to accommodate their needs, some of these businesses, like the "Diss Stop Inn Topless Bar," were in conflict with schools, but somewhat socially accepted or at least tolerated by the community. Once completion of the energy plant drew closer, higher end home construction increased and the permanent workers of the power plant began to move into the area. The blending of these cultures, while not necessarily ethnic in nature, was awkward and uncomfortable for many.

In his book, Growing Up American, Peshkin (1978) studies the relationships between students and their high school, and that school and its community. To this end, Peshkin used on-site interviews, tapes, diaries, and minutes of school board meetings. This study of the Rainier School District will follow a similar format. The school district in Growing Up American was smaller than Rainier, having approximately 2,200 residents and slightly more than 500 students in a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade.

Rather than describing the school structure, the study was developed through the perspective of the people who experienced it; students, teachers, parents, board members, and others described their opinions and feelings toward their school and the type of education they received. Peshkin's work strengthens the theory that the rural school and community are closely related; when a school is removed, the community is likely to disappear. After the closure of Trojan and the passage of Ballot Measure 5, 3 schools in the Rainier School District were closed. Their sub-communities had to fight to re-establish themselves as viable members of the school district. Even though schools are designed for students, the impact on the community greater on their culture and identity than the impact on the students themselves.

"Teachers vs. Technocrats" (Wolcott, 1978) is a study of the random introduction of a change effort into a school district and the subsequent turmoil it created. Wolcott, from the University of Oregon, found it interesting to investigate the unique subdivision of education in the United States and the clash of its culture with the larger context of business in this country. The clash of cultures in Rainier; the generational residents, the migrant workers and the new regional immigrants who represented a higher economic stratum did have tumultuous issues as described in this book.

One of the cultural challenges for Rainier was the change in clientele. The staff of the various regional school districts as well as the Union High School had to adjust to a broader depth of student ability and higher expectations from parents and families. "Among School Children" (Tracy Kidder, 1989) is an account of a teacher's fifth grade classroom at a school in Massachusetts for an entire year. Through his observations, Kidder explains the challenges and difficulties that the teacher went through working in a poor neighborhood in the United States. He uses this teacher's story as a larger comment on the American school system as a whole. The case study that I will present will reflect the style of storytelling represented in this book.

Boom and Bust Theory

The study of the Boom and Bust effect will be a focus of this section. The Boom and Bust effect can be described as a type of cycle experienced by an economy characterized by alternating periods of economic growth and contraction. During booms an economy will see an increase in its production. During busts an economy will see a fall in production and an increase in unemployment. Several works have been written on this topic. "Boomtown Communities" (Malamud, 1984) discusses the social effects on impacted towns. It also examines the impact on; community's physical resources, political ramifications, and financial benefits and burdens and the concept of coordinated planning for a booming community.

Social disruption theory maintains that boomtown communities typically experience a period of generalized crisis that adversely affects traditional routines and attitudes (Moore, 2001). Consequently, the disruption of social networks, the mental health of the residents, and the worldview of the community can all have a cumulative impact (Moore, 2001). According to this authority, "At the organizational level, existing businesses and associations struggle to survive the infusion of newcomers. At the community level, the homogeneous culture is fractured and services are often severely taxed" (Moore, 2001, p. 228). The research to date also suggests that the potential economic advantages that can accrue to rapid growth can be more than offset by the concomitant economic problems, disruption of established ways of life, and pathological disorganization that can result (Moore, 2001). In this regard, Moore adds that, "The displacement of traditional workers decreases the social connectedness between processing plants and their communities" (2001, p. 228).

In this boom-and-bust environment, Rainier did many things right and made many mistakes in planning and implementing for the sudden growth and subsequent bust of its infrastructure. Historical narratives were collected for this work and the analysis of the impact on the community is outlined below.

Often the Boomtown effect on a community is driven by the development of energy resources and the relocation of people to capitalize on those resources and this is also accurate with respect to Rainier as well. An interesting comparison to Rainier School District is the Plainview- Beechwood school district, near Wichita, Kansas, which increased from 50 people to 18,000, and from zero enrollment in the public schools to 4,000 during World War II (Tuttle, 1999).

Given the enormity of these demographic shifts, it is little wonder that there is a corresponding impact on the communities that are involved. For instance, Kneese, Brown and Anderson (1991) report that, "One finds that there is a relatively enormous effect on the local economy during the transient phase of development, which consists of the opening of mines and the construction of plants. But this is almost entirely the direct result of the payroll from the project itself with little indirect effect on other elements of the local economy" (p. 191). In a number of instances, the permanent residents of these areas are placed at a significant disadvantage by virtue of the development since there are concomitant increases in the costs of living and a decrease in the amount and quality of services that are available (Kneese et al., 1991). In other cases, permanent residents manage to improve their economic position, but typically only temporarily (Kneese et al., 1991).

Likewise, the community's boom and subsequent bust were significantly impacted by the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant. "Boom Town" (Rosen, 2009) describes a similar effect. The growth however in her work is attributed to the Wal-Mart Corporation establishing its corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas. Rosen examines the impact of the diverse cultures that settled in the community and the increase in the socio-economic status of the residents of this rural setting. Similarly, "Boomtown Blues" (Gulliford, 1989) is a 100-year study, 1885-1985, of the shale oil energy boom and bust on a rural community in Colorado. It is the author's observation that the development of the Western United States is a story of boom and bust. Rainier, like the municipality in this book, is a community of extremes. Gulliford's example of communities that survive are those that take the opportunity during the good times to diversify their infrastructure so that it is not completely dependent on one financial base. The so-called "Ghost Town" effect is brought about by communities who did not diversify and subsequently when the resource is gone so is the community. According to Rice-Oxley (2004), "In recent years, thousands have lined up to buy second homes in far-flung corners of the country, driving up property prices beyond the reach of locals and creating a ghost-town effect when they leave their weekend retreat to return the city" (p. 6).

As noted above, some permanent residents manage to persevere during bust periods, but most experience a decline in basic community services and an increase in prices for the types of services that are available, contributing to an overall diminution of a wide range of quality of life…

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