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History of ACRES

The Founding and Evolution of ACRES

Dr. Doris Helge founded ACRES as part of a federally funded grant which was later expanded to include the National Rural Development Institute, many programs and the national journal. Dr. Helge was the first Executive Director of ACRES, holding this position from 1981-1984 at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky and then from 1984-1992 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Doris Helge

Doris Helge, founder and first Executive Director of ACRES, in 1981

The first Annual National Conference on Rural Special Education was held in May 1981 at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. It was at this conference that the American Council on Rural Special Education (ACRES) was founded, with Doris Helge serving as Executive Director and educators from different professional roles and multiple geographic areas serving as the first Board of Directors. The annual dues were set at $20. Additional conferences were held there in 1982 and 1983, then the conference site was moved to Bellingham, Washington in 1984 and 1985. After that time, the conference site was moved to different locations around the U.S.


First ACRES national conference, held in Murray, Kentucky, 1983

In the founding years, other organizations were active and involved with ACRES including The ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools (ERIC-CRESS) and the Northwest Regional Education Lab. ACRES was founded to:

  • Provide a clearinghouse for the discussion of research and practice related to rural special education.
  • Provide a voice in congressional committees and in legislatures in support of children and their families in rural areas.
  • Bring national attention to rural special education through a professional publication, the Rural Special Education Quarterly and through ACRES’ national conferences.
  • Prepare quality teachers ready to provide needed services and work with individuals with disabilities in rural and remote environments.
  • Address a gap in the literature and focus research on the needs of individuals with disabilities who live in rural and remote areas.

The mission of ACRES is to provide leadership and support that will enhance services for individuals with exceptional needs, their families, and the professionals who work with them, and for the rural communities in which they live and work.


Map illustrating home states of ACRES conference participants,1983