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Despite the best intentions of the United States educational system, implementing science reform efforts equitably and consistently throughout the nation is still a long-term goal. The light of scientific literacy has yet to shine brightly in many rural, isolated and economically depressed regions. Using Appalachia as a case in point, this paper provides a synopsis of the challenges of quality rural science education in the United States and the hope of new contextual and culturally relevant pedagogies aimed at engaging science students in inquiry research using their environmental surroundings as cognitive scaffoldings. The program Reading the River is showcased as an exemplary use of the students’ ‘backyard’ to integrate content knowledge in biology, chemistry, geology, physical science, social studies, practical living and mathematics.