Congratulations to our partners at Monmouth College, one of the leads of our Illinois Regional Hub, for receiving this federal grant to support their rural teacher preparation program! Supporting the intentional recruitment, preparation, and retention of rural educators has been core to the mission of Rural Schools Collaborative since its founding. You can learn more in this article from WVIK.
Since it began four years ago, several dozen students in the Monmouth Rural Education Initiatives program have become teachers in the region.
Professor Tammy La Prad, from the Department of Educational Studies, says there's been a nationwide teacher shortage in recent years, especially in rural areas.
"They are in need in all areas particularly in some STEM fields and special ed, but it's really difficult for rural areas to attract and keep teachers at this time. And this has been going on for a couple of years. The districts in our area were also coming to us and voicing a need for help in finding young people to go into the field, and ways maybe to re-energize the field for existing teachers"
Her partner in the program is Professor Craig Vivian.
"One of the things we're doing is we have a farm and a garden here at the college and we are starting to change the direction of our curriculum to encompass those as laboratories we can use to teach kids. And with this money we're getting, we're starting to build an outdoor classroom, an outdoor learning space. Part of the reason we want to do this is, and incorporate the garden and the farm, is to have kids start to see where they're at as a place of value and what they can do in this place of value and make it more valuable."
He says they also want to train prospective teachers from the diverse populations in their part of western Illinois, from Mexico, west Africa, and even Myanmar.
"And so we're starting a teacher pathway, and we're starting young, junior high, the end of elementary school, and especially high school. We want to start a teacher pathway for students so that we can get them each year, those who are interested in summer workshops and things like that, working with us on the farm. Getting kids to start to think about what they can do while they're still students for their community, not waiting until they graduate and then trying to figure out how they fit into the community."
La Prad says they also emphasize how important teachers are in rural communities.
"The type of impact that teachers have on community, and so elevating that is part of our preparation not only for our rural teacher corps but for all of our teachers here. How do they find their voice, how can they be visionary leaders in their communities, and in particular rural communities. And start elevating that narrative of teachers and that profession."
Vivian and La Prad are also hoping their Rural Education Initiatives program can be used as a model.
"Some of the programming that we have created allows our students to be with students both in and out of the classroom, and have a good sense of what it takes to be a teacher but also the joy that you can have in your life's work in a community that is starting to be very supportive of teachers."
"Once students start to understand that they're going into a community to help re-vitalize it, that's bigger than going to do a job. And I think that even though the pay might be higher in some districts in the Chicago area, there's something about being here in these districts and I think there's something compelling about giving back to your community."