2022-2023 Catalyst Initiative Grants: Summer Update

The '22-'23 Catalyst Initiative Grant recipients share about their recent progress developing new Rural Teacher Corps programs

June 15, 2023 |

Although school may be out for many, summer is shaping up to be an exciting and busy time for the 2022 Cohort of Catalyst Initiative Grantees as they finalize their planning period and prepare to officially launch their Rural Teacher Corps programs this fall. This opportunity was made possible through the philanthropic generosity of an anonymous donor, which provided an early influx of flexible planning dollars for the creation of a rural-specific educator pathway. Now, after a year of using these funds to come together, think boldly, and collaborate locally, the Grantees have made wonderful progress articulating their unique approaches to the Rural Teacher Corps concept. With just a few months left before the new initiatives take flight, the Grantees were able to share in their final cohort meeting about their remaining tasks, and to celebrate some of the great work they all have already accomplished:

Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning (Indiana & The Great Lakes Hub)

Jeremy Eltz, Director of Rural Education at CELL & Indiana and the Great Lakes Hub Contact
Jeremy Eltz, Director of Rural Education at CELL & Indiana and the Great Lakes Hub Contact

The Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis has worked to create a state-wide effort to recruit and train rural educations by building strategic partnerships among major universities, Indiana’s rural-serving community college network, and local schools. Jeremy Eltz, Indiana & The Great Lakes Hub contact and Director of Rural Education for the Center, has been the project lead for this effort, and shared previously that he has had success collaborating with the other higher education partners in the projects to create a seamless pathway from high school through community college, into a traditional educator preparation program, and then back into a rural school. He reports that Grow Your Own models are growing rapidly across Indiana, and this new Rural Teacher Corps resonates nicely with those parallel efforts. Ideally, he shares, students would be able to accomplish the majority of their training locally, before spending only two years away from their desired rural community for rural-specific education training.

While the conversations to finalize this new pathway are still under discussion, Eltz reports that a few students will already be transferring to the University of Indianapolis this year with scholarships to support their rural teacher training. Over the summer, the remaining work for this project will rest in crafting and instituting the transfer agreement mechanism allowing even more students to easily transfer up through the pathway.

Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque (Iowa Hub)

Jason Neises
Jason Neises, Community Development Coordinator at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque & Iowa Hub Contact

Whereas many Rural Teacher Corps efforts go about strengthening the rural educator pathway from the recruitment and preparation side, Jason Neises, Iowa Hub contact and Community Development Coordinator for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, specifically sought to address rural teacher retention and resilience. Neises reminds that a number of higher education partners in his region of Northeastern Iowa are experts in teacher preparation, and a specific need for area communities is an effort seeking to encourage teachers to see a rural placement as an opportunity. Given the Community Foundation’s unique position as a philanthropic organization, his vision for this work has been to collaborate with CFGD’s local affiliate foundations to create “Rural Return” scholarships, which offer a financial incentive for teachers to choose a rural placement by offsetting some of the costs of getting a college education.

Previously, Neises reported that he has had success working with local partners to create these scholarship opportunities. More recently, he shared that he has had good luck also working with public school foundations as well. He explained that some rural districts in the region have chartered a school foundation to support field trips and classroom equipment. After explaining that their charitable dollars can also be used to sponsor the recruitment and retention of a passionate rural teacher-leader, he says that some are now interested in investing in the Return scholarship model. In particular, Neises relays that the strength in the model comes from the opportunity for dollars generated by foundations locally to remain in those same communities by investing in someone moving to, rather than away, their town. He goes on to say that donor intent at local foundations is strong, and so this is a direct way to strengthen the very communities they care about.

A second strand of the Foundation’s teacher corps initiative is the launch of a summer retreat for rural teachers to engage in ongoing professional development and networking. Neises was excited to share that planning the first summit was well underway, and that brainstorming and research ahead of time identified teacher brain health as a core interest for educators.

Nancy Van Milligen & Jeremy Eltz at the Regional Hub Summit
Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque President & CEO, Nancy Van Milligen (center) and Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning Director of Rural Education, Jeremy Eltz (center, back) both attended RSC's inaugural Regional Hub Summit, and were able to connect with peers on rural teacher preparation.

University of Mary (North Dakota Hub)

Meghan Salyers, Director of Student Teaching and Accreditation Program at the University of Mary
Meghan Salyers, Director of Student Teaching and Accreditation Program at the University of Mary

The University of Mary has focused its Rural Teacher Corps on reducing the barriers to enter the education profession by creating a virtual program that allows students to remain invested and involved in their local communities. Meghan Salyers, Director of Student Teaching and Accreditation Program for UMary, and her colleagues have already launched the program to greater interest than they were initially suspecting, resulting in 45 new teacher candidates. Spending the early days deep in conversation about how exactly to use the grant funds most effectively, Salyers updates that the School of Education has worked out a solid plan for program implementation.

One step in this build-out plan after the program’s launch in the fall has been a dedicated recruitment and communications drive. Salyers shares that they recently completed an in-person recruitment tour in rural North Dakota, visiting a number of small towns. Along with personally visiting rural places to share about the program, the UMary team has also been busy creating promotional materials to share with high school career service offices. Salyers underscores that they are able to undertake these creative recruitment strategies because the grant provided essential resources to make the process possible, and through the benefits of collaboration and learning about new ways of recruitment.

A second area for growth Salyers reports is working to officially classify their Rural Teacher Corps as an apprenticeship program through the US Department of Labor, doing so would open new streams of support for the program’s continued growth. Familiar with how teacher preparation functions, Salyers says that it comes as no surprise that these programs can fall under the classification of “apprenticeship,” but it’s nevertheless not traditionally been considered as such. But in order to meaningfully address rural teacher shortages, Salyers emphasizes, universities must begin thinking about teacher preparation differently, and this apprenticeship classification could be a piece of the solution.

Rather than asking educators-to-be to uproot their lives in the pursuit of a professional aspiration, Meghan Slayers, Director of Student Teaching and Accreditation Program for The University of Mary in RSC’s North Dakota Hub, has worked with her colleagues to design a virtual program that allows students to study and work from their home communities. Already launched to great success, the strength of their approach also comes from its ability to drastically reduce the financial barriers to entry by eliminating the transportation and lodging costs associated with attending college.

Hand-in-hand with the roll out of their new teacher corps, Meghan and the UMary team have embarked on a series of storytelling and marketing campaigns to spread awareness about their new program. She shares that this effort started back in the fall, but they were able to coordinate with other marketing campaigns at UMary to announce their work in a tailored way to rural communities across a five-state region in and around North Dakota. Further, they took time to define their rural audience as anyone living in a community two hours away from a major city. Additionally, they launched a separate marketing campaign that shared advertising about the teacher corps directly to students, career counselors, school administrators, paraprofessionals, and teachers through North Dakota’s Center for Distance Education. Salyers explained that since many schools in the state rely on the virtual curriculum provided by the Center to supplement for open teaching positions, it was a natural way to engage students and adults contemplating strengthening their own schools.

Last, Salyers reported that her team’s attempts to officially classify their Rural Teacher Corps program as an apprenticeship program through the US Department of Labor were successful. She emphasized that universities must begin thinking about teacher preparation differently, and this apprenticeship classification could be a piece of the solution. Beyond the elementary education pathway that comprises their teacher corps, she shares that their Special Education undergraduate and graduate programs as well as their secondary education graduate licensure track were all approved as certified apprenticeship programs.

North Dakota Regional Hub & Catalyst Initiative Partners
Meghan Salyers (center) and her colleague Loni Miller (right) were able to join RSC's inaugural Regional Hub Summit to share about their collaborative teacher corps work. Pictured here are also Mike Heilman & Steve Johnson (RSC's North Dakota Regional Hub Contacts) and Alison Mercier, director of the Wyoming Rural Teacher Corps, a 2021 Catalyst Initiative recipient.

Eastern Oregon University (Pacific Northwest Hub)

Dave Dallas
Dave Dallas, Senior Instructor at EOU & Pacific Northwest Hub Contact

The new Oregon Rural Teacher Corps at Eastern Oregon University, RSC’s Pacific Northwest Hub partner, has continued to thrive along with the University’s broader Teach Rural Oregon initiative. Dave Dallas, the Pacific Northwest Hub contact and senior instructor at EOU’s College of Education, reported that the new teacher corps successfully graduated its first full cohort of Masters students. Additionally, he shared that his team was able to purchase Oregon Rural Teacher Corps stoles for participants to wear during graduation, to honor the intentional commitment to rural they chose to embody in their professional journey.

The teacher corps effort itself was hybrid, with the candidates meeting virtually with Dallas for class most of the year, but making specific trips back to EOU campus to build up their personal connections with each other, a priceless asset for rural educators.

Although the Oregon Rural Teacher Corps itself is officially launched, Dallas reports the majority of the work remaining on the program’s development is in securing support for its long term operations. This year, two regional philanthropic organizations generously matched the initial Catalyst Grant investment for a total of nearly $75,000. Moving forward, Dallas is eager to explore working with potential donors to sponsor individual teachers, as a way to build up place-connectedness, and to work with regional education networks to sponsor cohorts of local teacher candidates to undergo the program.

Like his peers, Dallas shares that a final component of his Catalyst work as of late has been building up the program’s storytelling capacity. Currently, he says, the teacher corps organizers are working on a video to feature individual teacher profiles, much like the I Am A Rural Teacher campaign.

The Catalyst Initiative Planning Grant program is made possible through the support of a generous anonymous donor. We extend a sincere thank you to our philanthropic partners for continuing to fuel robust and resilient rural communities. If you'd like to learn more about Rural Teacher Corps, please get in touch!

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