Strong schools are central to realizing the mission of building strong rural communities. Yet, schools need high-quality, passionate educators in order to fully serve as the hub of the community. For this reason, Rural Schools Collaborative has supported the intentional recruitment, preparation, and retention of rural educators since our founding in 2015. These efforts, which we call a Rural Teacher Corps, give aspiring teachers the skills, capacities, and social networks needed to thrive in the rural space. The hope is that empowered educators will better serve students, school, and community as they seek to collaboratively sustain society and economy alike through education.
For the past two years, Rural Schools Collaborative has had the great honor of working with a generous donor to fund rural-focused organizations interested in launching their own Rural Teacher Corps programs through what is called the Catalyst Initiative Grant. This initiative offers recipients $25,000 of early, flexible planning funds to design and implement a teacher corps program of their own creation over the course of an entire school year. During this year of planning, they have the opportunity to meet a cohort of their peers and trial run different concepts for the corps before officially launching.
Every teacher corps is unique by design. Just as there is a beautiful diversity of people and places that comprise rural America, intentional efforts to build a dedicated rural workforce must also reflect the distinct assets, needs, and opportunities each place has to offer. As such, recipients are only required to abide by a few simple guiding principles of the Rural Teacher Corps model:
Maintain a commitment to rural teachers and education,
Strive to build a diverse and inclusive teacher workforce reflective of the communities you serve,
Sustain the health and vitality of rural communities through enabling teacher-leadership, and
Ensure program longevity with regional and national collaboration.
Interest in the Rural Teacher Corps model has grown substantially over the past year alone as the powerful impacts of its place-engaged approach to teacher preparation have become clearer. As a result, RSC is proud to announce that five new partners will embark on the Catalyst process as this newfound support for the concept has allowed us to invite a fifth recipient to join the cohort. The 2023-2024 Catalyst Initiative Grant cohort will include:
As part of Bemidji State University’s five-year strategic plan, “Inspired by Place, Enriched by Diversity,” the Department of Professional Education at BSU is hoping to better engage and empower aspiring teachers in the Anishinaabe American Indian communities, on whose ancestral home BSU is located. The teacher corps will seek to accomplish this through a network of peer and school mentors, and funded opportunities to visit BSU’s campus.
“The heart of this project is reaching out and making connections with all of our schools, and in particular empowering our American Indian students.”
Knox College is a small, private liberal arts college rooted in the heart of the Illinois prairie, and has served the small towns of the region since its founding. Their interest in the Catalyst opportunity is a further commitment to continue serving the people and places that have long looked to Knox as a prized community asset. With the planning funds, the faculty at Knox are hoping to lower the financial barriers for student teaching in more remote schools, offer stipends to local mentor teachers, and invite educators to attend rural-focused, inclusive professional development on campus.
“What we're trying to figure out is how to help our students understand, respect, appreciate, and feel safe in our rural community schools and spaces.”
As the oldest public institution in Ohio located in the state’s eastern Appalachian region, Ohio University has long served rural communities through its Regional Higher Education campuses, including its Rural Teacher Fellows program. The Catalyst grant will spark the continued growth and evolution of this program to include: enhancement of place-based and experiential learning opportunities, funding to enable teachers to join a local rural impact collaborative, and much needed flexibility to build program infrastructure.
“For me and my partners at Building Bridges to Careers, it's really important that we have a sustainable structure that outlasts all of us so it can be passed down for other people to continue the work.”
Serving a state with one of the few federally-designated “frontier” regions east of the Mississippi River, the University of Maine is excited to distinguish itself as a rural-serving institution. This new focus includes establishing a rural teacher pathway and better meeting the social and professional needs of rural teachers in the state. Their work during the Catalyst process will focus heavily on building relationships with rural communities, teachers, and school leaders, as well as inclusive consulting efforts with educators from the Passamoquoddy Tribe and the organization Mano en Mano.
“We are really looking forward to using this grant to support our work to diversify the teacher workforce in Maine and to support the state in meeting its mandate to ensure that every student engages in Wabanaki studies as part of their K-12 education.”
The Rural Education Institute at East Carolina University has led great rural-focused education work in North Carolina for over 30 years. As part of the institute’s ongoing efforts to build impactful teacher pathways, ECU is looking to utilize the Catalyst opportunity to build out its rural educational justice and resiliency programs. This will include additional teaching, counseling, and tutoring opportunities as well as new mentorship and project management capacities.
“This Catalyst Initiative is helping us bridge gaps that our other supports couldn't provide and fine tune recruitment for the next cohort of rural educational justice MAT students in 2024.”
As with previous cohorts, the insights and innovations of these newest five members of RSC’s growing national Rural Teacher Corps learning community over the next year will not only propel the growth of their own programs, but also contribute to the continued progress of a Rural Teacher Corps Primer. With a goal of capturing lessons learned, sharing personal experiences, and presenting collected best practices, the Primer will be a concise and precise impact study of Rural Teacher Corps programs. The goal of this new tool is to inform and inspire the continued evolution of these types of programs around the country. Through the individual efforts of these five new programs and the collected experiences of many more in the Rural Teacher Corps Primer, RSC and its teacher preparation partners are persisting in our shared vision for sparking school-centered, teacher-lead rural community development.
Congratulations to these five new Catalyst partners; we look forward to addressing the rural teacher shortage with intentional training and preparation together. And a sincere thank you to the generous support of RSC’s philanthropic partners for continuing to fuel the means of achieving a robust and resilient rural future.
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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