The University of West Alabama approaches everything with a certain gusto. They are gracious hosts. They celebrate the accomplishments of their students and faculty. And, perhaps most importantly, the University embraces the culture and life of the Black Belt Region.
The institution's commitment to rural schools and communities exemplifies this "all in" approach, and we are simply amazed by the array of meaningful programs the University of West Alabama College of Education has established over the last three years. UWA has truly become a national leader in the field of rural education, and we are honored the University serves as a Regional Hub for the Rural Schools Collaborative.
The culmination of this good work was clearly illustrated during this week's Digging Into Rural Teaching conference, which was held at the University's Bell Conference Center on the Livingston campus. DIRT18 was "sold out" with more than 200 educators and school leaders coming together to discuss how they can strengthen rural schools and communities in the Black Belt region and beyond.
When it comes to throwing a rural "shindig," UWA gets it! Folks ate food from local restaurants, were entertained by singer/guitarist Austin Bishop (a Black Belt Teacher Corps alum and former football lineman), heard inspirational presentations from leading national speakers, and learned about the good work of Alabama teachers, which included recognizing our Grants in Place recipients.
In addition, attendees were introduced to UWA programs and projects that are focused on rural schools and their communities. It is an impressive roster:
Black Belt Teacher Corps: The Black Belt Teacher Corps (pictured below) is a scholarship program created to address teacher shortages in the Black Belt region. The Black Belt Teacher Corps enhances teacher recruitment,
preparation, and retention to the field of education by offering tuition scholarships to the College of Education. Students commit to teaching in the Black Belt region for three years, leadership and service training, and completion of a school-based Service Project.
Project REP: Project REP is working to reform the teacher preparation program and develop a comprehensive reform of the system for rural teacher recruitment, preparation, and induction/mentoring to improve student achievement by improving the quality of new teachers. This initiative is currently recruiting and preparing high-quality teachers for high-need rural LEA schools where a high percentage of teachers do not meet the required certification criteria, teacher attrition is prevalent, and student achievement remains persistently low.
University Charter School:The mission of University Charter School is to be a rural, diverse K-12 school (55% African-American and 45% white) that cultivates independent thought, promotes the building of character and civic responsibility and is committed to preparing all students for personal and professional success
through the discovery of individual learning pathways in a rigorous and integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) focused, project-based and place-based curriculum.The school is a member of the emerging Place Schools Network, which is based out of the Teton Science Schools and a key RSC initiative.
The Center for Rural Education: The vision for the Center for Rural Education is to bring regional businesses, community agencies, educational organizations and stakeholders together to address unique learning needs of students in rural settings in P-12 and higher education. The Center for Rural Education strives to provide area pre-service and in-service teachers with research-based best practices through professional development opportunities, meaningful field-based experiences, collaboration and networking among expert instructors and key educational entities, and quality teaching programs.
Ed.D Rural Education: This program features two concentration tracks so that students can specialize your education to fit your specific career goals. The Teaching and Learning concentration is designed to provide key skill development for teacher leaders in a variety of settings, while the Organizational Change and Leadership track is ideal for instructional leaders, program directors and other education experts who are ready to drive innovation in rural education.
These kinds of community-based strategies have the potential to reshape America's rural landscape. We encourage other colleges and universities to examine the breadth of UWA's rural commitment, and we look forward to sharing their stories in the months ahead.
Pictured at right: UWA Ed.D. Rural Education candidates share their stories at DIRT18.
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