Integrating Rural Teacher Corps and Grow-Your-Own Models: The 2024 Rural Teacher Corps Forum

This year’s Rural Teacher Corps Forum Webinar explored the intersection of dedicated rural teacher preparation programs, or Rural Teacher Corps, with regional efforts to build diverse Grow-Your-Own teacher pathway programs.

May 6, 2024 |
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This year’s Rural Teacher Corps Forum Webinar explored the intersection of dedicated rural teacher preparation programs, or Rural Teacher Corps, with regional efforts to build diverse Grow-Your-Own (GYO) teacher pathway programs. Amaya Garcia of New America presented on the national GYO landscape, and RSC Rural Teacher Corps network partners Jeremy Eltz of CELL Indianapolis, Kathrina O’Connell of Bemidji State University, and Jim La Prad of Western Illinois University all shared about how their programs blend the two approaches.

Beginning in 2022, Rural Schools Collaborative began hosting an annual webinar to explore the various programs and contexts within our network around the intentional recruitment, preparation, and retention of rural-focused teacher preparation programs, or ‘Rural Teacher Corps.’ This annual event serves as an opportunity for partners within our network to convene virtually, exchange information, ask questions, and grow together in community.

The recruitment, preparation, and retention of visionary teacher-leaders is central to RSC’s mission of building sustainable rural communities through revitalizing rural public schools. Since its founding in 2015, RSC has advocated for the creation of career pathways in higher education that intentionally train rural educators. As RSC’s network of regional hubs and partnerships has expanded, opening opportunities and strengthening this space has been central to our work. Over the last three years, RSC has facilitated the Catalyst Initiative Grant, which provides flexible planning dollars to institutions looking to establish a Rural Teach Corps. The Catalyst Initiative Grant, to date, has helped launch 13 new Rural Teacher Corps.

This year’s Rural Teacher Corps Forum featured Rural Teacher Corps Network partners who are at the cutting edge of building diverse, sustainable, and equitable rural teacher preparation pathways. Their efforts are aimed at recruiting and preparing students from rural communities to be successful in teaching within home regions, utilizing principles of Place-Based Education to further connect both teachers and students to place.

This dovetails with the pillars of Grow-Your-Own (GYO) educator programs, which provide support and opportunities for those within communities to become teacher-leaders where their roots are already planted. The forum, then, aimed to explore the intersection of GYO programs and RTC efforts, seeking to identify how blending and layering these strategies can lead to better outcomes and potential for those involved with rural teacher preparation.

Amaya Garcia, Director of PreK–12 Research and Practice with the Education Policy Program at New America.

To set the stage for understanding Grow-Your-Own programs at the Forum, Rural Schools Collaborative was thrilled to welcome Amaya Garcia of New America. Amaya Garcia is the Director of PreK–12 Research and Practice with the Education Policy Program at New America. Amaya is a national expert on Grow Your Own (GYO) educator programs and policies. She leads New America’s Grow Your Own Educators National Network, a professional learning community for GYO programs across the country. Amaya shared basic principles of Grow-Your-Own, how it changes state by state, and what the future holds for GYO programs.

Dr. Jeremy Eltz, former Director of Rural Education at University of Indianapolis Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL).

The next three presenters were all leaders in Rural School Collaborative’s Rural Teacher Corps Network, whose RTC programs integrated GYO efforts in their unique contexts of place and organization. First to present was Jeremy Eltz, who until April, 2024 served as the former Director of Rural Education at the University of Indianapolis Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL). Jeremy led CELL’s Rural Teacher Corps efforts through the Catalyst Initiative grant, and served as the lead of RSC’s Indiana and Great Lakes Regional Hub. In his presentation, Jeremy shared strategies and programs at CELL that aimed to foster professional learning communities and the sharing of knowledge as rural communities worked to hire and train a diverse teaching force representative of their communities, particularly in increasingly Latinx rural communities across Indiana in collaboration with New America.

Dr. Jim La Prad, Director of the School of Education at Western Illinois University.

The second presenter was Jim La Prad, of Western Illinois University (WIU). RSC helped launch WIU’s Great River Teacher Corps with a modest planning grant in 2019, and has been thrilled to help consult and partner with WIU in the subsequent years as they have grown their program and reach in western Illinois. Jim spearheads WIU’s Great River Grow-Your-Own Consortium, a network of higher education partners, districts, and education organizations in rural western Illinois, and of which RSC is a partner. Jim shared about how WIU and its partners are transforming their network from a series of individual, disparate relationships into an ecosystem of collaboration and cooperation.

Dr. Kathrina O’Connell, Assistant Professor of Professional Education at Bemidji State University (MN).

The final presenter was Kathrina O’Connell, Assistant Professor of Professional Education at Bemidji State University (MN). Bemidji State is a 2023-24 recipient of RSC’s Catalyst Initiative Grant, and Kathrina leads Bemidji State's rural teacher recruitment and preparation efforts. Kathrina highlighted their efforts to intentionally partner with and recruit students from three neighboring indigenous communities and reservations, in an effort to increase the number of indigenous teachers in northern Minnesota. The program, Amikwiish or Beaver Lodge, has attracted additional funding to add a high school concurrent enrollment course to support teacher candidates of color.

To learn more about this year’s Rural Teacher Corps Forum, please watch the video below. Be sure to visit our Rural Teacher Corps page to read more about why these efforts are needed, recommendations for starting or developing your own corps, and a directory of the Rural Teacher Corps national learning network.

Thank you to Amaya Garcia from New America, Jeremy Eltz and University of Indianapolis Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL), Jim La Prad from Western Illinois University and Kathrina O’Connell from Bemidji State University for graciously providing your time and stories to make this forum and virtually learning opportunity possible! Thank you as well to the many partners and friends, old and new, that came together for this event - we hope you were able to take away new ideas for your communities.

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