Ozarks Teacher Corps: Rural Place-based Learning in Missouri

We joined Teton Science Schools, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and several RSC Grants in Place veteran teachers at a collaborative, rural teacher corps training in the Missouri Ozarks Hub. The future is bright for these aspiring rural educators!

April 15, 2024 |
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Aspiring rural educators participating in the Ozark Teacher Corps.

Rural Schools Collaborative was pleased to visit the Missouri Ozarks Hub, anchored by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Missouri State University’s Center for Rural Education, for a rural teacher corps site visit.

So, what is a rural teacher corps anyway? These are intentional efforts to recruit, prepare, and retain rural educators. While each of these programs are uniquely designed to meet the needs of their locales, they often share several components:

  • Rural educators are supported through a cohort model of peers

  • Place-Based Education principles that celebrate rural contexts are part of the program approach

  • Barriers to enter rural teaching are reduced (through things like stipends, scholarships, gas cards, etc.), often through community partnerships or philanthropy

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks leads the Ozarks Teacher Corps. This program is one of the oldest rural teachers corps in RSC’S network, providing scholarships and training to pre-service rural teachers in exchange for a 3 year commitment to teach in a rural school after graduation. With their 90% retention rate, the Ozarks Teacher Corps has become a national inspiration for other rural educator programs.

Leslie Cook (left), of Teton Science Schools, leading an activity with the Ozarks Teacher Corps participants.

Core to their design is an ongoing partnership with Teton Science Schools, who provides twice-a-year in person training on how to translate Place-Based Education into rural classrooms. Place-Based Education is a particularly effective pedagogy strategy in small town classrooms, connecting students to relevant, local topics and positive opportunities in their home community.

This year, the Ozarks Teacher Corps training also featured a panel of three local veteran rural teachers to discuss their own teaching careers, and how they implement Place-Based Education in their own classrooms. All three of the panelists had some recent lived experience in that regard, as were recent Rural Schools Collaborative Grants in Place winners, receiving funds to implement their place-based classroom projects:

Three veteran rural teachers speaking to current Ozarks Teacher Corps cohort. Pictured (left to right): Kim McCully-Mobley, Melody Ball, and Amy Sampson.
  • Kim McCully-Mobley (Aurora, MO - 2023 Recipient) whose students and community members painted historic murals in their town.

  • Melody Ball (Fordland, MO - 2024 Recipient) who did a garden and community park beautification & restoration project with her students.

  • Amy Sampson, (Monett, MO - 2023 Recipient) who led a local history research project, culminating in permanent placards for the community members to enjoy and learn from.

The resounding message from the panelists to the future rural teachers was to not be afraid to try new things (like applying for grants!), be true to yourself, and most importantly, seek support from your colleagues, communities, and friends - these folks will wrap their arms around you to help find classroom supplies, lend an ear, volunteer on a project, and more, but only if you aren't afraid to seek support and ask for help when you need it.

As for the cohort members themselves, the future is looking bright for these rural educators in Missouri.

When asked about their favorite parts of participating in the Ozarks Teacher Corps, the students said they loved the support (scholarships and beyond) from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the ability to connect with peers also interested in rural education, and the chance to explore the local natural beauty and history of the Ozarks as a lens for their classroom teaching.

Michaela Bledsoe, Missouri State University Ozarks Teacher Corps Participant.

"I heard about the Ozarks Teacher Corps opportunity from my Missouri State University advisor," says Michaela Bledsoe, a Marshfield, MO native (population 7,000). “I’ve been going to [rural teacher corps] events and professional development for two years now. I really enjoy getting to see different community partnerships to potentially use in my own classroom, and getting to connect with places, businesses, and community opportunities for things like future field trips, or future connections to come talk with my students. It has been super eye opening and a great experience.”

One teacher corps participant, Nicole Copper, will be teaching in her hometown of Waynesville, MO (population 5,000) in the same school she grew up in:

Nicole Copper, Drury University Ozarks Teacher Corps Participant.

“I will be teaching Kindergarten at the school that I went to, so I’m really excited. Our principal is amazing, she was a teacher when I was in Kindergarten. It’s a full circle moment for me and I couldn’t be happier!”

We couldn't be more proud of our Missouri Ozarks Hub and Teton Science Schools partners, our local Grants in Place panelists, and of all of these smart and caring future rural teachers. Thank you for letting us visit!

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