University of West Alabama: RSC GRAD Partnership Black Belt Visit

A visit with the Alabama GRAD Partnership Hub Coordinator and partners at the University of West Alabama

August 24, 2022 |
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Special thanks to Annah Rogers, Matt Johnson, Tracy Bryan, Jan Miller, Reenay Rogers, Susan Hester, Banks Gordy, and the UCS and University of West Alabama team for hosting RSC, and their ongoing support of rural schools, teachers, and students in the Black Belt Region.

As one of the nine national organizations supporting the GRAD Partnership for Student Success, RSC is collaborating with our Alabama Black Belt hub and Northern California hub to launch regional student success rural networks to ensure all students graduate and are ready for their postsecondary futures. We are so thankful for Annah Rogers and the UWA team for their authentic efforts to support rural schools and rural communities in this project, and beyond.

As part of a kickoff of the GRAD Partnership for Student Success project, RSC visited our long-standing partners in the Black Belt region at the University of West Alabama (UWA) in Livingston, AL. UWA has a deep history of commitment to rural education, including their Black Belt Teacher Corps, on-site K-12 rural school, and place-based training.

One of the schools that will be participating in the pilot network is the University Charter School (UCS). Located on UWA's campus, just down the hall from the university's department of education, UCS is part of Teton Science Schools’ Place Network - a collaborative network that connects learning to place and local communities. While onsite, we had the chance to see incredible rural teachers in action, using place-based activities and curriculum to foster real-world connections to make a positive difference in the community. Rural innovation is exemplified at UCS as authentic learning experiences are central to the curriculum.

UCS Kindergarteners learn connectedness and belonging through an activity celebrating the school’s core values of Compassion, Integrity and Perseverance

UCS’s Stephanie Metzler and Kimberly King’s 4th grade students were hard at work on individuality banner art activities during our visit, showcasing each student’s unique interests and identities. Activities like these that foster a sense of belonging and connectedness are increasingly important to mitigate the impact of COVID disruption. Increasing school connectedness is a key component of the GRAD Partnership for Student Success’s framework to ensure postsecondary success.

4th Graders create individuality banners on the first day of class

At our last school tour stop, we visited with the school’s first cohort of seniors in Sidney Freeman’s Environmental Science class. (When she is not being an all-star rural teacher, Sidney also supports RSC’s Young Educators Advisory Council). The senior students reflected on their science excursions the year before, including regular outdoor field adventures to connect to learning and place. One senior remarked that her favorite field trip was getting muddy in Grant Cave, while another spoke of their overnight field trip to Dauphin Island where they collected a southern stargazer that was donated to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Increasing opportunities for students to engage in their interests and communities, like these science field trips, is also an effective strategy to foster student connectedness, and thereby, student success.

Haley Richardson’s 2nd grade classroom at UCS - Haley is a UWA Black Belt Teacher Corps alum, and was featured in a I Am A Rural Teacher spotlight. Click the image to read Haley's spotlight!

The UWA community continues to be a national leader on rural education in the Black Belt, and beyond. Their history of spearheading authentic projects that meet the unique needs of rural schools is a great fit for launching the local network of rural schools engaging in student success systems. UCS will surely be an inspiration and cheerleader for other schools in the region that are looking to incorporate curriculum that emphasizes belonging and connectedness, and we can’t wait to share their progress in the coming months and years.

The GRAD Partnership for Student Success project is a collaboration among American Institutes for Research, BARR Center, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, Talent Development Secondary, the University of Chicago Network for College Success, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Rural Schools Collaborative, and the Schott Foundation. The project is led by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and receives funding support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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