Editor's Note: This article was originally published in UWA Today, Fall 2016. Thanks to the University of West Alabama for sharing this story. We were pleased to award a small planning grant to UWA's College of Education last year and assist with this effort. Since the original publication of this article, the University found out they had been awarded a $3 million Department of Education grant to augment this work.
The University of West Alabama will soon launch a classroom-to-career placement program for students in its Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education. UWA’s Black Belt Teacher Corps will give teacher education majors funding for their own education and provide additional dollars to jump-start educational initiatives in the schools where they will teach. The program has been funded by the Alabama legislature.
The Black Belt Teaching Corps will enroll 10 teacher education majors as they reach junior status in academic standing. The students will participate in the program for two years and commit to teaching in a Black Belt community for no less than three years.
“The emerging teacher shortage is beginning to impact Alabama and other rural regions throughout the nation,” said Dr. Jan Miller, dean of the college. “For this reason, we do not expect placement to be an issue for our students.”
Students in the program will receive a $5,000 scholarship per year. They will participate in a rural leadership training program, which will include meetings, site visits, and selected readings during their junior and senior years.
The program is supported by the multi-state Rural Schools Collaborative as part of its Rural Teacher Corps initiative. UWA is currently the only school in Alabama to offer such a program.
“As Black Belt Teacher Corps participants graduate and join school districts as teaching faculty, they will remain engaged in the program as mentors and exemplars,” Miller said. “This continuum of learning and engagement will equip our students with many of the skills that often take a few years in following graduation to develop.”
In addition to providing scholarships for up to 10 students per year, the project is also expected to fund up to $1,000 for a project for each participant’s partner school.
“The jump-start funding for school projects may be used for academic programming, equipment or technology needs, and several other areas that directly benefit students at that school,” Miller said. “Our students will take a lead role in determining that need and developing a plan for implementing the program or changes that are funded with the money provided.”
Miller was also quick to note the support of state legislature leadership. "None of this would have been possible without the support of Senator Bobby Singleton of Hale County, Arthur Orr of Morgan County and Rep. Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa County," added Miller. "They believed in this project and played a major role in getting it funded."
UWA’s program is a simple concept, largely based on the highly successful Ozarks Teacher Corps, which serves a 54-county region in Missouri, including nine of the 10 poorest counties in the state. The Ozarks Teacher Corps includes Missouri State University, Drury University, Evangel University, and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Since 2009, the Ozarks Teacher Corps has a placement of 93 percent.
Alabama’s Black Belt region includes Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter and Wilcox counties. Students would be partnered with a school in one of these 19 counties. Students are not required to be from any of these counties to be eligible for the UWA’s Black Belt Teacher Corps.
UWA offers three majors that are eligible for the program, including elementary education, secondary education, and collaborative teacher special education.
After graduating, students who have participated in the Black Belt Teacher Corps will take their research and training to school districts across Alabama’s Black Belt region and also continue to serve as mentors to new UWA students who are accepted into the program.
Below: Alabama's Black Belt is an historically underserved region.
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