We're Proud to Announce RSC's Arkansas Delta Hub!

The Arkansas Teacher Corps and The Rural Community Alliance will serve as the leads for the hub.

August 23, 2023 |
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Local collaboration in the name of strengthening community vitality has been a hallmark for rural-focused organizations in Arkansas. That tradition of coming together to do good work in Arkansas led to the creation of Rural Schools Collaborative’s very first regional Hub back in 2017. Today, the work of empowering teachers and towns in the state continues through a new partnership between Rural Schools Collaborative, the Arkansas Teacher Corps (ATC) at the University of Arkansas, and the Rural Community Alliance (RCA).

From the vast Mississippi Delta region and sweeping plains to mountains and valleys, rural communities in Arkansas reside in widely differing locales, but much more unites them than sets them apart. Like much of rural America, these communities have faced a prolonged series of struggles, and a growing distrust of outside promises for a “cure-all” solution, shares RCA Executive Director Candace Williams. However, she underscores, “I'm hopeful. The person that brought me into RCA used to always say, ‘Things that die will live again.’ I feel the same way with all the rural communities that I work with: they will be able to thrive. It will look different, but they will have life again.”

Brandon Lucius, Executive Director of the ATC, agrees: “When I think about the Delta in particular, I do think about its storied history, the ongoing legacy of like racial oppression, issues with poverty, and the lack of infrastructure. But given all of that history, I think that the people in the Delta are very resilient. They have a lot of community and they have a lot of connection to the place itself and the people. It's really important for me in the work that we do that we're not coming in as experts, but as partners. We're here to help uplift the things that people are already trying to do and the visions they have.”

This energetic hope for the future is fueling great work all around the state of Arkansas. Candace reflects how she feels “a lot of rural communities are finding ways to do creative economy work–finding what makes their communities more marketable and attractive. Those rural communities are honing in on the quality of life that they do have, like good schools and the small community environment, and it's catching on as other rural communities are becoming more creative and understanding that you have to do something homegrown to sustain it.” As rural places around the region are innovating to ensure the future vitality of their communities, the Rural Community Alliance and the Arkansas Teacher Corps are standing with them as collaborators.

The Rural Community Alliance is a member-driven organization envisioning a just and thriving rural landscape that “offers access to excellent education, economic opportunity, and a rewarding quality of life to all residents.” The organization works to achieve this vision by enabling “informed and organized” residents to “define the change they want, build collective power, and take action to improve their lives.” Empowering people, particularly rural youth, is how Candace originally got involved with RCA. “I became involved with RCA when I was a junior in high school when I was trying to fight to save my school district from closure,” she shares. Staying engaged ever since, Candace became a youth organizer in 2013 before becoming the Executive Director in 2015. Youth empowerment has remained a personal favorite aspect of RCA’s work for her: “We are very intentional about making sure the youth understand the importance of their voice. We're doing a lot around the importance of civic engagement, and we are trying to launch community schools in two of the rural Black districts in our network.”

While rural community organizing and rural youth empowerment are major pillars of the organization’s work, RCA supports other programming, including:

  • Health outreach

  • Cybersecurity training

  • Dolly Parton Imagination Libraries

  • Community schools

  • Education policy and advocacy

Arkansas Teacher Corps fellows training up on classroom instruction.
Arkansas Teacher Corps fellows training up on classroom instruction. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Teacher Corps

The Arkansas Teacher Corps is a partnership between the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Education, and Arkansas public schools to recruit, train, and sustain high-quality teacher-leaders in the state. Through an intensive three-year process, which includes a seven-week summer training program, ATC prepares cohorts of aspiring teachers with not only education skills, but also essential social-emotional and community leadership skills. The hope for the program is that “Arkansas schools will have the capacity to empower teachers and students as rigorous learners, resilient individuals, and responsive leaders.” Brandon first got engaged with ATC by following the same path into the classroom that his cohorts now walk. Having originally left his rural Arkansas roots, a chance encounter with a Teach for America recruiter was a reflective moment for Brandon that left him determined to serve his home communities: “I joined Teach for America and taught in West Helena, for a few years and actually ran into ATC in its first year of existence. After I heard about what ATC was doing, I really was excited by it and stepped into an instructional facilitator role.” Seeing the broader potential of ATC to inspire and train future rural leaders, Brandon shares that he became “passionate about working with teachers and thinking about how to take the impact I was seeing in the classroom and have a larger impact outside of the classroom across a school or an entire community.” Rising through ATC to eventually become its Executive Director, Brandon finds that seeing successive cohorts of passionate people become true community leaders is what inspires him to “keep coming back day after day.”

As an alternative pathway into education, ATC works to recruit, prepare, and retain educators across the state. Brandon explains how in Arkansas this means “rural education is implicit to our mission and vision.” He continues: “80% to 90% of our folks are in rural areas. All of our staff has lived and taught in rural areas. We don't do as much explicit rural programming just because we're living in that culture and expectation already.” The rural-focus for ATC also extends to placement as well as recruitment, especially of diverse Teachers of Color.

The 2023 Arkansas Teacher Corps Cohort.
The 2023 Arkansas Teacher Corps Cohort. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Teacher Corps

Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, Rural Schools Collaborative Executive Director, is ecstatic for the new partnership, saying: "Relaunching an Arkansas Delta hub with the Rural Community Alliance and Arkansas Teacher Corps represents both an homage to our early roots with key advocates in Arkansas, but also a chance to invite new organizations and perspectives to the table to build regional and national collaboration."

Brandon and Candace both share this sentiment, and are joyful for the chance to grow their organizations closer together in support of rural Arkansas. Brandon celebrates the chance to be “working with Candace and RCA more directly and more explicitly on rural education and the state of rural communities in Arkansas. I'm really excited to be working with a group that does have such deep connections with communities.” Likewise, Candace is looking forward to partnering with ATC to “double down on growing your own. I really want to be a part of uplifting the teacher profession as a whole, specifically in communities that look like mine but also in all the communities that we work with because all of us are dealing with teacher shortages and burnout.”

Training the next generation of passionate Arkansas teachers.
Training the next generation of passionate Arkansas teachers. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Teacher Corps

Together, they’re thrilled to be partnering with Rural Schools Collaborative as the combined Arkansas Delta Hub to advance those same rural school and community goals nationally. “I just really appreciate how RSC has moved to this space to broadcast these rural teachers,” Candace shares, “So I wanted to be a part of that because I always say more Black teachers are needed and then I would always ask, ‘Where's Arkansas?’ So I’m looking forward to being able to be a part of this organization that is uplifting the teachers and putting in the work that needs to be done.” Additionally, Brandon is looking forward to the opportunity to hone the rural and place-based elements of ATC with Rural Schools Collaborative’s Rural Teacher Corps network. “And then for me personally,” he concludes, “just learning from each other or knowing that other groups are out there and that efforts are happening is very inspiring and motivating to me.”

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