Established as a normal school and long esteemed as a source of teacher instruction east of the Cascades, Eastern Oregon University (EOU) recently partnered with Rural Schools Collaborative to bolster their ongoing efforts of rural teacher preparation and community engagement. The Pacific Northwest Hub at EOU (based in La Grande, OR) will serve both Oregon and Washington. Not only does this institution pride itself on its historic and ongoing work in teacher education, but through a gubernatorial proclamation in 2018, EOU was officially designated as “Oregon’s Rural University.” After receiving this honor, EOU instituted new programming to position itself as a site for rural leadership and innovation in the field of education and beyond.
In contrast to the popular image of rainy forests and coastal waters one imagines when thinking of the Pacific Northwest, EOU resides at the convergence of high deserts, river plains, and mountainous plateaus. Due in part to the rugged terrain, towns and settlements tend to be far flung. Dave Dallas, an instructor for the College of Education and the new contact for the Pacific Northwest Hub, shares that both of these factors play heavily in EOU’s efforts to reach and work with local schools. In particular, EOU can serve as a central hub which concentrates resources and expertise to share back out with disparate rural communities.
“This partnership is such a natural fit for both organizations,” says Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, Rural Schools Collaborative Executive Director. “After meeting Dave at the NREA Forum in November, it was clear that EOU’s commitment to their rural districts and rural students permeates everything they do.”
She goes on to say, “The Pacific Northwest has a long-standing history of place-based education, including several existing Teton Science Place Network schools, and education advocate groups like the Rural STEAM Leadership Network. Collaboration is what we’re all about, and we are thrilled to support and strengthen the existing good work in this region.”
Through a grant opportunity offered by the Educator Advancement Council of the Oregon Department of Education, Dallas and his team realized this vision by establishing Teach Rural Oregon (TRO). The multifaceted project focuses on recruiting, training, and supporting educators in Oregon’s rural and isolated districts, and is run in partnership with the local Wallowa Region 18 ESD. Dallas explains that the program emphasizes the recruitment of diverse student teachers (including first generation) to complete their student teaching in rural and isolated rural districts across Oregon.
In practice, TRO engages each step of the teacher pipeline, Dallas reports, beginning with the Eastern Oregon Teacher Academy. This early outreach program engages high school students and paraprofessionals convene for “a four-day exposure to all the possibilities of teaching rural, to attend keynote addresses by teachers of the year, and to meet EOU faculty.” Preservice teachers from EOU’s community college partners also have an opportunity to participate in the Junior Field Study Program at a rural school with housing, food, and a stipend all provided for by the university. Dallas says the “part of the impetus for the field program was to help students consider the possibilities of teaching in a rural district.” Teach Rural Oregon also offers the Cottonwood Crossing Teacher Institute, a week-long , place-based training camp showing students how to bring science, writing, and reading together in a curriculum responsive to local context.
While Dallas and his College of Education colleagues are committed to providing quality teacher instruction through TRO, Dallas also recognizes that an immediate need for new and existing teachers in their region is managing community and personal isolation. Community integration of new teachers is a challenge for preparation efforts anywhere, and this is acutely felt by BIPOC and historically underrepresented people seeking education careers. “How do we help people get into and join very small rural communities that are isolated and may not provide the support networks they need?” Dallas asks. “Particularly if they don’t equate themselves with the things that traditionally keep those communities together, like faith groups and sports. Those are the things that unite a community, but not everybody identifies with them. How can we assist our students to integrate into their new environments?”
Dallas and EOU are hopeful that the new relationship with RSC, and the collaboration with regional and national partners that brings, will spark ideas and provide tools to address this question and more. “Being able to get information to our rural districts” is one aspect Dallas looks forward to in the new hub partnership. He continues: “I find that because of the distance and isolation it’s sometimes difficult for people to realize what others are doing–that is something we can adopt and adapt from efforts in other states.” As the hub grows, Dallas shares that he looks forward to elevating more stories about the good work of rural teachers and schools across the Pacific Northwest region.
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