Located in one of America’s most storied cities, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) has long been an anchor serving the constellation of rural communities which decorate the southern Appalachian mountains’ crests and valleys. As the host of the National Rural Education Association, the UTC School of Education has a strong track record of supporting rural schools and education, and will now join hands with Rural Schools Collaborative to further that good work in Tennessee, throughout the Appalachian Region, and across the country.
Dr. Allen Pratt, Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association and the Interim Co-director for UTC’s School of Education, will serve as the contact for the new Hub. Reflecting on the possibilities garnered through this partnership, Pratt says: “This partnership will allow us to bring opportunities to rural districts in the area that they may not have seen from UTC in a while. That ability to meet their needs and what they’re looking for fits into how we’re sharing this work as a rural teacher hub.”
Tennessee has captured well-earned national spotlight in recent years for how colleges, universities, schools, and educators have embraced new approaches to education in the post-pandemic space. Some of these hallmarks include Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation Teacher Apprenticeship Occupation programs and a list of effective support mechanisms assisting students’ academic recovery since 2020. One such program poised to significantly impact the vitality of southeastern Tennessee’s rural communities is the University of Tennessee System’s Tennessee Grow Your Own (GYO) Center, which establishes GYO Hubs at each of the four UT schools.
As one of these four, UTC will lead the charge in their region for inspiring and training high-quality, passionate teacher leaders. With 17 rural districts in UTC’s immediate neighborhood, Pratt is excited for how collaborating with RSC and other anchor institutions in the Appalachian Region, such at Morehead State University in Kentucky, will enhance this work: “Being a rural teacher hub makes sense with this new GYO teacher apprenticeship work in terms doing outreach and offering resources [to rural districts].”
One of the guiding principles for any GYO program is equity in building pathways for local talent and perspectives to join the teaching profession. In this way, the work of UTC’s efforts will wed perfectly with RSC’s Rural Teacher Corps model–which seeks to intentionally recruit, train, and sustain empower rural educators with locally-relevant and necessary methods. “The teacher shortage is a big issue,” Pratt explains, “we have to make sure that current and future teachers are ready to meet the needs schools are facing right now, and the biggest thing is making sure people are exposed to those needs and are ready to go out and help.”
Thrilled at the prospect of expanding RSC’s involvement in Appalachia while also supporting shared work in the teacher preparation space, RSC Executive Director, Taylor McCabe-Juhnke commented on the partnership: “We're so excited to welcome UTC to the Regional Hub Network. They are leading the way on rural education innovation initiatives like the apprenticeship pathways and finding innovative ways to diversify the future teaching workforce.”
“We’re not standalone. We’re here for the collaboration to help rural Appalachia.”
An essential part of building an effective teacher pathway is not only authentic outreach and engagement, but also genuine storytelling and reporting from rural educators themselves. In this too, UTC is well positioned to develop a robust program by building on the ongoing success of the NREA and RSC’s shared I Am A Rural Teacher project, which specifically seeks to elevate the voices of rural educators nationwide. This is nothing new for UTC, Pratt explains, “As our country has changed, we need to change as an institution to be able to meet the needs of rural districts. We’ve always been out in those districts so I think this outreach, and what we can do for rural schools, is a natural fit for us because of where we are and what we've been doing historically.”
Another piece cementing UTC’s growing role in the national rural education landscape will come through the NREA’s annual National Forum to Advance Rural Education (NFARE), which is hosted in Chattanooga this year on November 15th, 16th, and 17th. NFARE is the premier convening of rural education scholars, administrators, advocates, and practitioners, drawing 787 attendees from 48 states last year. With experts and allies from across the rural landscape converging in UTC’s backyard later this year, the opportunity is ripe to showcase the collaborative and innovative spirit with which Pratt and his team at the School of Education are charging forward in the region.
Through this new partnership, the UTC School of Education will be joining Morehead State University (MSU) in Morehead KY to lead RSC’s larger Appalachian Partnership Region, which encompasses Virginia and North Carolina in addition to Tennessee and Kentucky. This partnership will strengthen ongoing work in the region and serve as a platform to further advance the knowledge and innovations transforming rural education across rural Appalachia. Pratt is looking forward to working more closely with MSU in a more official capacity through RSC’s Regional Hub Network: “We’re not standalone. We’re here for the collaboration to help rural Appalachia. We’re just one part of the whole: there’s MSU in Kentucky, but there’s also Virginia Tech and institutions in the other Appalachian states that we can work with further; and we have already worked with them.” With rural innovation, practical action, and purposeful collaboration at the forefront, Pratt and UTC are eager to join MSU and RSC in our collective effort to support rural teachers and elevate the education profession.
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