A program aimed at increasing the number of teachers in rural America and providing access to opportunities and individuals with similar goals has recently announced a new set of grants for teacher cohorts.
The grants, known as Catalyst Initiative Planning Grants, come from the Rural Schools Collaborative and will provide $25,000 to each selected institution. The schools that have been selected for the grants are: Eastern Oregon University, University of Mary, Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, and University of Indianapolis.
“Since about 2015…we’ve specifically given planning grants to institutions to create these Rural Teacher Corps,” said John Glasgow, partnerships manager at the Rural Schools Collaborative, in an interview with the Daily Yonder. The Catalyst Initiative Planning Grant program is made possible through the support of an anonymous donor, he added.
“The University of Mary serves many, many rural communities in North Dakota, and much of our state is extremely rural,” said Meghan Salyers, director of Student Teaching at the University of Mary, in a statement.
“The desperate need for teachers in our rural communities is so great that they are being forced to turn to online learning, which is not ideal for students. One of our goals is to recruit students for our Elementary Education program from rural communities and in our online, asynchronous program. This will allow students to stay in their communities and provide the flexibility they need to be successful.”
With the cohorts, there will be anywhere from 10 to 40 teacher candidates taking part, Glasgow said. While they will take part in regular teacher learning and education, they will also learn about rural education. Teachers are then placed into rural communities.
“Generally, 80 to 95% of the teachers are staying in their positions in a rural area, many of the same schools that they started at,” he said. “But oftentimes the programs will have a one, two, or three-year sort of commitment period that we ask that you stay in the school for one to three years.”
Glasgow said that the 2021 Catalyst grant recipients had positive outcomes. Among them, the University of North Dakota launched a professional development model for rural school communities that reflects the unique needs of rural school districts.
The University of Wyoming, meanwhile, was able to launch a research initiative on best practices for recruiting, preparing, and retaining teachers in rural settings.
Glasgow said that while traditional teacher programs provide a lot, there are distinct tools needed for rural teaching.
“What these Rural Teacher Corps programs do is… it helps foster that passion for ‘I’m not just a teacher, but I’m a rural teacher,’” he said. “It’s building up that identity. And when you have that identity and that passion of ‘I want to serve in this particular place to address these particular issues and support 40 students and what they’re going through,’ it helps build resilience in the teacher, and they see the importance of what they’re doing, despite everything that we know teachers are shorted on in terms of resources.”
Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, Rural Schools Collaborative director, said a sustainable American future depends on a thriving rural landscape, and schools are at the heart of this.
“Our diverse rural regions are experiencing unprecedented challenges that include the erosion of social capital, a drain of talented young people, and the impact of globalization. Exacerbating these issues is a growing rural teacher shortage, a thorny problem complicated by Covid-19,” she said.
“As corporatization, consolidation, and budget cuts have reduced the number of rural small businesses, healthcare facilities, and social service programs, public schools are often the only remaining vestige of rural institutional infrastructure Therefore, a rural teacher corps program not only prepares qualified instructors, but they also provide vehicles for attracting young professionals to rural places.”