Strengthening Educational Bonds With the Rural Schools Collaborative

Rural public education has in the past and currently faces its share of challenges, but one national group is striving to help overcome the hurdles that rural schools are facing.

The University of West Alabama College of Education is an active partner of the Rural Schools Collaborative. The Rural Schools Collaborative is a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, Wisconsin, that seeks to strengthen the bonds between rural schools and their communities through place-based student engagement, rural philanthropy and the development of teacher-leaders.

The Rural Schools Collaborative supports the idea that America’s future depends on successfully fostering a thriving rural landscape, which can be achieved by encouraging people to remain in or return to rural regions. By uplifting rural public education, supporting smart rural community development, celebrating local heritage and revitalizing the agrarian spirit, the Rural Schools Collaborative hopes to make that possible.

One program of the Rural Schools Collaborative, the Rural Teacher Corps, seeks to recruit, prepare and retain outstanding rural educators by cultivating educational innovation and rural renewal. While rural communities are weakened by concepts like depopulation, loss of small businesses and workforce shortages, a strong public school system is something that can simultaneously strengthen a community, the Rural Teacher Corps believes.

At the University of West Alabama, the Black Belt Teacher Corps program will enroll 10 education majors as they reach junior status academically. In exchange for financial support, students will participate in the program for two years and will commit to teaching in a school in the Black Belt area for no less than three years.

Funded by the Alabama Legislature, the program will provide education majors a $5,000 scholarship per year of the program, as well as funding (of up to $1,000 per school) to launch education initiatives in the schools in which they will teach. This could be used to pay for academic programs, equipment, technology needs or a host of other resources.

A student does not have to be from the Black Belt to participate in the program. Eligible majors include elementary education, secondary education or collaborative teacher special education.

UWA is currently the only school in the state of Alabama to offer such a program.

The program is based on the Ozarks Teacher Corps, which serves a 54-county region in Missouri including nine of the 10 poorest counties in the state.

The Rural Schools Collaborative also works to support its mission by:

  • Creating the opportunity for rural philanthropy efforts
  • Offering planning grants to appropriate regional efforts
  • Providing selected technical assistance to rural schools and
  • Promoting a social marketing network for rural schools
  • Working with small liberal arts colleges and public universities like UWA as partners for rural schools to collaborate on the development of “rural-centric” programs
  • Supporting place-based engagement through the Grants in Place program

Grants in Place is a classroom collaborative grant program open to any certified teacher in a rural public school in the United States. It supports the idea of place-based education—through which teaching and learning is fundamentally tied to a sense of community and public purpose. In 2016, more than 60 teachers from seven states received grants from Grants in Place.

The University of West Alabama is proud to work with the Rural Schools Collaborative to promote teacher recruitment and retention in rural parts of our state and country!

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