Recruiting for Rural!

Occasionally in our newsletter series we will have guest writers contribute their thoughts or perspective on something. Today is one of those instances, Angela R. Powers, Rural Education Project Coordinator, from CSU-Pueblo, is sharing her impressions of our recent recruitment pilot program. Thanks for contributing Angie!

The first Experience Rural Colorado teacher recruitment event, a collaboration among the CO Rural Education Collaborative, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Generation Schools Network, Battelle for Kids, and the South Central BOCES, took place May 17-19 in Huerfano County. Funded by an Improving Teacher Quality grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education, this collaborative approach to teacher recruitment utilized an “immersion experience” to bring eight prospective teachers to visit the rural communities of Walsenburg and Gardner.

The five men and three women that participated in the pilot immersion experience all currently live in Colorado, but traveled from the Denver and Colorado Springs areas, Pueblo, Cañon City, and Alamosa. Some have completed teacher education programs, while others are interested in becoming teachers via an alternative licensing approach.

Candidates began their experience by sharing lunch with school and community leaders and hearing about the communities and the need for rural teachers. This was followed by a bus tour of the area and a walking tour of Peakview K-8 School and John Mall High School in Walsenburg. After school, teachers and administrators from Peakview and Gardner schools joined the candidates in a professional development session to prepare for the next day’s student activities. A team-building maze and the career-focused activities got everyone moving and talking and provided another opportunity for the guests to learn about teaching in rural communities from the people who do it every day. 

Team-building professional development for the recruits.

Team-building professional development for the recruits.

The first day concluded with a delicious dinner at Walsenburg’s La Plaza Inn for the professional development participants and leaders. The house-made cobbler was a particular highlight!

On Day 2, candidates again boarded a bus, this time for the 27-mile-trek out to Gardner School in tiny Gardner, CO. The school serves not only students from the hamlet and surrounding areas, but a number of Walsenburg children whose families have chosen the smaller-school environment. About 70 students attend grades K-8. Candidates were treated to poster presentations by the 5-6 grade students about the school and community. 

Students at the Gardner School.

Students at the Gardner School.

Next, candidates and teachers spent time leading students through team-building and career exploration activities. Participants had a chance to interact with students and school personnel were able to see candidates “in action” as educators. Because of the small size of the school, all Gardner students in grades 1-8 were able to participate.

Career exploration at Peakview School.

Career exploration at Peakview School.

After another bus ride and school lunch at Peakview, candidates repeated the student activities with three groups of students there.

Candidates had the opportunity to participate in an interview session with principals from other nearby districts, as well as the Peakview and Gardner principals. Administrators described their schools and open positions, then candidates and principals used a “dance-card” approach to schedule 15-minute interviews with individuals.

Following interviews, candidates were able to relax a little at a young professional’s dinner at the La Plaza Inn. Several local residents, as well as Walsenburg’s new city administrator, attended, thanks to the efforts of the innkeeper, who is also a passionate advocate for the town and its schools.

Candidates learned a lot, and reported that they appreciated the opportunity to be immersed in a rural community. Organizers also learned quite a bit, and plan to hold two additional immersion experiences in other South Central BOCES communities in fall 2016, with the hope of rolling out an immersion experience recruitment strategy across all districts in the CO Rural Education Collaborative.