A program in southern Missouri is helping rural school districts attract educators by encouraging top students to return to their hometowns as teachers.
The Ozarks Teacher Corps awards scholarships to students entering their junior year in college if they agree to teach in their hometown or another rural south-Missouri district for at least three years after graduation.
“We feel the schools are integral to the life and the sustainability of many rural communities,” said Julie Leeth, executive vice president of the Community Foundation for the Ozarks.
Students who qualify receive a $4,000 per-year scholarship for their junior and senior years of college. Applicants must be students at Missouri State, Missouri State-West Plains, Ozark Technical College, Drury or Evangel. They also must have graduated high school in a small southern Missouri town.
Leeth said 15 to 20 students apply for the program each year, with class sizes averaging about nine per year. The program has been a success, with a 95-percent placement rate.
Outside of traditional class work, members meet for professional development opportunities. One of the highlights is the opportunity for a former Ozarks Teachers Corps member to talk to the teacher candidates about his or her experience in the classroom.
“I do think that hearing from a teacher that’s been out there in the trenches for a year is a great benefit,” Leeth said.
The program was established in 2010 as part of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. It is funded through a private scholarship donation.
Effective educators are critical to student success. Missouri’s Educator Equity Plan, which was created in 2015, was designed to prepare and retain effective teachers for all public schoolchildren in the state, especially in rural and urban districts.
Preparing, developing and supporting effective educators is one of the main goals of Missouri’s Top 10 by 20 initiative, which aims to make Missouri a top 10 state for education by 2020.
For more information on the Ozarks Teacher Corps, visit their website.