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HomeNewsMontana NewsMontana State hosts inaugural Future Rural Educators’ Summer Camp

Montana State hosts inaugural Future Rural Educators’ Summer Camp

BOZEMAN — Montana high school students and recent graduates from the far northwestern town of Eureka to the southeastern town of Hysham and many points in between visited Montana State University last week to observe teachers interacting with middle school students, learn about campus resources and build connections with their peers.

The students, who are interested in pursuing careers in education, were the first participants in MSU’s inaugural Future Rural Educators’ Summer Camp. MSU hosted the camp as part of its Rural Teachers Pathways Program, which provides immersive experiences for students who are considering careers as teachers. The goal of the camp was to provide introductions to teaching, campus life, and leadership and community, according to Joe Hicks, assistant dean in the College of Education, Health and Human Development and co-leader of the Rural Teacher Pathways Program. MSU partners included Academic Technology and Outreach; Counseling and Psychological Services; University Police; Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success; TRIO Student Support Services; Office of Financial Aid Services; University Student Housing; MSU Library; MSU Athletics; and the Museum of the Rockies.

“I really want to be a teacher, and then I heard of this camp and thought it sounded fun,” said Deserae Toombs, who recently graduated from high school in Roundup. She said she was initially nervous to participate, but she met “some really amazing people” and the experience has made her even more certain that she wants to pursue education.

Morgan Wasson, a high school senior in Great Falls, said teaching is her passion and she has known for a while that she will pursue it as a career.

“I saw this (camp) as an opportunity to learn more about that (teaching) field,” Wasson said. “I’m not sure if I want to go into rural education, but this camp has made me see more of an aspect of that and given me a new perspective.”

Toombs and Wasson were two of 14 students from across Montana at the weeklong camp, which was designed for high school students and graduates who are interested in teaching in rural settings. Participants observed teachers as they worked with middle school students who were participating in a camp called “Peaks and Potentials” that allows students entering grades 5-7 to explore special topics of interest and work with experts in various subject areas. They also met with staff members at MSU to learn more about college financial aid options, submitting scholarship applications, managing stress, staying safe on campus and more. In addition, the campers participated in several campus and community activities, such as hiking and a game night, all with a goal of helping them build community with their peers.

The camp is part of MSU’s ongoing efforts to address a shortage of schoolteachers in Montana, particularly in rural areas. MSU recently received a $2.5 million, two and a half year grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies to fund the second iteration of a program called Advancing Support, Preparation and Innovation in Rural Education, or ASPIRE. The project is housed in MSU’s Center for Research on Rural Education and aims to establish a blueprint for attracting, preparing, developing and retaining teachers for rural schools and communities in Montana, according to Jayne Downey, the center’s director and ASPIRE’s lead researcher. The work builds off a previous $1.5 million grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies awarded to MSU in 2021 for the first phase of the work, known as ASPIRE 1.0.

MSU’s Rural Teacher Pathways Program – which is funded by ASPIRE 2.0 – is a sequence of immersive rural school and community clinical experiences for undergraduate students and high school students who are considering careers as teachers. Part of that is what MSU calls a “bridge to college” program, which consists of an online professional learning community open to all Montana high school students interested in teaching called the Future Rural Educators’ Club.

Club members are high school students from across the state who wish to eventually teach in rural settings. They participate in online meetings, explore college readiness materials and interact with peers who have the same teaching aspirations. Students who are involved in the club then can participate in the Future Rural Educators’ Camp.

Cian Logan was one of nine students to graduate this spring from high school in Froid and plans to attend Minnesota State University Moorehead this fall. He said one of the Montana State camp’s most helpful sessions provided information about financial aid.

“One of my biggest worries in college is being financially independent and figuring out how to pay off my debt,” Logan said.

Morgan Feist, who will be a senior next year in Simms in a graduating class of about 25, said learning about scholarships and financial aid during the Future Rural Educators’ Camp gave her confidence that she will be able to pursue a teaching career.

“I learned a lot about scholarships and paying for college,” Feist said. “As a first-generation college student, I don’t think I would be able to go to college otherwise.”

Lucas Counts, who graduated from Columbia Falls High School and plans to enroll at Flathead Valley Community College this fall, said observing teachers working with students was eye opening.

“Watching teachers teach and sitting in on classes has been informational and helpful,” Counts said. “It has been cool to see their techniques and strategies.”

And Abigail Stewart, who was one of 26 students to graduate this spring from Colstrip High School and plans to study secondary education at Dawson Community College, said she was surprised by the sense of community she found throughout the week at camp. “I wasn’t expecting to bond with everybody as much as I did,” she said.

Marcie Reuer, associate teaching professor in the Department of Education and co-leader of the Rural Teacher Pathways Program, said research suggests students who find their community in college are more likely to complete their degrees.

In addition, an important goal of the camp is to teach students what support resources are available and the skills to navigate challenges they may encounter.

“Students from rural areas can have a particularly challenging transition to college, as there are only seven towns in all of Montana that have a bigger population than our campus,” Reuer said. She added that the Bridge to College program is available to all high school students across the state, regardless of where they choose to attend college.

“As a land-grant university, we seek to serve the entire state to address the current teaching shortages,” Reuer said.

She added that “rural” has many definitions, but for the purposes of the program, anyone from Montana qualifies.

“Many people in Montana consider ‘rural’ as any town that has a Class C school, while most federal definitions classify every town in Montana as rural. We invite every high school student in the state who is interested in teaching to join the Future Rural Educators’ Club.”

More information about the club and about MSU’s Rural Teacher Pathways Program is available at montana.edu/crre/aspire/index.html.

 

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