Four soon-to-be graduates from the University of the Ozarks’ Pat Walker Teacher Education Program will have the opportunity to visit schools in rural Southwest Arkansas this week, thanks to a grant by the University’s Alumni Association.
The students are (pictured, standing from left) Rachael Masterson of Clarksville, Ark.; Seth Duke of Gravette, Ark.; Michael Rankin of Charleston, Ark.; and Austin Neumeier of Bigelow, Ark. Also taking part in the trip will be (seated, from left) Dr. Allison Freed, associate professor of science education and director of teacher education, and Pam Smith, assistant professor of practice of education.
The students are all enrolled in Smith’s Internship II class and are on course to graduate in December.
The group will spend three days visiting the far Southwest Arkansas school districts of Prescott and Lafayette County as part of a pilot “study away” program by the teacher education program. They will also have the chance to visit with one of the University’s teacher education alumna, Willow Stratton, a 2020 graduate who is teaching art in Prescott.
“We will get the opportunity to talk with their administration and faculty about professional learning communities, openings in their school systems, what they look for in novice teachers as well as getting introduced to the different learning environments in the two schools,” Smith said. “We are very excited that one of the classes we will be visiting is one of our graduates.”
Freed said that one of the reasons for the study away trip is to encourage U of O teacher education graduates to consider teaching in high-need geographic areas in Arkansas. In addition to visiting the schools, the professors and Stratton plan to show the students some local historical sites as well as the natural beauty of the area.
“The goal is to reach out to teacher education alumni teaching in geographic regions where there is a teacher shortage,” Freed said. “We hope this experience will encourage our future teacher candidates to explore the cultural, historical and ecological features of a new community, thus discovering the benefit of teaching in a high-need geographic area. During this experience, the students have the opportunity to interact with high school students interested in teaching, learn about the history and natural beauty of the area, attend an athletic event and reflect on the experience. After teacher candidates see other Ozarks alumni teaching and thriving in these areas, we hope the stigma and fear are reduced, and our candidates expand their horizons.”
Freed also believes the study away program will help alumni stay better connected with Ozarks and the teacher education program.
“These projects will encourage more alumni to be a part of the project as we move forward,” she said. “In addition, these projects provide additional connections between current Ozarks students and alumni. The study away experience is a tremendous networking opportunity for both parties and can only strengthen the program’s impact. Our goal is to see more of our completers teaching in high-need geographic districts around the state.”
The trip is being funded, in part, by the Alumni Association’s Joe Hoing Student Involvement Grant, which “focuses on the connection between alumni and students.” Hoing was the long-time dean of students at Ozarks who died in 2019.
“We’re so thankful to the Alumni Association for providing our students with this wonderful opportunity to visit a part of the state and school districts that they normally wouldn’t have access to,” Smith said.