An Illinois program aims to address teacher shortages in rural communities and encourage more student-community engagement.
Since its inception in 2019, the Monmouth Rural Education Initiatives program has worked with more than 150 students at the liberal arts college, three dozen of which went on to become teachers in Illinois. The program includes place-based teaching sites that provide classrooms where students focus on their local communities.
Educational studies co-chair Craig Vivian said there is a real need for teachers in rural communities in Illinois.
“We’re in constant contact with the superintendents and the principals and for the most part, it’s dire,” said Vivian. “It is really hard to keep teachers in rural areas.”
The program just received a $750,000 grant through the federal Community Project Funding program. CPF is separate from federal grants and funding apportioned by formula.
Illinois has adopted multiple initiatives to increase its educational workforce and increase teacher retention rates, including increased salaries, teacher residency grants and mentoring programs.
According to statistics from the Illinois State Board of Education, there were 5,301 unfilled teaching positions around the state in 2022. That is compared to 4,120 the year before and 2,006 in 2017.
Five universities statewide were chosen for $250,000 Teacher Residency Grants from the Illinois State Board of Education. At Southern Illinois University, the Saluki Teacher Residency Partnership provides financial, mentorship and other benefits to teaching candidates to get qualified teachers into the classrooms more quickly.
Vivian said once they can get a commitment from a prospective teacher, there is a chance they will stay and become a part of the community.
“If they commit to three to five years, then I think the chances are that it’s more likely that they will decide to stay in a rural area rather than make a mass exodus to urban areas,” said Vivian.
***Courtesy of the Illinois Radio Network***