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Ohio University Regional Higher Education awarded Rural Schools Collaborative Catalyst Initiative Grant

Ohio University Regional Higher Education (RHE) has achieved a milestone by securing the highly competitive Rural Schools Collaborative Catalyst Initiative Grant, marking a significant step toward leading innovative projects to strengthen rural education. This grant will propel collaborative efforts between Ohio University and community partner Building Bridges to Careers (BB2C) to expand the OHIO Rural Teacher Fellowship and junior fellowships. The cornerstone of this initiative is the collaboration between Ohio University and BBC2.

"The geographical beauty and expanse of our rural area creates distance between us, but that doesn't stop us from collaborating,” said Tasha Werry, Building Bridges to Careers executive director. “Partnerships allow us to combine resources and multiply the impact of what we try to accomplish on our own."

The OHIO Rural Teacher Fellowship engages fellows in community and career-connected learning, fostering rural school and community viability. The grant's funding allows for the expansion of this transformative program, benefiting 8-10 Rural Teacher Fellows and their students annually. 

"The Rural Teacher Fellowship program … is providing some amazing place-based experiential learning for teachers at all levels of their career, even pre-teachers,” said Werry. The grant also supports pre-teachers with an increase in junior fellowships, creating paid apprenticeships for teacher-candidates.

OHIO Eastern Associate Professor of Education and program director Jacqueline Yahn said the funding will allow this transformative project to grow, reaching Ohio University’s Eastern, Chillicothe, Lancaster, Southern, and Zanesville campuses. "With this added funding, the program aims to offer 6-8 junior fellowships annually, providing crucial hands-on experiences for teacher-candidates,” said Yahn.

The experiences of participants illustrates how the program can bring the strengths of academia and community engagement together.

"In my role as a Junior fellow, I was partnered with fellow Mrs. Danelle Dudzik of Barnesville Middle School,” said Alyssa Betts, a Junior fellow in the Rural Teacher Fellowship. “Mrs. Dudzik’s project is to develop and implement an agriculture education class at the middle school level. I was able to share my knowledge and experience of being a student in agricultural education classes to be used as a resource for Mrs. Dudzik."

Junior fellows are able to contribute insights to meaningful projects while contributing to the region they serve.

“Through this experience, I was able to give back to students in an area that I have been passionate about as a student and now an alumnus,” said Betts.

The Catalyst grant will spark the continued growth and evolution of this program, including funding to enable teachers to join a local rural impact collaborative. This connection to mentors has helped program participants like Danelle Dudzik, an Outstanding Rural Teacher Fellow, navigate the process of incorporating her ideas into her classroom.

"The Rural Teacher Fellowship program has provided me with valuable resources that assist me in starting a new program,” said Dudzik. “The fellowship has been a wonderful support system and a listening ear as I navigated starting a new program. We problem solve and provide feedback and move onto the next challenge.”

The funding will also provide the much-needed flexibility to build program infrastructure.

“For me and my partners at BBC2, it's really important that we have a sustainable structure that outlasts all of us so it can be passed down for other people to continue the work,” said Yahn. 

The initiative aligns with Ohio University RHE's mission to diversify the teaching workforce. By providing affordable teacher education programs and focusing on rural southeastern Ohio, the program creates opportunities for first-generation, non-traditional, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Ohio University RHE's success in securing the Rural Schools Collaborative Catalyst Initiative Grant signals a transformative era for rural education. With a strong foundation built on partnerships, junior fellowships, and a commitment to diversity, the program is poised to make lasting contributions to the vitality of rural schools and communities. This grant is not just an award; it's a catalyst for positive change in the landscape of rural education.

January 10, 2024
Staff reports