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College of Education and Health Professions Team Earns Grant to Start Razorback STARS Project

College of Education and Health Professions faculty and Decatur School District officials met recently to discuss their new partnership. From left, Matt Boeving, Steve Watkins, Christy Smith, Jennifer Beasley, Christine Ralston, Kevin Matthews, and Ederlee Gomez.

A faculty team in the College of Education and Health Professions was awarded a $525,013 Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will help produce a pipeline of teachers in small, rural Northwest Arkansas schools.

The team is based in the college’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, which prepares students for various careers in education. The grant team is led by Christine Ralston, a teaching associate professor, who is working closely with co-principal investigators Jennifer Beasley, Vicki Collet, and Christy Smith.

Collet will provide support for mentoring, and Smith will provide support for co-teaching, which are both pivotal to the Razorback STARS project.

Razorback STARS — which stands for Strong Teachers for Arkansas Rural Students — is a grow-your-own initiative focused on serving underrepresented students by providing opportunities and access to the U of A for their future teachers. It will holistically support the development of highly effective teachers through selection, preparation, induction, and retention, including mentoring and professional development.

“I love the quote that says, ‘Teachers are the stars that make our lives sparkle and shine,'” said Beasley, who noted that the first stars to be part of the project are in the Decatur School District, which faces a teacher shortage due to its rural location.

“Decatur Public Schools has welcomed our partnership, and we’re excited to get started,” Collet added.

Smith, a teaching assistant professor of educational leadership, said it’s a privilege to provide co-teaching support for the Decatur partnership. “This work represents the university’s land grant mission of serving the state of Arkansas. and I am honored to be part of it,” she said.

STARS provides a new delivery mode for the traditional four-year teacher preparation model as a site-based program. The grant also provides options for preparing new educators to teach students with disabilities and limited English proficiency.

The backbone of the STARS program is enhanced and ongoing professional development for teacher candidates, mentor teachers, and current teachers through face-to-face training, coaching, and mentoring.

The grow-your-own aspect of the program will be accomplished in various ways, including high school courses that offer paraprofessional certification, 2+2 agreements with local community colleges, a professional development school and paid teacher apprenticeships in the year-long clinical experience. A two-year mentoring plan is also part of the project to help retain teachers.

“This grant is as important for funding as it is for the intentional planning and collaboration to provide access and opportunity to the University of Arkansas for our partners in rural areas,” Ralston said.

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