Calgary

University of Calgary program boosts training for rural teachers

A one-of-a-kind program at the University of Calgary is training rural Albertans to become teachers right in their own backyard.

Course helps to address problem of high teacher turnover rates in smaller communities

Students spend two weeks on campus each summer. The rest of their course work is conducted online and their practicums can be done in their hometowns as well. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

A one-of-a-kind program at the University of Calgary is training rural Albertans to become teachers right in their own backyard.

Members of the inaugural class of the Community-Based Bachelor of Education program have begun their studies.

The program allows people, who are unable to move closer to a university or satellite campus, to pursue their dreams.

Angela Higgins, a single mother living in Cremona, was thrilled when she first heard about it.

Angela Higgins didn't want to uproot her family from Cremona in order to get her teaching credentials. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

"Finally, they've come up with this," said the receptionist and piano teacher who didn't want to uproot her family to go back to school.

"The idea of shaking my kids up ... and moving them somewhere else, I just wasn't willing to do that to them."

She's one of 20 students who will spend two weeks on campus each summer. The rest of their course work will be conducted online, and their practicums can be done in their hometowns as well.

For Marsha Larson, a single mother of six who works as a teaching assistant in the southern Alberta village of Barnwell, it's an opportunity she never thought she'd have.

4-year program

For Marsha Larson, a single mother of six who works as a teaching assistant in the southern Alberta village of Barnwell, the Community-Based Bachelor of Education program is an opportunity she never thought she would have. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

"When I found out about this program and realized that I might actually have the possibility to become a teacher in a way that meant that I could stay in my community, keep doing my job, keep providing for my family — which is a big responsibility to have on my own. It was very exciting," she said.

While the four-year program is meeting the personal needs of some aspiring teachers, it has a broader purpose as well.

It's designed to address the chronic problem of high teacher turnover rates in rural schools, according to Dianne Gereluk, the associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Werklund School of Education.

Dianne Gereluk, associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Werklund School of Education, says rural schools struggle with high teacher turnover rates. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

"They want individuals who are committed to the community, who know the values of the community, who understand the individuals and are willing to stay there for 20 years and make a career in that community," said Gereluk.

Gereluk says the Community-Based Bachelor of Education program is the only one of its kind in Canada and will likely become a model for post-secondary institutions both in Canada and around the world as other jurisdictions deal with the need for more rural teachers.

"We expect this program to explode. Already we are getting calls across the province," she said.

"The minister of education from the Northwest Territories has heard about our program, saying we need this program as well. We have the same problem that you are facing in northern Alberta, in southern Alberta, in eastern and western Alberta."

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