At its heart, education is more about hand-to-hand combat than about grand plans and ballyhooed initiatives. Sure, we all love the big splash, but at the end of the day it’s all of the little splashes that really make a difference.
And that’s what just happened at the University of West Alabama, tucked away in tiny Livingston, AL in the heart of Sumter County. President Ken Tucker and Dean of Education Jan Miller announced the creation of the Black Belt Teacher Corps at a reception and recognized the first 10-member cohort of the program.
For sure, that crescent swath of deep soil that cuts across the gut of Alabama, known as the Black Belt, is unique. When cotton created “Alabama Fever” in the early 19th century, it burned hottest in this region. It was the antebellum home of large plantations and hordes of slaves who tended the endless cotton rows. It was first named for its soil. Today, it could well be named for its population.
The beautiful countryside hides the grinding poverty.
And slap dab in the middle of it sits an institution of higher learning that first took in students in 1839. Since then its been kinda like the little engine that could. Impacting that little patch of earth one student and one life at a time.
Like all rural places, public education struggles here. With one of the ever-growing struggles being–where will new teachers come from? So UWA has embarked on a program to grow their own teachers. To help students who plan to become educators and are mostly from the area, not only financially, but with special training to better prepare them to address community issues.
It’s a formula that has worked for a number of years in the Missouri Ozarks. Gary Funk, who runs the national Rural Schools Collaborative, was instrumental in getting the Missouri program going. He and his organization are also partnering with UWA in the Black Belt Teacher Corps.
Juniors and seniors selected for scholarships receive $5,000 per year, plus $1,000 to carry out a place-based education project.
All of this would not have happened without the whole-hearted support of Representative Bill Poole and Senator Arthur Orr who chair the House and Senate Education Finance committees and local senator Bobby Singleton.