Yes. I am not impartial when it comes to the new venture at the University of West Alabama known as the Black Belt Teacher Corps. And I was glad to play a small role in getting this up and running.
One of the great concerns for rural schools, especially ones in the Alabama Black Belt, is finding teachers. Since the majority of people in the state live in urban and suburban places the majority of young people graduating from a college of education have this background are from there as well. Which means it is hard to get one of them entering the teacher profession to put down roots in a rural location.
So the University of West Alabama has decided to grow their own Black Belt teachers. In a nutshell, they select students to receive scholarships in return for a commitment to teach in the area for at least three years. Their model is patterned after the successful Ozark Teacher Corps in Missouri.
Allie Marques is one of the initial scholarship recipients. She is from a farm family not far from Livingston. She is smart, energetic and always has a smile on her face.
One of the requirements of BBTC students is that they must tackle a project at an area school. They get $1,000 from the program to devote to their project.
Allie chose to install three large plant boxes at all four schools in the Demopolis school system. Aptly enough, she calls it “The Sprouting Minds” project. Why this project? “To instill in students the value of hard work and a strong work ethic while expanding their academic knowledge,” Allie told me.
I was at Westside Elementary in Demopolis recently when the boxes had their grand coming out party. And because Demopolis wholeheartedly supports their public school system, I was not alone. Local officials, school board members, representatives of companies who helped Allie, state senator Bobby Singeleton, state representative A. J. McCampbell and others attended. UWA president Ken Tucker, a former member of the Demopolis school board, told everyone how proud he is of BBTC.
(The same occasion was used to announce another state sponsored Pre-K classroom for Westside. Jeana Ross, Secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education and Tracye Strichik, Director of the Office of School Readiness also attended.)
CEMEX Demopolis, a company that has been making cement in west Alabama for more than 100 years, provided the labor and lumber for the 12 beds. United Rentals provided equipment and Poppie’s, a local landscaping company, also pitched in. So the beds, soil for them and labor came at no cost. Allie bought gardening tools, watering cans, fertilizer, kitchen scales, safety gloves and seed.
The beds at Westside have very healthy pumpkins plants in them.
Allie is also writing lesson guides for different grade levels. The one for second grade is 205 pages. She plans to get these copyrighted.
Considering the chaos, confusion and commotion swirling around public education in Alabama for the last years and more, it is understandable that many have wanted to throw up their hands and simply say, “To hell with it.” The thought has gone through my mind countless times.
But then I make a trip to UWA and get a dose of Allie Marques and her fellow BBTC colleagues and my spirits are lifted. God bless them all.