By Michael McCord
In a North Country region that finds it challenging to attract qualified teachers, the University of New Hampshire has launched a program to do exactly that. And Holly Munce couldn’t be happier.
Munce is part of the first five-student cohort in the Teacher Residency for Rural Education (TRRE), a federally-funded grant initiative that prepares elementary and secondary mathematics and science teachers to teach in rural, high-need schools in northern New Hampshire. Munce has just begun the first classroom phase of a 15-month graduate level program.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” said Munce who already works as a Title I math and reading instructor in the Berlin School District. Among the many critical aspects of the program – such as a stipend support and tuition reduction – Munce said the fact that UNH is coming to the North Country is huge.
“So much that happens up here gets swept up under the rug and is unknown to the rest of the state,” said Munce, a 40-year-old mother of two. “UNH is a renowned school and the fact they see a need and are coming to us is really important.”
Tom Schram, the director of education preparation at UNH, explained the program in New Hampshire was an outgrowth of lengthy discussions and outreach to school districts from Laconia to the North Country.
“These are high need areas and it’s wonderful that we can partner with schools in these areas to help them prepare, recruit and support teachers,” Schram said.
In addition to a Master of Science degree in education and an endorsement for New Hampshire teacher certification upon completion of the program, Schram explained, the TRRE approach is distinguished by the following: an integrated curriculum centered on STEM content and pedagogy; clinical strength through a full-year residency; and a focus on knowing families and communities.
The program also focuses on high leverage practices that promote student achievement, provide opportunities to learn how to work with all students, and connect teaching to the resources of rural communities through community-based internships.
“We are recruiting prospective teachers,” said Emilie Reagan, a UNH assistant professor of education and, along with Schram is one of the three co-heads of the TRRE Leadership team. The program was approved in October of 2016 and the school immediately put out the word to seek candidates. The students took part in a summer institute of classes and got acquainted with the region before becoming embedded within the community and the school where their residency will take place and the master teacher who will oversee them.
“The initial cohort has four students already from the region and one from the Somersworth area who is moving there,” Reagan said.
After the initial burst of quickly putting the program in place, the goal moving forward is to attract candidates who have an undergraduate background in mathematics or science, a passion for lifelong learning, and commitment to rural New Hampshire communities. The program is not designed for current teachers or those who have had teacher certification.
But TRRE is uniquely designed to integrate candidates into their communities. The goals include building rural community assets by placing candidates an out-of-school placement with a community-based agency or organization. They are also encouraged to learn about the interests and commitments of the rural communities while integrating in- and out-of-school resources and learning opportunities.
The program is welcome news for teacher-starved schools. “We need highly qualified candidates in North Country schools,” said Marion Anastasia, the superintendent of the White Mountains Regional School District which includes the towns of Jefferson, Lancaster and Whitefield.
“Staff retention is problematic. We often hire young, new teachers from southern New England who are not accustomed to rural New Hampshire. By having the resident teachers work in schools for an entire year, they can easily transition into our schools knowing what to expect. More importantly, the TRRE program attracts teachers to our schools and affords them the opportunity to learn in schools using a constructivist approach to learning theory.”
Anastasia’s district will host two of the students at Lancaster Elementary School and White Mountains Regional High School.
The TRRE program will focus on creating educators for the following five need areas: Elementary Education (grades K-6); Elementary Education with Middle School Mathematics (K-8); Elementary Education with Middle School Science (K-8); Secondary Mathematics (7-12); and Secondary Science (7-12).
The program is funded through 2021 and Reagan said the hope is to have as many as 60 residencies by the end. One of the requirements of the program is a commitment to teaching in a rural high-need New Hampshire school for at least three years following completion of the TRRE program.
For Munce, who grew up in rural Massachusetts, the TRRE program allows her to pursue and expand her passions. “I love teaching and working with kids and have coached sports for years. I’ve always had the desire to teach and we love this region,” said Munce who will have her one-year of residency at Hillside Elementary School in Berlin. “My kids are now 12 and 11 and it’s time for a venture of this type for me. One of the great parts of the program is after you finish there is two years of continued outreach and support.”
Munce and her fellow students will also receive a living wage stipend of $28,000 for their one-year of residency, a 50 percent tuition reduction, and a laptop.
“We see this partnership with UNH as a win-win to retain quality candidates,” said Berlin school superintendent Corinne Cascadden. “This gives our master teachers a chance to share their craft while keeping up with best practices. We are an excellent school district but people don’t know about the strong work ethic or commitment to our students in a challenging environment. Our staffs go the extra mile.”
Cascadden’s district will host three of the students and believes they will likely have jobs if they want to stay in Berlin. The full-year residency component of the program could be pivotal in training and keeping quality candidates.
“We are excited to help develop and form strong teacher leadership and expose them to a multitude of issues. This will give them a very well-rounded view to deal with not only classroom but behavioral issues,” she said. “We’re starting to get fewer applicants for professional positions. We understand the location can appear challenging but once they get in to look at this area and live in it, they can begin to love it.”
Find out more about the Teacher Residency for Rural education program here.