By Kevin Pieper
MOUNTAIN HOME -The superintendent of Dermott School District in southeast Arkansas hopes a program launched this year by the University of Arkansas will help shore up teacher shortages in his economically depressed district where high poverty levels and low teacher pay makes it a challenge to attract qualified teachers.
"One of the things that makes it difficult is we're located in the Delta," said Kelvin Gragg. "You can see the poverty in our area, and that's a big issue - getting qualified teachers to even look at us."
Arkansas is the most recent state to adopt a teacher corps program. The programs recruit people with college degrees outside of education and offer an alternative and accelerated pathway for teacher certification. Mississippi and North Carolina are among the states with similar programs, which require anywhere from a two- to three-year commitment to teach in high-need areas and offer financial incentives to participants.
The Arkansas Teacher Corps program provides a $5,000-a-year stipend to fellows and helps place them in a full-time, paid teaching position. North Carolina pays all expenses associated with the program, and Mississippi Teacher Corps fellows earn a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, at no cost, from the University of Mississippi.
Benton Brown, program director of the Arkansas Teacher Corps, said the program is patterned after Teach For America (TFA), a nationwide program developed in 1990 to attract bright college graduates to teach for at least two years in high-need areas.
"One of the things we think will be different from TFA is we aim to recruit Arkansans," Brown said. "We want people with ties to Arkansas because we feel they will be more likely to stay in their home state after their commitment to Arkansas Teacher Corps is up."
The superintendent has already committed to filling some of his teaching positions, mostly in math and the sciences, with Arkansas Teacher Corps teachers.
The North Carolina Teacher Corps program, which is in its second year, has seen positive results. The program placed 22 teachers in districts around the state in its first three months.
Pieper also reports for The Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, Ark.