Clarksville, TN – Last March, after the rooms were booked and the speakers confirmed, the Austin Peay State University (APSU) Center for Rural Education was set to host its inaugural conference. Dr. Cheryl Lambert, APSU associate professor of education and the center’s coordinator, was eager for the event to provide teachers and administrators from rural communities with new, researched-based strategies for their classrooms.
March 2020, however, proved to be a difficult time to host any event. The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic caused the University to move fully online and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to issue a state-wide shelter-at-home order.
“We had to cancel it within days of the conference,” Lambert said. “We made great efforts to inform participants and assure them we would revisit the conference in the spring of 2021.”
A year later, on March 23rd, Lambert is keeping that promise with the center finally hosting its first conference, “Revisiting Our Rural Roots: Supporting Students, Preparing Teachers, and Collaborating with Communities to Influence Excellence in Rural Education.” Because the pandemic continues to limit large gatherings, this year’s event will be a virtual conference available through a Zoom link.
“In 1927, Austin Peay State University was founded as a normal school and challenged with training teachers for the rural schools, so we are definitely going back to our rural roots in this first annual conference,” Lambert said. “We have opened participation to anyone who wants to attend. The presenters come from a variety of locations, from Johns Hopkins University, Austin Peay, a team from Wisconsin talking about building safe rural schools. The proposals were open to anyone who wanted to participate.”
The presenters will tackle some of the challenges rural teachers face, with sessions like “Classroom Management in the Rural Ed Classroom: Nurturing a Growth Mindset” and “Let’s Get Social: How YouTube and Twitter Can Help Prepare Rural Pre-Service Teachers.”
In the spring of 2018, the Austin Peay State University Eriksson College of Education opened the center to serve rural Tennessee school districts that experience, according to the center, “higher per-pupil costs, higher poverty rates, population decline, hard-to-staff positions with high teacher turnover, geographic isolation, and resistance to innovation.”
Last year, the center used external grant funding to develop its Rural Scholars Program, which provides APSU junior and senior teaching candidates with support to complete their education degrees. These scholars then have the opportunity to commit to a teaching contract with a rural district.
“In the short history of our center, we have formed partnerships with rural districts, created the Rural Education Scholars program, provided STEM professional development, secured external grants, and now, we’ve launched our first state conference,” Dr. Prentice Chandler, dean of the Eriksson College of Education, said. “I am proud of the work that we’ve done in three short years, but I believe this is only the beginning.”