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May 09th, 2021

sccc logoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

Seward County Community College and Kansas City Kansas Community College are both members of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.

However, geographically and demographically, the two schools could not be more opposite, with SCCC located in rural Southwest Kansas and KCKCC located in urban Northeast Kansas.

The schools do have something else in common. About two years ago, administrators and faculty from Kansas State University’s College of Education met with education leaders in both Kansas City and Liberal school districts to discuss a new phase of a $1.6 million partnership grant called K-STEP UP (Kansas Statewide Education Pathway for Underserved and Place-bound, which aimed to supply each school district with new local teachers.

The K-STEP UP program provides a pathway for students in Kansas City and Liberal who want to become teachers and intend to remain in their home community.

The grant was written by K-State faculty and creates a seamless education path that starts in high school and culminates with support during the graduates’ first two years in the classroom.

Now, coordinators with another grant will again be working with administrators at both SCCC and KCKCC. 

K-State’s College of Education recently received a grant from the Kansas Board of Regents to support scholarships for online undergraduate students in urban and rural communities planning to become teachers.

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This grant, named Project TRUST (Training for Rural and Urban School Teachers), is a $160,000 grant designed to help place-bound students in targeted communities earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. It will provide 30 students with 12 credit hours of tuition support for their final semester. This grant was born out of the K-STEP UP grant.

Overseeing local work on the grant is SCCC Humanities and Social Sciences Division Chair Darin Workman, who said area schools, including Liberal’s, have always had problems getting teachers, and Project TRUST provides an avenue to get more educators.

“Kids from both schools get their 60 hours at the community college, and it transfers automatically into Kansas State,” he said., “They do not have to actually go to the Kansas State campus. It can be all online, including their observation, their student teaching. Our Liberal kids can student teach here in town. Hopefully, those kids will end up staying here.”

Liberal High School itself has a Teacher Pathway to SCCC, and Workman said the TRUST grant will now give potential educators a pathway to K-State.

Workman said college students in their first semester at K-State, starting this year, will now automatically receive a $1,000 scholarship.

“The thing that kills a lot of students and adults is that semester of student teaching because you’re not earning any money when you’re doing that,” he said. “With this TRUST project, we’re trying to figure out how to financially help  those non-traditional and traditional students survive that whole semester of making no money.”

Workman said the first thing local officials are trying to do is get future teachers enrolled in K-State after finishing 60 hours at SCCC. He said Project TRUST works for non-traditional students as well.

“We have a lot of paras in town who have hours through us, which qualifies them to be a para, but they can’t afford or have the opportunity to go to a university and finish their education degree,” he said. 

Workman spoke with the department chair at KCKCC recently, and that discussion led to somewhat of an exchange program between the two schools.

“We said if we have kids who want to go back, maybe we can work out a deal where our kid gets to go there and one of theirs comes here,” he said.

Workman said the only rule for participation in Project TRUST is for students to complete 60 hours at one of the community colleges.

“It doesn’t matter where they’re from,” he said. “The goal of the TRUST grant for extra money is for kids who are going to stay in Kansas to teach, but the program’s open even to someone from Turpin or Beaver to do the online through Kansas State and be able to go back to their community to teach.”

Workman said SCCC’s service area is not just in Kansas.

“We consider the Oklahoma Panhandle part of our service area,” he said. “I have an education major from Perryton who drives for her classes.”

Workman said the aim of Project TRUST is to retain Kansas students as educators in the state, as well as to recruit teachers from other states, and with Southwest Kansas, that means more than just USD 480.

“That’s with Sublette, Southwestern Heights, Rolla, Satanta, Elkhart,” he said.

Workman’s wife, Jennifer Workman, is a principal at Liberal’s MacArthur Elementary, and as the spouse of a principal, Darin hears about he huge need for teachers in the area on a daily basis.

“They have very few people apply,” he said. “It’s just really hard to get teachers here. We’re trying to get teachers from Michigan and places like that. We’ve had some who have stayed around, but we also have a high rate who teach here for a year or two and move on.”

Darin said the best course of action is to grow area teachers from area youth and keep them in the area. 

“There’s a better chance of them having family relationships here and staying longer, plus they understand the demographics and the school system better,” he said. “There’s less training to do with them.”

Out of 19 community colleges in Kansas, only SCCC and KCKCC have been involved with the K-STEP UP grant, and Darin said the Project TRUST program simply takes that grant a step further.

“The TRUST grant, K-State’s using that to overall recruit teachers into their bachelor’s of education,” he said. “That’s completely online. They’re a world college. The scholarships they’re giving through the TRUST, Kansas City and us have priority on it.”

Darin said SCCC and KCKCC are serving as experimental schools for the grant.

“I have to see weekly information. K-State’s a research university,” he said. “They’re asking me everything. We have to keep an Excel sheet of kids coming in, if they don’t finish their degree, it’s reported, and we’re tracking those kids individually to track them.”

Darin said unlike many grants, K-STEP UP and Project TRUST are not meant to simply buy equipment.

“The K-STEP and the Project TRUST are both grants to help the students directly, not by  buying them equipment,” he said. “It’s promoting them and giving them an option.”

Darin said SCCC tries to make higher education affordable, and while many area students come to the school, many have a bit of sticker shock when they the cost of a four-year university to complete their education. A lot of those youth likewise do not want to move away from their families.

“This gives them an option to get their two years here, especially if they’re a Seward County resident,” he said. “They can get the tuition grant. It makes it really cheap because they usually don’t live in the dorms. Hopefully, they can defray two years of the costs, and then just two more years, including their student teaching is all they have to pay for. They’re making it as cheap as they can scholarship wise.”

As with most scholarships, items such as grade point average are a consideration in scholarships with Project TRUST.

“It’s a good marketing move for K-State to tie into community college,” Darin said. “A lot of times, the universities seem to overlook the community college. They want to recruit the freshmen, sophomores. K-State finally realized those community colleges have a lot of their kids who are locally attending.”

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