One challenge that many rural reservation schools face is recruiting and retaining teachers. Often the school becomes a stepping stone for first-year teachers to gain experience before moving on to a larger city. This makes many students hesitant to form strong bonds as they know the teacher will likely leave the following year.
Fort Peck Community College (FPCC) in Montana is seeking to solve that problem. The goal is to create “homegrown” teachers who are from rural reservations and plan to teach there long-term. By hiring local teachers, schools are gaining personnel who understand both the culture of the area and the challenges and strengths of students. Local teachers also have a personal stake in seeing their community schools succeed. This philosophy was first articulated in the 1990s by FPCC’s former president, Dr. James Shanley, who maintained that reservation communities needed to invest in educating individuals who had a vested interest in the success of Native students as well as the success of the reservation communities.
FPCC’s elementary education program has recently been revamped to align with Montana education program standards. By earning an Associate of Arts degree at the college, students can be confident that they have met all standards required to begin upper-division coursework at a bachelor’s degree-granting institution.
In addition, a U.S. Department of Education grant has made it possible for students to earn their bachelor’s degree and teaching certification without leaving the FPCC campus. The college has partnered with Montana State University– Northern (MSUN) to create a distance learning program that utilizes online classes, Internet networks, and instructor site visits to provide the full bachelor’s degree curriculum for students. This has enabled many non-traditional students to return to school and start a new career path. FPCC and MSUN hope to continue this partnership in the years to come.
These current endeavors are just another step in FPCC’s commitment to educating teachers. Since its founding, the college has provided the means for over 100 individuals to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with nearly 73% of these being Native American and many going on to teach in local schools. FPCC is proud to carry on this tradition in education as the demand for teachers grows.
FPCC’s commitment to serving the American Indian population extends to not only current students, but future ones as well. By providing an opportunity for students to earn a degree and certification, FPCC is helping to create role models from the community who students can trust and who will be a presence in their lives year after year.