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Rural-Urban Research Partnerships

Though Morris is a small undergraduate public liberal arts college in a geographically isolated and largely monocultural setting, we offer a teacher preparation program rich in multicultural studies and multiple field experiences. One field service option is the Urban Field Experience for Rural Preservice Teachers program, a 15-year partnership between the University of Minnesota, Morris, Elementary Education Program and several large, urban schools in Chicago and is designed to help elementary education majors increase their ability to meet the needs of students in diverse urban settings.

In the program, the participants travel approximately 600 miles to complete a one-week intensive field experience in an urban setting. During this experience, they teach at least three lessons, keep a reflective journal, and write reflective essays. They have nightly debriefing sessions with university professors who direct the program. Administrators and teachers from the participating schools provide feedback and input into the program, and they have been instrumental in making it possible for some Morris candidates to complete 11 weeks of student teaching in their schools.

Since the program began, more than 50 percent of Morris preservice teachers, have participated. Analysis of participant journals and essays has yielded findings that confirm their success and growth as a result of participation. In a survey given to participants one and two years after the experience, they recalled this urban field experience as a life- and career-changing event.

While assessment data were positive, we saw the potential and need for increased opportunities for our candidates. Teacher education programs nationwide are experiencing increased pressure and expectation to provide their candidates with cross-cultural experiences with children, classroom teachers, professors and other student teachers. (See NCATE Unit Standards 2008 Education, Standard 4 “Diversity”). Therefore, we sought ways for our candidates to meet other preservice teachers with different perspectives and experiences.

For this purpose, the Morris directors of the Chicago experience began to collaborate with teacher education faculty from Chicago State University (CSU) to create a second program called the Rural-Urban Preservice Teacher Exchange Program. This program is designed to provide opportunities for meaningful interaction between and among candidates from the two institutions as they complete field experiences in both urban and rural schools. In other words, rural preservice teachers experienced urban classrooms, and urban preservice teachers experienced rural classrooms.

This project has completed two of its three phases. First there was a shared, collaborative activity in which preservice teachers from both institutions met at CSU to analyze and discuss a teaching case. Morris students were in the city as part of their Urban Field Experience, and CSU students were attending their weekly seminar. This research was sponsored in part by a grant from the University of Minnesota's Faculty Research Enhancement Fund.

In the second phase, seven CSU candidates and their professor traveled to UMM where they spent a week in small, rural schools. The assignments, debriefing sessions, and data collection replicated those of the Urban Field Experience. The third phase will be completed this fall. There will be a focused discussion and shared debriefing among the seven CSU candidates who completed the rural experience and the UMM candidates who completed the urban practicum. The data from the study include journals, analysis papers, field notes, and discussion/interviews.

The data analysis from the first two phases has yielded interesting findings. Participants from both institutions share a belief in student efficacy, value multiple settings and experiences, and know and practice similar approaches to instruction. Differences include the perception of what makes teaching in an unfamiliar setting beneficial and difficult. Issues of race were important to all of the participants, but the perspectives were acutely different between the two groups. The challenges of rural and urban schools were also present in the student comments. Phase three will allow us to confirm and extend initial findings.

Colleges of teacher education strive to meet the high state and national standards that require beginning teachers to have cultural competence, skill in meeting the diverse needs of learners, and effectiveness in diverse settings. This research and the programs on which it is based will encourage discussion and action.