MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – – Emilee Rains, a 2020 Western Illinois University teacher education alumna and second grade teacher at George O. Barr Elementary in Silvis, IL, is the first student to graduate after participating in the Great River Teacher Corps (GRTC) program.

Western’s GRTC program is meeting the need for more rural teachers by offering teacher education scholarships to students who will in turn work in west central Illinois schools.

Rains initially chose Western because it was an affordable university near her hometown with a long history of successful teacher preparation. Then, she heard about the GRTC program and applied.

Emilee Rains, the first student to graduate after participating in the Great River Teacher Corps Program, in an elementary school classroom.

“I have always known I wanted to become an elementary school teacher, and I had many great teachers who influenced my decision to start teaching. I was ecstatic when I heard that I received this grant because I had no prior knowledge on the impact rural schools can have on students,” Rains said.

Greg Montalvo, assistant dean for the College of Education and Human Services, explained that part of the goal of this program is for the WIU graduates to teach their K-12 students how to appreciate the resources and good things about their rural communities. Hopefully, that will create a bond between the children and their communities and help them become stronger citizens within their communities.

The GRTC includes a service component where WIU students are required to participate in value-added place-based learning activities that focus on issues in rural schools. Administrators of the GRTC program have created partnerships with the Regional Offices of Education, district superintendents and local communities in 22 counties.

“Students in the program have to participate in a minimum of three valued-added experiences, including rural school visits, guest speaker presentations and participating in a service project, to learn about teaching in rural communities. It helps them learn how to leverage resources in the community to make learning experiences more meaningful,” explained Montalvo.

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As part of a civic engagement component of the program, Rains worked with a group of fifth grade students at Stark County Elementary School in Wyoming, IL, to put together a proposal for a community service project.

“We started by brainstorming things they thought were needed in their community. The students came up with the idea by themselves to renovate an old building to a public recreational center, sort of like the YMCA,” Rains said. “I really worked very closely with the kids. It’s a valuable hands-on experience that you don’t get just anywhere.”

Another benefit of the program is that superintendents and principals spend time talking with the students about the issues facing rural and small town schools and are available to answer any questions students might have about their future careers.

The Great River Teacher Corps Program offers WIU students scholarship funding, as well as many resources to to learn about and prepare them to teach in rural communities.

“I want to congratulate Emilee for her accomplishment. Her commitment to supporting children in west central Illinois is very much appreciated,” said Montalvo.

Thanks to the Tracy Family Foundation; Galesburg Community Foundation; the Quincy-based Community Foundation of West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri; The Fellheimer Trust, based in Macomb; area banks and individual donors, WIU was able to increase the number of scholarships for the 2020-21 academic year.

Students chosen for the program receive between $8,000-14,000 in scholarship assistance through donations, and, in turn, commit to teaching in a rural or small school in a 22-county area in west central Illinois (Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cast, Fulton, Greene, Hancock, Henderson, Henry, Knox, Mason, McDonough, Mercer, Morgan, Peoria, Pike, Rock Island, Schuyler, Scott, Stark, Tazewell and Warren) for a minimum of three years after receiving their teaching licenses/certificates.

For more information, to donate to the scholarship fund or to apply for the scholarship and view all of the requirements, visit wiu.edu/grtc.

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.