Some i3 Winners Plan to Serve Rural Communities

By Diette Courrégé Casey — November 12, 2013 4 min read
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CORRECTION: The original version of this post omitted one of the latest i3 winners that will serve rural students. Four groups have won grants to serve rural students.

Four of the winners in the latest federal Investing in Innovation competition will share more than $38 million during the next five years to serve more than 17,000 rural students.

Federal officials announced last week the 25 districts and their nonprofit partners that won a total of $135 million in the fourth round of grant awards. The program is intended to identify and scale up innovative ideas, and it gives varying amounts, depending on applicants’ evidence of success. One of the rural winners received the smallest award—a development grant—while the other three received the mid-size validation grants. No one received the largest possible “scale-up” grant.

Each winner must secure private-sector matching funds, and they have to get part of that match by Dec. 11 to receive their awards.

Rural education advocates have been critical of the i3 competition in the past, saying that few of the winning proposals that planned to serve rural communities were “authentically rural.” The U.S. Department mandates that applicants chose priority areas, such as improving STEM education or low-performing schools. “Rural” was added as one of those areas after the first round of the competition, and four of the latest winners plans to focus on rural students.

The smallest rural winner was Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., for its “Learning by Making: STEM Success for Mendocino County.” They plan to develop a two-year STEM curriculum that will improve math and science proficiency among 485 high-needs rural students in six California high schools. Their goals include: creating two high school STEM courses that will be accepted for college credit; training at least half of its science and math teachers to deliver the curriculum; and improving students’ math and science proficiency by 15 percent. Their effort received $2.9 million for the next five years.

One of the validation grant winners was Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala., for a project called “Validating the Collaborative Regional Education Comprehensive Model: Technology in Rural Classrooms.” Its CORE model aims to expand project-based learning and technology in rural classrooms to improve the college and career readiness of 8th- through 12th-grade students in northeast Alabama, and later nationwide.

The project includes eight rural school districts with 39 middle and high schools serving more than 11,000 students. The CORE model has six components that include: establishing and expanding partnerships, growing the use of technology in classrooms, increasing the use of project-based learning, providing support and mentoring for teachers, preparing students for college and work with dual enrollment scholarships and advisers, and supporting change management in schools. The project received $11.8 million for the next five years.

Another rural winner was the nonprofit Waterford Institute in Sandy, Utah, which is slated to receive a $11.6 million validation grant for the next five years to expand and enhance Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow, or UPSTART, a home-based, technology-delivered prekindergarten program for children the year before they start school.

The institute plans to use UPSTART and work with 1,760 children in 18 Utah rural school districts to improve school-readiness preparation and reading development. Parents and caregivers must commit to using the program with their children 15 minutes a day, five days a week. The curriculum will continue in the summers after kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. The project also will work with districts to help transition students into kindergarten. They hope to show how this partnership can be the basis for a larger, statewide program as well as a regional and national model.

Finally, Spurwink Services, Inc., a nonprofit in Portland, Maine, won $12 million over the next five years to replicate its Building Assets Reducing Risks program, which it describes as a data-driven strategy to improve teacher efficacy and boost student achievement.
The program aims to reduce social and emotional barriers to learning through professional development and restructuring freshmen year into blocks served by teacher teams. They say doing so creates positive relationships for staff and students, and enables teachers to collaboratively plan, assess and problem solve.
The project will serve 17,123 students in rural, urban and suburban schools, but it will have an emphasis on rural communities. At least 4,000 of those students live in rural Maine, and the project will test a statewide model that could be used nationwide that would serve an additional 9,000 students.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.