By Christopher Thrall –
For more than 100 years, the majority of the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus students have come from communities outside of Edmonton and Calgary, many of them on their way to become teachers. In fact, Camrose was home to one of three original “normal school” sites for teacher training in the province.
It makes good sense, then, that an initiative designed to help staff rural schools would start here. Beginning in September, Augustana students can enrol in a combined degree program that will earn a bachelor of science degree and a bachelor of education degree with a major in the sciences in five years and turn out high-school teachers ideally prepared to serve in rural communities.
“The combined degrees open an important connection to Education on our campus,” says U of A Augustana Dean Roger Epp. “We know that there is a strong interest in Education among our students—as well as potential students—and that there is a strong need for science and math teachers in the rural communities from which many of them come. This program also takes advantage of our very strong teaching focus in science. It is the first formal step in what we expect will be a close and expanding relationship with the Faculty of Education.”
This complicated combined-degrees program didn’t happen overnight. All the essential requirements of both degrees—which would normally take at least six years to complete—must be fit into a five-year package. Since Augustana merged with the University of Alberta in 2004, the new program has been a high priority, with tremendous support from the Faculty of Education at the U of A’s North Campus.
Fern Snart, dean of the Faculty of Education, says that the opportunity will provide “new teachers who are ready to respond within a curriculum area that is in high demand in our province and beyond.”
Students in the secondary-education route must choose major and minor teaching subjects that prepare them for school instruction. However, unlike other combined education programs, this new program permits students to have a major on the science side and a minor on either the arts or science side. Students will be able to select their major from six science categories including biology, general sciences or mathematics and physics, but they can minor in any of 16 subject areas—chemistry to music, English language arts or social studies.
The program is designed to create teachers who will thrive in rural settings. Typically, rural schools look for generalists, teachers who feel comfortable teaching across the spectrum of high-school subject areas.
“We can help produce teachers who can teach science as well as English, physical education or social studies,” says Jonathan Mohr, professor of computing science and chair of the science department at Augustana. “When you are looking at rural placements, many teachers will have to teach multiple subjects. This program will prepare students for the reality of rural placements and we feel that the school boards will respond enthusiastically.”
“We are very concerned about the lack of eligible candidates in the secondary mathematics and science areas,” writes Dr. Terry Pearson, Superintendent of Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools, “and believe this initiative would help to address the issues we face. … [I]t is extremely difficult to attract and retain teachers who have this specialization.” The Battle River School Division has offered to support the combined degrees program through practicum placements, noting that they have 25 schools within an hour of U of A Augustana.
“What really caught my attention,” writes U of A Augustana student Kathleen Brager, “was the fact that I would be able to complete most of the degree here in Camrose. I live here with my parents and, as a university student who is expecting tuition to just keep rising, a penny saved is a penny that will not be a student loan.” She is excited about returning to a rural school for her placement, similar to the one where she discovered her passion for education. “Coming from a rural school myself, it is only natural for me to have a special place in my heart for them.”
Current students interested in the new combined degrees will find it easy to transfer into the program, while others who start their university studies in the combined degrees program but later decide that they would like an additional year of science studies will find it just as easy to finish a four-year BSc degree before embracing their Education after-degree. The registration processes for the new combined degrees program should be finalized soon and then students will be able to enroll in – or transfer into – it. The program will have its first intake this coming fall.
“It has been delightful to work with the Faculty of Education on this program,” says Dr. Harry Prest, Associate Dean of Academic Programs. “The cooperation between our faculties has been outstanding. We are eager to explore other exciting new ways to work together in the future.”