When rural schools in southern Arizona faced a teaching shortage a few years ago, NAU went to work to rise above it.

Patricia Peterson, a professor in the College of Education, worked with the U.S. Department of Education to obtain a grant for a Rural Inclusive Special Educators program that helps the NAU-Yuma campus provide teachers for its community.

With RISE, students who have completed their General Education course requirements begin as teaching assistants in local school districts and are developed into elementary and special education teachers. In order to meet the area’s bilingual needs, graduates also are endorsed to teach English as a second language.

“RISE is allowing us to ‘home grow’ teachers for the area,” said Nancy Blitz, grant co-director and professor of ESL at NAU-Yuma’s partner institution, Arizona Western College. “Yuma and La Paz counties are both rural areas that have had a difficult time filling teaching positions, especially in special education. Administrators in those counties are extremely pleased with our graduates.”

Since 2004, 38 RISE students have graduated from the six-semester program and are now teaching in local classrooms. Nineteen RISE students are scheduled to graduate from the program in spring 2008.

RISE students’ tuition and books are covered by the grant while they work as teaching assistants. They receive personal attention for their career goals and the have the opportunity to travel to national education conferences.

Current RISE student Melissa Miranda calls the program “amazing.”

“Being a teaching assistant allows me to be with students and teachers every day and see the various philosophies, assessments, strategies and teaching styles in action,” Miranda said. “The professors in the program are excellent, and without the program I would never have had the chance to travel to conferences.”

Because students work as teaching assistants while in the program they are “extremely well prepared, and the vast majority have teaching contracts waiting for them upon graduation,” Blitz said.

RISE is funded by a grant from the Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition.