MOUNT OLIVE -- The University of Mount Olive has received a $300,000 grant from the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust.

The 1-to-1 matching grant will be used over the next three years to support a newly created Homegrown Teacher Academy.

The academy is an innovative and collaborative program involving Duplin County Schools, James Sprunt Community College, Kenansville, and the University of Mount Olive.

It is designed to identify and recruit students as early as middle school within the Duplin County Schools, who would be interested in becoming teachers.

The academy will provide opportunities for them to shadow teachers when they are in high school, obtain college credits while still in high school through James Sprunt Community College and complete their teacher education degree at the University of Mount Olive.

The grant will provide the financial support to minimize the amount of student debt. In return, Academy graduates will commit to work in Duplin County Schools.

The grant will provide funding for administrative personnel, curriculum development and participant stipends and scholarships.

It will be matched among the university, Duplin County Schools and James Sprunt Community College.

The hope is that after the third year, the grant will be made up by the three entities and will be sustainable for years to come, said Brooke Bitzenhofer, UMO's director of foundations and sponsored programs.

Rural schools have significant difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers to serve those students who reside in rural areas, said Dr. Tommy Benson, UMO division of education chair.

"Recent history has shown that teachers who are recruited from locations outside rural areas usually leave within two years to go to teach in schools in suburban or urban districts where the salaries are higher and there are more opportunities for recreation and entertainment," Benson said.

"However, people from rural areas want to remain in those areas. So, the best prospect for rural school districts to attract and retain teachers is to grow their own future teachers. This new collaborative effort will help us do just that."

UMO President Dr. David L. Poole said the university is grateful to the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust for the generous grant.

"We strongly believe that the Homegrown Teacher Academy will be a worthwhile investment for Duplin County and its growing student population," he said.

"James Sprunt Community College is delighted to partner with Duplin County Schools and the University of Mount Olive to bring this innovative solution to aid in recruiting qualified teachers," said Dr. Lawrence Rouse, president of James Sprunt Community College. "Peter Drucker, the futurist, once said, 'The best way to predict the future is to create it.'

"We are creating the future of public education by encouraging our youth to join this noble profession. I am elated that our college is a part of creating a pipeline of dedicated professional educators."

Duplin County Schools' proposal for a regional teaching academy was submitted to the Kenan Foundation just last year, Duplin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan said.

"We are so grateful for how quickly it has materialized," Obasohan.

"We are thankful that the Kenan Foundation connected Duplin County Schools, James Sprunt Community College and the University of Mount Olive to establish a joint program and a pipeline for recruiting and retaining quality teachers that will benefit our students for many years to come."

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values.

Sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, the university has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, in Smithfield at Johnston Community College and online.

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