Teaching Partnership Draws Parents into the Profession

HAMBURG, Ark.—In this small town Tonya Higginbotham is a student, a teacher—and a role model. It’s not her job to also mow the grass outside the elementary school, but she does it anyway. A single mother, she wants the best for her two sons, her school, the community she serves, and the school district that paid her way to college.

As in many rural areas, Hamburg’s schools are the center of community life, and partnerships with the education system benefit the entire community. 

Hamburg has teamed up with the University of Arkansas-Monticello to train engaged parents like Ms. Higginbotham to become early childhood teachers, creating a pipeline of talented, passionate and motivated teachers with a personal stake in the success of their schools.

Working together, parents, schools and the university are preparing Hamburg’s children to be successful from the moment they enter elementary school. They are attempting to create better outcomes for students as they progress through secondary school and enter college and the career of their choice.

Secretary Duncan toured Hamburg’s Pre-Kindergarten program on Thursday afternoon.


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With approximately a million teachers expected to retire over the next five years, our nation needs to nurture more ways to recruit and develop the next generation of great teachers. Our economy, our national security, and our standing in the world depend on it.

Small rural communities, like Hamburg, are showing how partnerships and an investment in their community can empower parents and career-changers, and set an example for students to follow. They are meeting their immediate need for quality early-learning programs and planting the seed for students to follow into a career in teaching, where they will have the power to positively influence the lives of children.

Case in point: Ms. Higginbotham’s son Blake attended Hamburg’s preschool program as a boy and is now in his third year at UA-Monticello’s education school. A former Americorps volunteer, he wants to return to his old grade school to teach.

“I want to be here,” he says. “I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Hamburg’s schools are giving families a reason to stay here, and are using a partnership with higher education as a way to strengthen their schools and their community’s future.

See photos from Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Hamburg Pre-Kindergarten program.

John White
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach