This past Friday, a new chapter for rural education research and advocacy was celebrated when the Arlington and Arlene Seymour Center for Rural Education (CRE) officially launched at the Western Illinois University College of Education & Human Sciences (WIU). The opening of the CRE makes it the only “rural education center” with a sole focus on the topic in the state of Illinois. The Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS) is proud to have cultivated a stronger partnership with WIU in recent years, and the opening of the CRE signifies the next step forward in this collaborative partnership to support schools and uplift education state-wide.
The Center for Rural Education is made possible through the generosity of Arlington and Arlene Seymour, who outlined the creation of the CRE in their estate. The Seymours were lifelong educators, having taught in K12 classrooms around the country for a combined nearly 70 years before retiring in Macomb, IL. Mr. Seymour, a WIU Class of 1953 graduate, had fond memories of his alma mater, and wanted to do what he could in the memory of his late wife to continue the tradition of strong educator preparation at the University, remarking: “We felt that Western provided a personal association for what we wanted to do with our estate for the immediate and long-term future.” After the passing of Mr. Seymour earlier this year, his and his wife’s vision for supporting the growth of young rural teachers was realized as funds from their estate were invested into the Center.
Although Western Illinois University serves a specific geographic area covering the west central part of the state, the CRE is a truly a state-wide actor, and signals WIU’s commitment to strong schools and teachers everywhere. Specifically, the CRE aspires to:
Expand rural teacher applicants through the Great River Teacher Corps
Support rural teachers, schools, and school districts
Develop a network of rural educators and leaders
Research rural schools and rural education issues
Advocate for rural schools and education on a local, state and national level
AIRSS is thrilled to join in supporting the future growth and success of the CRE as a research and advocacy partner, working with WIU and CRE faculty and staff to be the unified Voice for rural education across the state. Already, AIRSS and the CRE have worked together to launch a number of rural education projects, including the Rural Illinois Career & Technical Education Grant and the rural MAT Residency program.
Coordinated with WIU’s annual Future Teachers’ Day, the ribbon cutting for the CRE featured a star-studded audience of WIU administration, educators, community partners, and future educators. The opening ceremony had remarks from Clare Thompson, WIU Vice President for Advancement, Alumni Relations, and Athletics; Brad Bainter, Executive Officer of the WIU Foundation and a close family friend of Arlington and Arlene Seymour; and Madison Boyer a WIU senior Elementary Education major and a member of the Great River Teacher Corps.
David Ardrey, Executive Director of AIRSS, attended the grand opening of the CRE and noted: “It was an honor to be a part of the ribbon cutting for the Seymour Center for Rural Education. The longstanding history AIRSS has with WIU will serve well to strengthen the work of supporting Illinois Rural and Small Schools through the Center.”