School districts in rural Idaho face unique challenges and as a result, find it difficult to retain experienced teachers for a range of reasons, including remote locations and scarce housing.
Boise State’s College of Education is on a mission to help rural districts contend with these struggles and ensure that young Idahoans get a quality education, whether they’re in the state’s largest school district – West Ada with more than 39,000 students – or one of its smallest, Prairie, with five.
An Idaho learning tour
Dean James Satterfield arrived at Boise State in July 2022. One of his first outings was a tour of rural school districts in Southern Idaho.
“Meeting rural school superintendents has allowed me to clearly understand what their needs are so the College of Education can reimagine and create programs that prepare our students,” Satterfield said. “We want each of our graduates to become education professionals and leaders ready to contribute to the Idaho workforce.”
Video What’s it Like in Idaho’s Smallest School District?
Stephanie Lewis, Head Teacher, Prairie School explains what it’s like working in Idaho’s smallest school district. Closed captions are available and a text transcript is provided in the Video Transcript section on this page.
New posts, new partnerships
As a step towards Satterfield’s goals, the college hired Bethany Gochnour (MA, curriculum and instruction, 2018) for the new position of rural clinical instructor. Gochnour has been a rural educator for close to a decade and will be based in Minidoka, Idaho, a small town in South Central Idaho, to provide on-site coaching and professional development for new teachers across the region.
“Our hope is to build collaborative partnerships where Boise State and rural districts work alongside each other in a hands-on setting,” Gochnour said.
Another partnership, with the Micron Foundation, is placing more qualified teachers in rural Idaho classrooms.
The Micron Aspiring Rural Teaching Fellowship provides student teachers with a $5,000 stipend for their student teaching semester in exchange for a commitment to spend their first year of teaching in a rural school. Mentoring continues through that first year in the classroom.
In spring 2023, grant funds placed teachers in the towns of Gooding and Melba. It will fund three additional placements in the fall.
One alum’s story: Teacher Stephanie Lewis took the lessons she learned at Boise State to her one-room school in Idaho’s smallest school district
Nestled between evergreen trees in Prairie, Idaho, across from a sweeping meadow with the Trinity Mountains rising behind it, sits a bright red schoolhouse. Stephanie Lewis (BA, elementary education, 2015) became the district’s only teacher in 2020. She teaches five students in kindergarten through 8th grade, including her daughter Lily, a seventh-grader.
“Before coming to Prairie, I spent my entire life in Boise and the surrounding areas,” Lewis said. “I was drawn to the one-room schoolhouse because of the challenge and the opportunity to stretch my creative teaching muscles.”
Her education at Boise State was thorough, she said, enhanced by
instructors who were passionate about education. “Their support continued long after I graduated and helped me continue to grow as an educator.”
In Prairie, she has the freedom to incorporate service- and project-based learning into her classroom and to develop lessons that span multiple grade levels.
“I became a teacher because I love the spark that happens when things click for kids, when they start to decode words, or when they are inspired to write a story, or when a math concept becomes clear,” Lewis said.
The one-room environment offers unique opportunities.
“The kids learn together and the older kids work with and help the younger kids,” Lewis said. “My favorite moment was when a struggling reader was starting to really grow. One of the seventh graders came up to me and said, ‘Mrs. Lewis, did you hear him read to me? He’s getting so good!’ The kids share in my teacher-joy and that’s something so special.”
Lewis is an invaluable asset to the community, District Clerk Victoria Davis said.
“If we weren’t able to secure a teacher for our district, families would either be forced to homeschool, send their students to boarding school or travel multiple hours a day for them to attend the nearest school.”
“I’m not just the teacher. I’m the receptionist, the attendance secretary and the person who finds and recruits speech pathologists. I’m the PE teacher, the principal, the counselor, the record keeper, the health teacher, the technical support, the computer lab teacher, the librarian, the music director and the person who makes sure we don’t run out of paper towels.” Stephanie Lewis
The Ireland family represents four generations of ranching in Prairie. Ryder Ireland, age 8, is a third-grader in Lewis’ class.
“We run around 600 head of mother cows and farm about 800 acres of hay ground,” Lori Ireland, Ryder’s mother, said. “If we are not on horseback, we are in tractors or building fences. When Ryder is not in school, he is right along with us learning the trade of being a rancher.”
Having a school with a talented teacher makes life “so much easier on us, trying to run a family business and raise a family at the same time,” Ireland said.
“Mrs. Lewis personalizes each kid’s learning to their individual needs. The knowledge Mrs. Lewis has and the willingness to learn more has been so great for my son.”
By Carrie Quinney