Montana State University

Scholarships enable more MSU students to student teach in rural Montana schools

February 5, 2015 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

A pair of gifts totaling $125,000 will provide opportunities for more MSU education students to complete their student teaching in small, rural schools in Montana. Children in a school in Bynum are pictured in this file photo. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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For years, students from the Montana State University Department of Education have completed their student teaching in rural Montana schools. Thanks to a pair of gifts totaling $150,000, more students may soon be able to do the same.

The gifts – $125,000 from MSU alumni Diane Knapp Pulfrey and her husband, Cory Pulfrey, and $25,000 from Janyce and David Hoyt – will support rural student teaching scholarships.

“The Department of Education is very appreciative of the Pulfreys’ and the Hoyts’ generous gifts,” said Jayne Downey, professor and head of the department. “We have a real passion for working with kids in rural communities, and this assistance will allow more of our students to student teach in rural Montana.”

MSU’s education department has long been committed to preparing its graduates to teach in rural and small schools, Downey said. Over the last five years, MSU has placed 902 student teachers in schools across Montana, and 11 percent of those student teachers have had an opportunity to work and learn in Montana’s small, rural communities.

In fact, MSU would like to place more prospective teachers in Montana’s rural districts, Downey said. She noted that doing so supports Montana’s small and rural schools, provides excellent educational experiences to students and fulfills an important part of the university’s mission of serving the people of the state.

However, Downey said that costs associated with relocating and finding housing in rural communities can be a barrier to many students, and the scholarship will provide opportunities for more student teachers to be placed in small, rural communities.

For Diane Pulfrey, the opportunity to support rural student teachers made sense. Having done her own student teaching in Billings in the 1980s, she experienced first-hand the challenges faced by those who struggle to pay their tuition, cover the costs of a place to live in two locations and hope to graduate from MSU with manageable student loan payments. Pulfrey graduated from MSU in 1983 with a degree in elementary education.

“Our rural Montana communities need great teachers, and student debt can make it harder to recruit those who want to live and work where they’re needed most,” Pulfrey said. “Providing scholarships that will help to make it a bit easier for great teachers to choose to educate our small town kids for the future just felt like a great thing to do.”

Pulfrey now lives in Bozeman with her husband, Cory, a 1982 MSU graduate in chemical engineering who serves as chairman of the MSU Alumni Foundation’s Board of Governors.

Janyce Hoyt, of Alamo, Calif., has a long and rich family history in education: her mother taught in Montana and her future daughter-in-law, who graduated with a master’s degree from MSU, is currently substitute teaching in Twin Bridges.

“I grew up in Montana and I know that, perhaps today more than ever, kids in rural communities need role models that can show them what’s possible, that they too can go to college and become great teachers one day themselves,” Hoyt said.

The Hoyts’ son, Mark, attended MSU and graduated in 2013 with degrees in both construction engineering and animal bioscience.

“David and I have always gravitated toward supporting those initiatives that may be a bit less popular but that stand to have a direct impact on people and their lives,” Hoyt said.

Several MSU students who received the scholarship said it is a benefit, both to themselves and to the students they teach.

Chateau Christensen, who is student teaching in Whitehall, noted the scholarship is allowing her to live in the community. In turn, she is able to participate in her students’ after-school activities.

Stevy Rood is student teaching in Highwood, her hometown. She said the scholarship allows her to devote herself to her students.

“This scholarship is so important to me because it will allow me to concentrate on the needs of my students and their overall achievement rather than the financial burdens that are associated with being a university student,” she said. “I feel very fortunate.”

Contact: Jayne Downey, (406) 994-7426 or jdowney@montana.edu