On a recent cold Sunday morning, 13 college students arrived here for an unusual Spring Break: a weeklong date to get to know one of the countless rural towns struggling to attract teachers.
The trip was part of a feeder program, of sorts, created at Montana State University to address the state's education crisis: Nearly half of all Montana schools now employ teachers who aren’t certified, and almost all of those schools are in rural areas.
“Even 10 years ago, they were still pulling in people, getting applications, being more selective about who we can hire,” said Dr. Tena Versland, a professor at Montana State University who helped found the program two years ago. “Now it’s 'Just find someone.'”
The root of the problem is a decades-long inability to hold onto young people, who've been leaving small towns for bigger cities and never coming back. The shift is especially pronounced in the Midwest, where 85% of rural counties are shrinking.
Shelby, a town with about 700 families, one K-12 school, and a small main street that runs only a few blocks, has tried everything to fill the vacancies that pop up almost every year, with little success. So they weren’t about to let this opportunity of courting 13 aspiring teachers go to waste.
VICE News Tonight was there for the entire week, watching the town roll out the red carpet for the college students.