TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Through a grant, the University of West Alabama will be able to recruit, train and support teachers in rural areas to help improve students’ academic performances.

The college was given a $3 million, five-year grant by the U.S. Department of Education, the Tuscaloosa News (http://bit.ly/2e8TB6v) reported. The school is one of four institutions awarded grants this year as part of the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program.

“This program is a giant step forward for our teacher education programs, and it empowers UWA to continue to build on its foundational mission of providing superior teachers to our region,” West Alabama president Ken Tucker said.

Denise Knight, the project director at the university, said the first year of the grant will be a planning year. The second year will focus on implementation of the program.

The federal program looks to improve the quality of new teachers to increase student achievement. The hope is to enhance the preparation of prospective teachers and the professional development of current ones.

The school’s initiative, Rethinking Rural Education Preparation Programs, will be funded by the grant. It will include training for faculty at West Alabama and partnering with public schools.

“When we immerse our teachers in those situations, it gives them the opportunity to learn in those settings,” Knight said. “If we are going to meet that goal, we are going to have to prepare our interns, our faculty, our leaders in the field to be able to work with students.”

West Alabama’s College of Education is working with the Alabama State Department of Education’s improvement process to gain approval of the 4N1 track. It would prepare teachers in the fields of early childhood, elementary, collaborative special education, and early childhood special education.

It’s expected to begin in August 2017.

“Basically, we are reforming our undergrad program so that future students will graduate and they will have four certifications,” Education Dean Jan Miller said. “When you are talking about small rural communities or a small school, when administrators hire one of our teachers they are actually getting four. Often what we are finding in these small communities is people have to wear many hats.”