Of all the changes Marylhurst University made in transforming into an adult education institution, the toughest may have been dropping its teaching program in 1974.

Now that centerpiece program is back, as an innovative program that is ready to compete with other college education programs - by better preparing teachers for what has become a new world for education.

'When I was hired it was expressed that I not just replicate what was there,' said program director Tom Ruhl, 'but develop a better program for the marketplace. We wanted to re-establish ourselves in our historic mission - teacher preparation.

'This program is being developed from the ground up to meet the needs of today's students and the different challenges they face today.'

Hired in the fall of 2006, Ruhl did not rush to start Marylhurst's master of arts in teaching (MAT). He did plenty of groundwork. Ruhl spent much of his first year on the job consulting with principals from Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Portland, and other Metro area districts. He discovered key conditions that were not being sufficiently addressed.

Challenge No. 1 - language.

'Beaverton has the largest English as second language population in Oregon,' Ruhl said. 'We now have very diverse linguistics in our schools, and our teachers need to be prepared to deal with that.'

Challenge No. 2 - reading.

Ruhl said, 'One of our assumptions is that K-3 students learn to read, then students from the fourth grade on read to learn content. But the truth is they often have not learned to read by then.

'Our program will provide skills to teach reading to secondary youngsters. When I talked to the principals they said that was a compelling aspect of our program.'

Better prepared teachers, of course, means better prepared students, and Ruhl believes the program he has developed at Marylhurst will do that. Key aspects of the plan include:

-- Longer preparation. The Marylhurst teaching program is scheduled for 18 months, not the usual one year.

-- More time in the classroom. Marylhurst students are placed in the classroom right from the start.

Ruhl said, 'That gives them a fabulous introduction. If they have a good experience, they will student teach in the same building.

'It's something the principals are very excited about. Our students will be part of their school life. There's the possibility they will spend one and a half years in a school. They will be better prepared for their first job.'

-- Mentoring. 'That is another unique feature we offer,' Ruhl said. 'There is a lack of mentoring for Oregon teachers. The teacher dropout rate is 35 to 40 percent before the end of their first year. That's because they don't get the mentoring they need. Marylhurst University is committed to helping them succeed.'

One more distinguishing feature of Marylhurst's MAT: As stated in its program brochure, there is a commitment to the principles of social justice by addressing 'the glaring gap in children's achievement levels caused by complex social, economic and historical factors. Marylhurst equips MAT graduates with skills to help all children reach their full potential.'

Ruhl said that Marylhurst is offering these innovations because teachers face a new world.

'Twenty years ago there was not the high turnover rate or the burnout,' Ruhl said. 'Literacy is not the problem it is today. This program is very reality based. In 18 months here, you are prepared to enter that classroom.

'A good education is more important than ever because it is no longer possible to drop out of high school and get good jobs in mills, logging or fishing industries. Even trades now require much more literacy. More students today need post-secondary education.'

The first new class of Marylhurst University teachers will be turned out in the spring of 2009. There are currently 38 full-time students and 10 part-time students enrolled in the teaching MA program.

While the real results won't come until that first crop of graduates is out and working, the Marylhurst program is already being vetted by a group of 25 persons, including veteran teachers, new teachers, principals, district office administrators, and representatives from teacher preparatory programs. This was one of many ways the program benefited from being new.

'We asked ourselves, 'If we could create the best program we could, what would it look like?' ' Ruhl said. 'We didn't have to fix an existing program. We could do what we liked.'

Previously an elementary school principal, Ruhl left his position as an administrator at Lewis and Clark College to take on the job at Marylhurst.

'To create something that responded to the current challenges and dilemmas of education was very attractive,' Ruhl said.

Certainly, the response to the program has been widespread, which Ruhl said has been greatly helped by the brochure materials put together by Clarin Cromwell, Marcom media coordinator at the university.

'We're rockin' and rollin',' Ruhl said. 'We've gotten applicants from Florida, California, Washington, D.C. and New York, all in one year. They sought out Marylhurst from all of the other candidates in the Northwest.'

Ruhl's program is intended to be state-of-the-art. Soon, so will its surroundings. A wing of the B.P. John Administration Building, equipped with 'smart' classrooms, is now being remodeled.

Expectations are sky high.

'Our president (Nancy Wilgenbusch) said to make this the best in the state,' Ruhl said.

To find out more about Marylhurst University's master of arts in teaching program, go to the website or call 503- 699-6268.

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