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RISE program helps heritage Spanish-speaking students earn college degree and job

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University of North Georgia (UNG) freshmen Jennifer Jaimes and Adrian Galvan are members of the first cohort of the Realizing Inspiring Successful Educators (RISE) undergraduate program. As part of the program students work as paraprofessionals with English learners in Hall County elementary schools. Jaimes works as a paraprofessional at Chicopee Woods Elementary School and Galvan works at Lyman Hall Elementary School.

University of North Georgia (UNG) freshman Adrian Galvan wanted to become a teacher, but he wasn't certain how to make it happen.

That is, until his senior year at Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia. His teacher told him about a new program that would pay for his degree in education, give him real-world experience in a classroom and offer him a job after graduation.

"Sign me up!" was Galvan's reaction to the news.

Galvan and eight graduates from Hall County Schools enrolled in the program, now deemed by the students as the Realizing Inspiring Successful Educators (RISE) undergraduate program.

Launched in 2017, the program is a collaboration between UNG's College of Education (COE) and Hall County Schools. The premise is that Hall County Schools funds the tuition of heritage Spanish-speaking graduates who enroll in UNG's teacher education program. In addition, students work as paraprofessionals with English learners in Hall County elementary schools. Upon graduation, the UNG students will receive a job offer from Hall County Schools.

Dr. Sheri Hardee, associate dean of the College of Education (COE) at UNG, said the ultimate goal is to find heritage Spanish-speaking students and train them to become teachers in Hall County.

"They don't need more Spanish teachers. They need more teachers who can teach the content in Spanish," Hardee said.

For example, heritage Spanish-speaking students could learn calculus in Spanish instead of English.

"Many literacy specialists agree that it's easiest for students to learn in a second language if they first learn the concepts in their first language," Hardee said.

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The Realizing Inspiring Successful Educators (RISE) undergraduate program launched in fall 2017 at the University of North Georgia. The cohort is comprised of students who graduated from Hall County Schools.

Once the first cohort launched in fall 2017, Hardee noticed some of the students  arrived at UNG without some needed supplies such as calculators. Realizing this problem in the first semester prompted Hardee and Dr. Lauren Johnson, assistant professor and coordinator of diversity and recruitment in COE at UNG, to ask for supplemental funds for the program through a Presidential Incentive Award. In January, they were awarded one of the innovation grants of $5,000.

"We needed the money to offer academic and financial support," Hardee said.

Now the money allows the RISE program to help students by paying for supplies, mentors and tutoring services.

Galvan said Hardee and Johnson are continually contacting students to see if they need anything.

"They are really taking care of us," he said, adding they and the program help him keep his focus in school. "This program has helped because I'm not worried about money. I can sit in class and take in what the teacher is saying. I don't have to worry about making money to pay for my education."

With the financial burden removed, Galvan and the other students are taking full advantage of learning to be teachers. Galvan works as a paraprofessional at Lyman Hall Elementary School in Gainesville. He explained his time in elementary school has left him reconsidering his long-term teaching career.

"I'm not sure if I want to teach elementary school children for a long time," Galvan said. "But I do teach a colorguard class at Johnson High School in Gainesville. So I think I may want to teach high school."

For Jennifer Jaimes, a freshman majoring in teacher education from Gainesville, working at Chicopee Woods Elementary School in Gainesville has solidified her career choice.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher," the 19-year-old West Hall High School graduate said. "And I have learned that I love teaching the first grade."

She added the time in the classroom has built her confidence and believes she will be better prepared to teach when she graduates.

"If not for this program, I would not know what to do," she said.

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