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Middle grades education degree program expanding to Gainesville Campus

Middle grades student teaching
Savannah Simpson, a UNG student majoring in middle grades education, is doing her student teaching at Gainesville Middle School.

The University of North Georgia's (UNG) middle grades education bachelor's degree is expanding to UNG's Gainesville Campus starting this fall. The program is already on the Dahlonega Campus.

The application deadline for the fall on both campuses is Jan. 28 through Feb. 1.

Some of the students scheduled to start their major courses on the Gainesville Campus expressed relief at being able to earn the degree closer to home. One is nontraditional student Stacey Willingham, a sophomore from Leesburg, Georgia, who moved to Gainesville, Georgia, in November 2016. Every credit she has taken so far has been online except for her Spanish courses.

"It was a huge weight off my shoulders, a huge relief," said Willingham, a mother trying to manage two jobs while raising a teenage daughter.

Dr. Chantelle Renaud-Grant, associate professor of middle grades education and coordinator of middle and secondary education at UNG, said having the program in Gainesville will open more doors into the Hall County and Gainesville school systems for student teaching. Expanding the program also should enable UNG to add greater diversity to its middle grades education cohorts.

Grant said this expansion has been a priority since consolidation in 2013. The program's scope of fourth through eighth grades is attractive to students, giving them flexibility in which grade they end up teaching.

"This was a big project for us. Middle grades is a high-demand program," Renaud-Grant said. "We knew we had to get it to Gainesville."

Students in the program have to specialize in two content areas. They start courses in their major during their junior year, when they spend 60 hours in the classroom as part of a small internship. During their senior year, they are in the classroom full time as student teachers. Renaud-Grant said UNG has averaged 40 students per year in the middle grades education cohorts.

"We get a lot of good feedback from the schools," Renaud-Grant said. "Schools want to hire our students."

For students like Willingham, the encouragement and support system on the Gainesville Campus has been invaluable. Told in high school that people like her don't go to college, Willingham decided to start at UNG at age 43. She didn't know how to log in via Wi-Fi for her first class, so her daughter had to teach her. Now Willingham is in two honor societies after she "never thought I would be a college student."

"When I walk into a classroom, I know I'm where I'm supposed to be," Willingham said.

Maria Alvarado, a sophomore from Forsyth County, chose UNG for its proximity and affordability. Picking middle grades education was about helping students during a transitional time.

"I really want to make an impact on those students, because sometimes they don't have the support they need at home," Alvarado said.

Michelle Adeyemi, a junior from Braselton, Georgia, will also benefit from the program being on the Gainesville Campus. Even though she was in the top 50 of 300 students in her high school graduating class, few people pushed her to excel.

"I can give these students what I didn't get when I was their age," Adeyemi said. "I want our students to know they have choices in life and someone is going to be there to support them."

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