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Students gain course credit and brush up on English at Steps to College

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Dalia Alinee Rojo, center, teaches students, clockwise starting from her right, Pablo Carrillo Tereso, Ingrid Ramirez, Angelica Daniela Lopez, and Ana Maria Muños Patiño during a college writing class in the Steps to College program at the University of North Georgia's Cumming Campus on June 6.

For high school students who speak English as their second language, chances to practice the language, gain course credit in the summer and stay on track for graduation are invaluable.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) supplied those opportunities and exposed the students to a college campus through its Steps to College program from June 3-28 at UNG's Cumming and Gainesville campuses. Steps to College started in 1999 on UNG's Gainesville Campus and is funded by the Goizueta Foundation and a state grant.

Four days per week, students took part in either economics, civics or college writing classes. The economics course included an end-of-course test. Each student completed one of the three courses for a half credit that will apply at their high schools.

Students from the Banks, Forsyth, Hall and Stephens county school systems and the Gainesville City School System feed into the program, which is designed for rising freshmen through seniors. The school systems provide bus transportation.

More than 100 students attended Steps to College on two UNG campuses with 66 on the Gainesville Campus and 50 on the Cumming Campus this summer. Primary languages spoken by the students included Tagalog, Vietnamese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese, and Swahili. This is the third year the program was offered on the Cumming Campus.

A $25,000 AT&T grant facilitated career-focused field trips to healthcare complexes and businesses in the Gainesville and Cumming areas on the final day of Steps to College.

Ronald Lozano, a rising senior at North Forsyth High School, participated in Steps to College on the Cumming Campus for a second time this summer. Originally from Mexico, Lozano enjoyed the chance to make new friends and gain new skills.

"They work so well with me," Lozano said. "They explain everything to me and make sure I learn it."

High school teachers led the courses, and UNG students served as teaching assistants (TAs). Aaron Hubbard, a UNG senior pursuing a degree in sociology with a Spanish minor, was in his second year as a TA for Steps to College. His work with the college writing course on the Cumming Campus helped prepare him to teach English in Taiwan or South Korea for the 2020-21 school year.

"The thing I enjoy the most about it is helping the kids, being a mentor and seeing them learn," Hubbard said.

Dalia Alinee Rojo, a teacher at Dunwoody High School, led the college writing course at the Cumming Campus. She said the students keep her coming back.

"I love teaching them English," said Rojo, who has taught for the summer program since 2004. "What they don't learn in school — the grammar and how to spell words — that's what I love teaching them."

Rojo also made sure to connect students with UNG employees who could give them more insight into college.

Eva Acevedo, a rising senior at North Forsyth High, was in her second year of Steps to College. She appreciated the chance to practice English with her fellow students. Before her first year in the program, Acevedo didn't plan to attend college.

"I want to go to college now," Acevedo said.

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