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Summer Scholars helps 'at-promise' students receive a leg up

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UNG rising sophomore Brian Palacio is a teaching assistant with the Summer Scholars Institute. Palacio, a 19-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia, knows the benefit of the four-week summer enrichment program. He said the program prompted him to think about attending college. As an SSI graduate, Palacio receives a UNG scholarship.

When Harriett Allison reviews students who are recommended for the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Summer Scholars Institute (SSI), she doesn't look for the typical "A" students who have support.

"We are looking for the students who are 'at-promise,'" the director of ESL and Summer Programs said. "Through this program, we want to give them a leg up by putting them in an atmosphere to be successful."

With the program in its 30th year, SSI students and graduates continue to reap the benefits of the four-week summer enrichment program. UNG rising sophomore Brian Palacio is a prime example.

Palacio enrolled in SSI after a middle school teacher recommended him for the program, which is geared toward rising eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students in Hall and Habersham counties and Gainesville City Schools. To be selected, students must qualify for one of the following: be eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches or be under-represented in the college demographic.

"My teacher said, 'You should try it, because you have what it takes,'" Palacio said.

The Mexico-born teen did. Palacio thrived in SSI, which teaches students about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as language arts and social studies through hands-on projects. Students also conduct research projects based on their "passion," Allison said.

"We ask the student, 'What is something you want to know more about?'" she said. "On the last day, students present their projects in an expo."

Palacio remembers those days vividly, because "the projects were amazing, and all were my favorites." He also recalls the benefit of entering high school with the extra knowledge he gleaned from SSI.

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Rising eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students in Hall and Habersham counties and Gainesville City Schools learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as language arts and social studies through hands-on projects.

"What we learned in the first three months in school, I remembered that we covered it in Summer Scholars," he said, adding that the coursework was less stressful. "So I was able to stay ahead of classmates. And I improved my GPA."

SSI also prompted Palacio to think about college, which he never considered before. Then his cousin urged him to apply to UNG.

If SSI graduates apply to UNG and are accepted, they may receive a UNG scholarship. Allison said between eight and 12 Summer Scholar graduates are enrolled at UNG and receive $1,000 a year toward their studies.

"My cousin said, 'You are going to apply to UNG and you are going to do this,'" Palacio said.

He acquiesced and is glad he did. Not only did he receive the SSI scholarship, he qualified for the Pell Grant and more recently the HOPE scholarship. Having funds to attend college alleviated his stress.

"I didn't think about going to college before, because I didn't know how I was going to pay for it," said the 19-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia. "And now I'm three math classes away from earning my associate degree."

Palacio is pursuing a computer science degree, but is considering switching to cybersecurity. His goal is to earn his bachelor's degree, then work for a few years before returning to school to earn a master's degree.

None of which would have been possible without his middle school teacher, his cousin and SSI.

"I'm thankful for Summer Scholars," he said. "It gave me the push I needed to pursue what I wanted. I wouldn't be where I am today and who I am today without it."

Now, he is paying it forward. Palacio is a teaching assistant with Summer Scholars and sharing his story with the current cohort of students.

SSI is funded in part through a $15,000 donation from Jackson EMC Foundation.

 

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