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Two UNG College of Education programs on successful track

University of North Georgia alumna Melissa Silva served as a paraprofessional at Hall County Schools as part of the Realizing Inspiring and Successful Educators undergraduate program. She is pictured with some of her students from 2019. On Aug. 24, Silva started her first day of school as a teacher with Hall County Schools.

University of North Georgia (UNG) alumna Jasmin Trujillo looked forward to the first day of school Aug. 24 when Hall County Schools started the 2020-21 academic year. On that day, she became a kindergarten teacher at Chicopee Woods Elementary School in Gainesville, Georgia.

It was a day of firsts for herself and her students who were going to learn through a hybrid of in-person and virtual classes. It was also a first for her family.

"I was excited because my daughter went with me and started kindergarten the same day," said Trujillo, explaining her 5-year-old was in a different class. "I was also excited to get to know the children in my class. I am their first teacher ever, and I'm building that foundation for them."

Trujillo is one of a quartet of new teachers this fall who are alumnae of UNG and its Realizing Inspiring and Successful Educators (RISE) undergraduate program and Aspiring Teachers Program (ATP). Joining her in Hall County Schools are Melissa Silva and Yadira Hernandez while Liliana Esqueda is teaching in Gainesville City Schools.

Their first day as teachers marked a major milestone, as the four women are the first RISE and ATP graduates to start their education careers. Both programs are partnerships with local school systems to provide tuition support.

"Both programs have been successful because the collaboration between UNG and the two school districts meet our mutual needs," said Dr. Lauren Johnson, assistant dean of the College of Education.

Launched in 2017, the RISE program is a collaboration between Hall County Schools and UNG's College of Education to recruit and retain heritage Spanish-speaking teachers.

"We are both benefiting by increasing the number of future teachers of color," Johnson said. "RISE has specifically increased the number of Latinx students at UNG who will become teachers, which was the impetus for starting the program. Hall County had a need that we could meet."

Based on the interest of the superintendent, UNG expanded RISE and developed the similar ATP with the Gainesville City School System, which aims to increase the ethnic diversity of its teacher workforce.

Trujillo, a 23-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia, said the RISE program offered her financial relief during school and job security upon graduation.

"I felt like it was blanket of security for me," said the May 2020 graduate. "Other students sent resumes to different places and counties. It was comforting to know I had a job."

Based on those benefits, word is spreading about the programs as they start their second and fourth years. When RISE launched in 2017, eight students were enrolled. As of fall 2020, 27 are currently enrolled. For the ATP program, four students enrolled in 2019 and now 10 will participate this fall.

"We had a waiting list last year," said Dr. Sheri Hardee, dean of the College of Education. "If we had all of the money in the world, we would accept everyone interested in the program."

Hardee explained the number of students accepted into the program is based on the budgets and the number of paraprofessional positions available in the Hall County and Gainesville City school systems. Both supply the tuition and salaries for the students’ paraprofessional positions while UNG provides students with faculty mentors, advisement, program events, funding for certification requirements, and supplies.

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