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Here's how a $1.4 million grant UNG received will help Gainesville City Schools
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University of North Georgia students walk at the entrance of the Martha T. Nesbitt Academic Building at the Gainesville campus. - photo by Scott Rogers

A $1.4 million grant could help send first-generation Gainesville students to college over the next five years. 

The University of North Georgia has partnered with Gainesville City Schools in launching a program, called Talent Search, aimed at increasing the number of disadvantaged students who enroll in college and earn a degree.

UNG, which received the grant from the U.S. Department of Education, will oversee the program, hire a director and place two advisors within the school district, with plans to enlist 500 students each year over the next five years, split between the district’s middle school and high school. The funds will also pay for tutoring, campus tours and academic advising, among other assistance. 

“The goal is to get a greater number of first-generation students from disadvantaged backgrounds to finish high school and complete a post-secondary education," said Sandy Ott, executive director of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus and the grant's principal investigator. 

In the Gainesville City School System, more than two-thirds of its 8,000 students qualify for free or reduced lunch — the metric used to determine a district’s poverty rate — and nearly one-third are classified as English-language learners, the highest proportion of any school system in the state. Additionally, approximately 60% of students are Hispanic. 

The program not only guides students in pursuing a college degree, said Latrice Richardson, director of access and pre-college programs at UNG. “It also honors the experience of those students.” 

“These kids come to us with their own cultural capital and things that are important to them,” Richardson said. “And so we want to show them how to show up in the world by bringing the very best of themselves, and so there's opportunity when we can show them that you do have a place in not only an academic setting, but in any setting.” 

And the program isn’t only aimed at UNG and other local colleges. 

“Yes, we do support and want students to come here to UNG  for Talent Search,” Richardson said. “We also want them to know that if you have aspirations beyond your local four-year school, two-year school, we want to be the vessel to help you get to Georgia State or to LSU or out to California — wherever you want to go.”

UNG and Gainesville City Schools have a strong relationship, officials said. The school system partnered with UNG in September, for instance, to train its middle school and high school teachers in English-language learning, which officials have described as an valuable opportunity in a district with so many students who are non-native speakers. 

“Our partnership with UNG continues to grow and the Talent Search program will pave the way for our students as they pursue a college degree,” said Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams. “We look forward to helping our first-generation college students take that next step.”