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Hall schools now growing our own bilingual teachers
District, UNG partnership seeks to increase Spanish-speaking instructors
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Carlos Santos, who graduated from West Hall High School in May hopes to become a high school Spanish teacher after graduation from the University of North Georgia through a new initiative with Hall County Schools.

With an increasing need for bilingual teachers and a limited field of candidates, Hall County School officials are taking a new approach to recruitment — raising up their own bilingual educators..

About a dozen Hispanic students who graduated in May from West High and Johnson high schools will make up the initial class of students in an initiative designed to supply the district with a “pipeline” of bilingual teachers for the district.

The effort is a partnership between Hall County Schools and the University of North Georgia. Beginning this fall, the freshmen will take classes for half the day at UNG’s Gainesville campus, then spend the rest of the day getting paid experience working with students in Hall County.

“For a number of years, we have had trouble recruiting bilingual educators,” said Brad Brown, executive director of human resources for Hall County Schools. “We reached out to the schools to see who is interested in becoming a teacher and what are the barriers that you face. One of the barriers was finances.”

Bilingual teachers are important as the district seeks to reach Superintendent Will Schofield’s “stretch goal” of 30 percent of graduates having a bilingual seal on their diplomas by 2020. Brown and Schofield said the seal would indicate students are proficient in two languages.

“We hope this becomes a viable pipeline of kind of grow your own, where we can actually identify some of our really outstanding high school students who have an interest in the field of education,” Schofield said.

School officials have allotted six paraprofessional or Title 1 positions in the proposed 2018 budget to provide about $8,000 in salary for each student to work in elementary schools during the school year while also beginning their education. Brown said the students will work primarily with elementary schoolers on math and literacy skills. Two students will share each of the six positions, with one student working in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

“We know these kids; they came through our system. They’re quality kids, they’re quality people,” Brown said. “Plus, we’re growing our own. Hopefully after four years, or ever how long it winds up being for these students, they will want to stay in Hall County.”

For West Hall graduate Carlos Santos the program was the difference between following his dream of being a high school teacher and setting aside college for a while.

“”It is actually one of the greatest opportunities that has ever showed up in my life,” Santos said. “I did apply (at UNG), however, due to costs I was kind of just forced to cancel my application and start college later on. After I heard about the program, though, I decided to continue my application at UNG.”

Santos said he hopes to become a high school Spanish teacher and is looking forward to eventually becoming a Hall County teacher.

“I want to help other students be bilingual so they can have more opportunities like the ones I’ve gotten,” he said.

Jennifer Jaimes, another West Hall graduate, said she wants to teach elementary students when she finishes the UNG program.

“There’s a high population of Hispanics (in Hall County),” Jaimes said. “They come into this new country and it’s really hard when the teachers can’t relate with them and their culture. Students become afraid and they want a teacher who can relate with them and help them through the process of coming here.

“They just want a good role model to begin with because this is the time when they are beginning to learn new things and I just want to be that kind of teacher. I had teachers who were role models and I want to be that role model to others students as well, I want to shape them into great people for the future.”

The students are not required to teach in Hall County once they graduate from UNG.

“We believe the investment that we’re making now is going to pay big dividends in the future,” Brown said. “That’s a risk that we think is worth taking. I’m excited.”

Sherri Hardee, associate dean of the UNG College of Education, said the idea originally started in a conversation with Schofield, a member of the college’s advisory council. Hardee and Lauren Johnson, a UNG assistant professor in the college of education, are leading the program for the university.

“For us here in the faculty at UNG, it is a passion to ensure that students have educators who look like them and students can see themselves in their teachers and see their cultural backgrounds reflected in education,” she said. “If you look at the demographics of teacher education, sources vary anywhere between 80-90 percent (of teachers) are white females.

I think it’s a great idea.”

In addition to their parapro jobs with the district and core classes at UNG, the students will also take a introduction to education course as a group.

“Students don’t usually take that course their first semester, but we thought it was important to have a time for this group to get together on a regular basis and talk about some of things they are seeing as a parapro,” she said. “They can take some of those educational theories and put them into practice.

“We’re also setting up a mentoring program for these students,” Hardee added. “They will be assigned a faculty member for their four years while they’re here. They’ll have regular events where they come together as a group with their faculty mentors, but they will also meet with them separately. This is their first foray into college, so we want to be sure we don’t lose students along the way.”

In addition to providing two faculty members for the small program, UNG is also committed to covering the $300 cost per student for teacher certification portfolios the students will need to pass before they can be certified to teach in Georgia.

Hardee said the program also has potential for the university.

“A couple of the West Hall students had applied to UNG, but none of the Johnson students had,” she said. “Some of them hadn’t even applied to college because they didn’t necessarily think that it was option. In that way, it’s been a really good thing.”

Hardee said the program has the potential for growth.

“I think we can have more students next year,” she said. “I would love for it to grow with Hall County and other districts.”

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