Jennifer Jaimes is only in her freshman year at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, but she already knows what career lies ahead of her thanks to a unique program that recruits Hall County high school seniors to become educators.
“I’ve really learned to love working with children,” Jaimes, who graduated from West Hall High last year, told a packed audience at a Hall County Board of Education meeting last week.
Jaimes is one of 12 former Hall County students of Hispanic origin now enrolled in Realizing Inspiring and Successful Educators Undergraduate Program, a partnership between UNG and Hall County Schools.
The focus on recruiting native Spanish speakers to be teachers in local schools is critical for the growth of language immersion programs and the large student body of Hispanic origin, according to Hall Superintendent Will Schofield.
“We simply cannot beg, borrow or steal enough native-speaking teachers to keep those programs expanding at the rate we’d like to,” he added.
Adrian Galvan, who has been working with students at Lyman Hall Elementary while completing his coursework through RISE UP at UNG, said having more Hispanic teachers in the classroom makes Spanish-speaking students feel more comfortable and confident.
“It’s about making a difference in someone else’s life,” he added. “It is amazing to see children’s faces light up when you speak to them.”
Jaimes, who works with students at Chicopee Woods Elementary, agreed that helping these students overcome language barriers is essential in their educational development.
“Me being bilingual, I can really connect with the children, and their parents, as well,” she added.
The RISE UP students at UNG are provided faculty mentors and supplemental materials, not to mention a path toward graduating debt-free.
UNG and Hall school officials said they hope to recruit more students into the program and expand resources to do so by seeking additional grant funding.
Jaimes said the program provides invaluable experience from day one, including the opportunity to observe teachers, understand different teaching methods, styles and classroom management, as well as how to handle discipline.
“I feel like that is extremely important,” she said. “Learning the concepts about teaching is one thing, but actually experiencing it is another.”
RISE UP also helps young university students determine whether teaching is the right career path for them.
“I’ll know what to expect,” Jaimes said. “I won’t be afraid.”
Galvan said he feels blessed by the opportunity that seemed “too good to be true.”
His tuition is paid for, he said, and he earns money as a paraprofessional with a job lined up in Hall County Schools when he graduates.
“It’s not often that a beautiful opportunity like this comes along,” Galvan said.