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Georgia Power Foundation Grant to UNG Boosts Teacher Prep

The Georgia Power Foundation Inc. has awarded UNG a $100,000 grant for its partnerships with the Hall County and Gainesville school systems to grow and diversify the teacher pipeline. Glennis Barnes, Gainesville area manager for Georgia Power, presented the check to Lauren Johnson, assistant dean of UNG’s College of Education; Sheri Hardee, dean of the College of Education; Steven Smith, vice president of regional campuses; and some of UNG’s College of Education students.

The University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Grow-Your-Own partnerships with Hall County Schools and Gainesville City Schools to expand and diversify the teacher pipeline have received a sizable infusion of funding to support these future educators.

The grant was funded by the Georgia Power Foundation’s Teachers for Georgia signature program — a program established to recruit and retain more male educators of color throughout Georgia.

“Georgia Power Foundation’s investment will ensure that students will have the necessary tools at their disposal to successfully complete their degree in education through the Grow-Your-Own program,” Glennis Barnes, Gainesville area manager for Georgia Power, said. “Since the launch of Teachers for Georgia in 2020, the Foundation has invested over $1 million to support programs and educational institutions working toward this cause here in North Georgia and across the state.”

The Realizing Inspiring and Successful Educators Undergraduate Program (RISE UP) launched in Fall 2017 with Hall County Schools supports heritage Spanish-speaking graduates of Hall high schools through UNG’s teacher education programs. The school district covers students’ tuition, fees, and assessment costs while UNG provides participants targeted advising and opportunities for peer support. Students serve as paraprofessionals within the school district while they are students at UNG and have a teaching job upon graduation.

Gainesville City Schools began the Aspiring Teachers Program (ATP) in fall 2019, assisting students of color to enroll in UNG’s teacher preparation programs, work as paraprofessionals, and become Gainesville teachers when they graduate.

Sheri Hardee, dean of UNG’s College of Education, said a previous Presidential Incentive Award from retired UNG President Bonita Jacobs funded additional supports for RISE and ATP students at the beginning, including academic and social activities, technology, and other supports, and the Georgia Power Foundation grant will allow those opportunities to return.

It will also cover tutoring, peer mentorship opportunities, and assistance with teacher certification exams.

“Many of our RISE and ATP students are first-generation college students. This funding will help us offer more holistic support,” Hardee said. “Social supports such as field trips help build connections among students and academic supports ensure their success.”

The UNG Foundation will also provide some funding to allow UNG to hire a part-time employee to serve as a RISE and ATP liaison with the school systems who can offer more extensive support for the future educators, particularly in helping participants navigate their roles as both paraprofessionals and college students.

Twelve RISE and ATP participants graduated in spring 2022, the most to complete UNG degree programs at one time since they were begun. In total, 25 participants have graduated from the programs.

Lauren Johnson, the College of Education assistant dean who along with Hardee has guided the programs since their inception, sees this grant funding as a great investment.

“I hope that this motivates other school districts to partner with us and other institutions to develop programs like this. These programs are mutually beneficial,” Johnson said. “This funding supports students who want to become teachers in their own communities. Their impact is way more powerful than we can say right now.”

Most of all, she is thankful for the message it sends to RISE and ATP students.

“These students are gems. They are amazing students. They are superstars,” Johnson said. “Many of them work one or more part-time jobs while in school. They deserve all the opportunities for success that are available.”

Ashley Espinoza, a graduate from Gainesville, Georgia, completed her degree in May 2023 in middle grades education with concentrations in science and social studies. Espinoza expressed gratitude that she would graduate debt-free. She also participated in UNG’s teacher residency program at West Hall Middle School for 2022-23, serving as a teacher of record and earning half the teacher salary. She will teach seventh-grade science at the school starting in the fall. Espinoza said the professional development supported by the grant is invaluable.

“We can lean on one another, learn through hands-on experience with an in-field job while in school, and have the support of the school district and our professors to ensure our success to graduation and when we enter the teacher profession,” Espinoza said.

The Georgia Power Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is the third-largest corporate giving foundation in Georgia. The Foundation provides grants to organizations that are enriching communities across the state and is part of Georgia Power’s philanthropic focus to empower Education, Environmental Stewardship and Communities. Through the Teachers for Georgia program, the Foundation has awarded 13 scholarship endowment grants to 10 colleges and universities across the state. Educational partnerships with Call Me MISTER, Profound Gentlemen and Relay Graduate School of Atlanta are also part of the portfolio.