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Forsyth County students attend this UNG program for summer growth
Steps to College
Local high school students participate in the University of North Georgia’s Steps to College program Thursday, June 6 as their instructor diagrams English grammar on the board. - photo by Alexander Popp

For most students, the precious months of summer vacation are a time to relax, enjoy leisure activities and recover before a new school year rolls around.

But according to some education officials, for thousands of non-native English speakers that attend schools in Georgia, the time off between semesters can be an educational step backward, as skills go unused and important lessons are forgotten.

Over the last 20 years, a program at the University of North Georgia called Steps to College has attempted to bridge the “summer gap” by allowing non-native English-speaking high school students to continue their education into the summer and giving them the tools they need to finish high school on time.

According to program founder Harriett Allison, the director of ESL at UNG, during the month-long summer classes, high school students from Forsyth, Hall and other Georgia counties can come to their local UNG campus and improve their English while learning more about things that are integral to being an American citizen like writing, economics and civics.

“I think about the program as addressing barriers to success,” Allison said. “For students to get through college and graduate on time, they can benefit from what we offer.” 

Allison said that the program was started in the late 1990s when teachers in Hall County realized how much of a negative impact the summer months had on students who were new to English and American society.

Out of that need, she said that they created an afternoon, four-day-a-week program in June. The classes were small, transportation and food were provided and students received high school course credit.

“That is still the mission today,” she said.

Steps to College program
Dalia Alinee Rojo, center, teaches students, clockwise from her right, Pablo Carrillo Tereso, Ingrid Ramirez, Angelica Daniela Lopez, and Ana Maria Muños Patiño during a college writing class at the University of North Georgia’s Cumming Campus on Thursday, June 6. -Clark Leonard, University of North Georgia

She said that each class is taught by an ESL-certified teacher with help from teaching assistants from UNG. The program is funded by grants from groups like the Goizueta Foundation, which provides financial assistance for innovations in education.

On Thursday, June 6, teaching assistant Aaron Hubbard said that over the last two years, he has seen firsthand the positive impact the program has made on student’s lives. 

Hubbard said that even though the program is difficult, their students engage in lessons, wanting to learn more and better themselves before the next school year.

“Everything we go over, it’s constant questions,” he said. “It’s a very intense, month-long program, but all the students who are here, they are here to learn, they are extremely well-behaved and they always want to ask questions.”

One student, Ronald Lozano Moreno, a junior at North Forsyth High School, said that as someone who has only been in the United States for a year and a half, the summer class has helped his English exponentially.

“It helps me a lot,” Moreno said. “I learn more about other people from other countries, and I learn more about my classes and English.”

He said that because English is so new to him, having a teacher that speaks Spanish and knows how and why he’s struggling has been important to his success. In turn, he said that what they learn over the summer helps him during the school year. 

“When I was starting with my teacher, he helped me every time ... and that helps me when I come to school,” he said. “Because when I come to school, I learn and practice my English with American people and I get more friends.”

Another student, Eva Acevedo, a senior at North, said that for her, the credits that she can earn during the program have been helpful in catching up on her classes so she can graduate and attend college next year.

In addition to that, she said that the classes help explain ideas and concepts that might be totally foreign to a non-native student. 

“I’m in an economics class right now so I’m learning how this country works and the system,” Acevedo said. “For us, it’s really helpful, because in my country, it’s different.”