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Student-teachers provide relief in budget-strapped schools
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An integrated partnership between the Dawson County school system and North Georgia College and State University has offered early childhood education undergraduates a chance to learn by using hands-on methods. Their assistance provides much-needed relief to elementary school teachers dealing with reductions in support, due to statewide budget cuts.

The Professional Development Schools (PDS) partnership with NGCSU is offered in four counties, including Dawson, and is a mutually beneficial initiative that has become a timely asset to the instructional programs and students.

The partnership allows seniors who are pursuing dual degrees in early childhood and special education at NGCSU to receive field-placement experience prior to starting their student teaching. The program focuses on content areas such as science, math and social studies with an emphasis on literacy.

Megan Nason is an assistant professor in the early childhood special education department at NGCSU and a monitor of the PDS partnership. She teaches a literacy course at NGCSU that focuses on integrating literacy into content areas. She connected with Dr. Paul Baldwin, another professor at NGCSU who teaches a course in science methods. They offer seniors in their courses an opportunity to learn through a hands-on approach.

Before this partnership, I would teach undergraduates through methods like modeling and discussion, Nason explained. This is the first year we have actually placed the students in the field and taught the courses at the elementary schools.

Nason said the undergraduates are observed while working with the students by the professors, and discussions are conducted at the conclusion of each class.

It is really neat because we definitely see a huge growth with our undergraduates knowledge about how to teach science, math and social studies and how to integrate literacy components into those context areas, said Nason.

Rebecca Millholland is a senior at NGCSU and is one of the undergraduates participating in the PDS courses.

Through this partnership, we are allowed so much time in the classroom and it is really a good opportunity to learn by doing, she said. We utilize a lot of inquiry-based methods to help the kids learn by discovering things on their own, which helps them to make it their own.

Millholland added, When the kids have a choice about how to learn and discover, they show ownership in their learning.

The undergraduates compiled a list of topics, called tech sets, which elementary school students may choose from to create a project. The tech sets are designed to support teachers in the implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). Students have a choice to partner with another student, or to work individually on the topic of their choice.

Basically, we want the kids to get the experience of becoming more engaged with research, said Nason. They research to find the information they need to learn how to complete the project they choose. That is how we integrate literacy into it.

Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter said the partnership with NGCSU and its students has become a vital part of the schools and the culture.

With our reductions in staffing over the past three years, instructional support has been a big concern for our system, said Porter. These future teachers have been able to fill the instructional support gaps by leading reading groups, monitoring student work, and presenting information. They bring a high level of energy and excitement to our classrooms through taking the information they learn in their academic classes and putting it into action in our systems classrooms. And I really dont know what we would do without these students assistance.

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