Steps to College program could end

Grant money has run out for program that urges immigrants to continue education
By Jessica Jordan

Nearly 150 high school students celebrated their graduation from Gainesville State College’s Steps to College program that offers instruction aimed at students who speak English as a second language.

Students from Banks, Forsyth, Hall and Gainesville schools concluded 4« weeks of instruction Wednesday in which they earned half of a credit in government, science, math or writing classes to be applied toward high school graduation.
While students and teachers celebrated the program’s 10th anniversary, program coordinator Karen Peters-Barker said college leaders are seeking grant funding to secure the program’s 11th anniversary.

“It’s our last year as far as we know,” she said. “We need to find another grant to cover it.”

Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt said the Goizueta Foundation has funded an annual grant of roughly $100,000 to support the program. The foundation is funded by former Coca-Cola Chairman Robert Goizueta.

Nesbitt said she hopes the foundation will renew its three-year grant for Steps to College until Gainesville State can include the program in its own budget.

“Right now, we’re going into the new year with a 5 percent budget cut,” Nesbitt said. “We’re going to pursue every possible way (to fund Steps to College) because I think this program is very important. … I certainly want to continue it.”
Nesbitt said the program for high school students is part of the college’s community outreach mission.

The Steps to College program provides students instruction in English from teachers trained to meet the needs of students who speak Spanish, Russian or Vietnamese as their native language. This year, the program also served students who speak African or Asian languages.

The program augments the traditional school year to provide more one-on-one attention for students learning English, said Steps to College assistant teacher and Gainesville State student Stephanie Martin. Its goal is to help students learning English graduate from high school and open immigrants’ eyes to the possibility that they, too, can attend college.

Peters-Barker said about 20 Steps to College teacher assistants, many of whom were once learning English themselves and attend or graduated from Gainesville State, serve as successful role models for the program’s many Hispanic high school students.
Nesbitt said the Steps to College program grew from a University System of Georgia initiative in the late ’90s that aimed to improve the system’s services for the Hispanic community. The university system funded the program in its first few years, she said.
Tonna Harris-Bosselmann, director of Steps to College, said the program started in 1999 with about 30 students volunteering to take summer classes. She said the program has swelled each year.

Joe Marks, director of education data services for the Southern Regional Education Board, said the future of Georgia’s colleges will depend on how well they respond to Hispanic students.

According to a June report from the education board, Hispanics were 4 percent of the state’s public high school graduates in 2005, but are projected to be 24 percent in 2022.

Cendy Vera, 21, is a Gainesville State College student who recently received a scholarship from the Goizueta Foundation. She encouraged Steps to College graduates Wednesday to seize their dreams of success.

“The most important thing is not to sit down and cry because life is hard,” she told students. “The most important thing is to look for the opportunities. Here at Steps to College, you can always find someone who cares about your education and will help you find your dreams.”

Gainesville immigration attorney Arturo Corso spoke at the graduation ceremony and encouraged the group of student immigrants to be positive ambassadors to their communities.

Peters-Barker also shared her own story of immigrating from Thailand and the “Third Culture Kid” syndrome she experienced as she assimilated into American culture without completely identifying with either American or Thai society.

And students, teachers assistants and program leaders honored Harris-Bosselman for her years of dedication to the Steps to College program. Harris-Bosselmann is stepping down this year as the Steps to College director.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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