The class of 2006 will include Dalton State College’s first graduates of the Division of Education.

About 54 students are expected to earn their bachelor of early childhood education degree this year. Almost 50 students in the college’s other bachelor’s degree programs in business and social work are also expected to graduate.

“We’re excited about it. We see this program as an opportunity to fill a regional need,” said Mary Edwards, director of the division of education. “About 70 percent of these graduates have signed contracts and already have jobs. The program has and will explode. It’s already doubled in one year.”

These elementary education students come from all across North Georgia, Edwards said. Catoosa, Walker, Gordon, and Dade counties join Whitfield, Murray and others represented in the class.

Jessica Brinkley, 24, of Ringgold, started her post-secondary career in Shorter College’s music education program but Dalton State’s more affordable education program drew her back closer to home.

“I’ve always loved kids and wanted to be in education. When I saw Dalton State took over West Georgia’s program in Dalton, I made a change,” Brinkley said. “It’s a really good program. The amount of time we’ve spent in the classroom has been beneficial.”

Brinkley said DSC education students spend two full days a week in area primary schools starting in their junior years, gaining experience on at least two grade levels. She’s been student teaching third-graders at Whitfield County’s Westside Elementary School.

“It’s an excellent school. I was surprised at how different it is to be there all day, every day,” she said. “There are a lot of meetings and duties before and after school, but the interaction and bonding with students and their parents is really nice.”

Brinkley has already contacted to teach fourth grade at Whitfield County’s new Beaverdale Elementary in the fall.

Jason Hall, 24, of Rocky Face, said one of the benefits of the DSC program is that those graduates are certified to teach English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) classes.

Dalton State education students are certified to teach kindergarten through fifth grade initially, he said, but they may also take classes and qualify for grades K-8 after taking the Praxis II certification test for teachers.

“Being our school’s first class, it’s put more pressure on us, in a sense, because NCATE (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) has kept a closer eye on our teachers,” Hall said. “It was not the easiest degree in the world to earn; it was a lot of hard work, but it’s doable. It enjoyed it, and I think it will pay off in the area.”

Hall has been student-teaching second grade under Barbara Hohol at Antioch Elementary School. He said he’s interviewed at that same school for a new second-grade classroom that has opened because of enrollment growth.

Hall said he first thought about teaching after coaching a baseball team of 7- and 8-year-olds, and through assisting his sister, Rhonda Hall, when she needed advice in high school and now nursing school.

“It seemed like I had a knack for teaching people; it seemed right for me,” he said. “Some people are just made to teach, and my master teacher has reaffirmed my thoughts.”

Alice Oliver, 21, started at Dalton State after graduating from Southeast High in 2002. She said the team approach to teaching at Dalton State benefited her.

“We were assigned to different sections of four students, and you’re with those four people all the time,” Oliver said. “I feel they did a good job placing us so that we’ll be ready when we get out in the workplace.”

Oliver said student teaching taught her how to better relate to children with learning disabilities.

“At first, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! How am I going to deal with this? But I learned how to teach to each individual personality in the classroom,” she said. “I was blessed to have Jennifer Jobe as my supervising teacher (at Dalton’s Brookwood School). She gave me a lot of wonderful advice that I can use in the classroom.”

Oliver’s dad, Chuck, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Education, recently recused himself as the other board members unanimously voted to hire Alice as a first-grade teacher at Antioch.

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