Gabrielle Garcia thought about getting a master’s degree for years, but it always seemed out of reach.
The 20-year math teacher, who has been teaching statistics and other math courses at Coconino High School since she graduated from NAU, realized a few years ago, however, that it didn’t make financial sense, so she quietly set that dream aside.
Then she discovered the Arizona Teachers Academy (ATA), which offers scholarships for current Arizona teachers to go back to school, either to finish a bachelor’s degree or to earn a master’s. The dream came back into focus, and now she’s a few short weeks away from achieving it as part of the Class of 2023.
“I realized it was possible,” said Garcia, an online student in the master’s in mathematics education program. “I have continued to teach full-time while earning my degree.”
Her excitement at being able to go to graduate school didn’t make the process any easier, of course. Teaching is already a more than full-time job, and she has four children who regularly needed rides, support, homework help and more. She had to balance all of it, which she accomplished through a lot of late nights and the support of her husband, Jacob.
Shannon Guerrero, professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, has been both an advisor and a professor for Garcia. She also has seen how effective Garcia is in her own classroom; Guerrero’s daughter has been a student of Garcia’s at CHS.
“Gaby truly cares about her students and their success both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “I enjoy working with teachers who love teaching and helping their students learn and grow in their own mathematical skills and identity, and that’s who Gaby is. She works hard to not just complete assignments, but to make connections to her practice, her students and her classroom. She’s the embodiment of a lifelong learner.”
For Garcia and thousands of other Arizona teachers, the ATA provided opportunities they would never have gotten without it. The program is aimed at addressing the teacher shortage in the state; it offers tuition-free education for teachers who are already working in education in Arizona and commits them to continue teaching in the state for a number of years after graduating. The teachers are able to stay in their schools, doing the necessary student-teaching in their own classrooms, and do all of their coursework online.
Since 2019, more than 4,000 students have enrolled in NAU’s ATA spread throughout the state; the most recent class included cohorts in Yavapai, Estrella Mountain and Yuma, with more than 200 online students as well. For the last three years, more than 300 students have graduated from the program, up from the first graduating class of 26 in the 2018019 academic year. About a third of the most recent graduating class identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
ATA also allows students to put what they’re learning directly to use. Garcia took the pedagogy and assessment practices she learned about in her graduate classes and applied them in her own classroom. Her students are directly benefiting from her master’s program.
“The content courses have challenged my current knowledge of mathematics and helped me grow in my expertise,” she said. “Additionally, after I graduate, I’ll be able to teach dual enrollment courses at Coconino, which afford high school students the opportunity to earn college credit while remaining on their high school campus.”
That is a game-changer for her students, who are that much more prepared for college before they finish high school.
“Dual enrollment is becoming an attractive option for students looking to complete their high school requirements while also earning college credits,” Guerrero said. “It promotes equitable access to college-level courses, gives students a chance to start making progress toward a post-secondary degree and increases the likelihood that they’ll actually enroll in college. Plus, Gaby loves statistics and teaching statistics, so it’s a win-win.”
Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
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