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May 2018: International experience opens doors for special education major

In second grade, Francesca Alonso’s teacher paired students in her class with special education students for a project. That experience proved life-changing for her.

“I became really close with a boy who had Downs Syndrome. Sam and I worked really hard to paint a pumpkin, and we won first place,” said the special education major. “I ended up working with Sam from the time I was in second grade to fifth grade, and he changed my life. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a special education teacher.”

Knowing her career goals, she set out to find the perfect college to help get her there. Georgia College’s award-winning education programs were the answer.

“I love Georgia College and actually came here for the education programs. The faculty in the program are just amazing, and our cohort leader has been awesome at helping us through the program and answering any questions we have.”

During her time at Georgia College, she volunteered, worked in her professional organization, the Council for Exceptional Children, and completed her yearlong student teaching stint at Gray Elementary in Jones County. She even took her educational experience to the next by studying abroad in Tanzania during the summer of 2017.

“That was the best trip of my life. We worked with kids with developmental disabilities and visited several centers and schools,” said Alonso.

“The most impactful was a school for children with cerebral palsy. I took a lot from that,” she said. “Parents got to go to the center too, so they could learn how to help their child. It was interesting to see how they worked with each student’s abilities instead of their disabilities.”

Research from that trip also opened doors for her to present at a conference in Cape Town, South Africa, this summer. She and Dr. Nicole DeClouette, associate professor of special education, will present their research at the DISES (Division of International  Special Education Services) International Conference in July. DISES, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, promotes knowledge, exchange, collaboration, human rights and advocacy to those who provide services for individuals with disabilities, according to their website.

From Cape Town in July to Forsyth County, Georgia, in August, Alonso looks forward to settling into her own classroom at Midway Elementary. She will also start her master’s program this summer.

“I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. I came to Georgia College for the education program. I had heard great things about it, and they were all true,” she said.

“I feel like I came to college as one person, and I’ve definitely changed and grown into another, better person while I’ve been here.”


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