FORT MYERS — Randee McDonald, who graduated Dec. 13 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Florida Gulf Coast University, believes at-risk students should be given a chance to succeed, and she intends to help make it happen.
“I want to help the next generation,” said McDonald, 23. “I’m really interested in working with these kids; they could end up in jail or in trouble later on.”
McDonald majored in special education and received her certification in K-12 exceptional student education and K-5 elementary education. She said she was inspired by an education professor who shared his experiences working with at-risk students. He motivated her to intern at Fort Myers High School, where she worked with at-risk students for 13 weeks.
“I liked being challenged by the behavior issues,” McDonald said. “It pushed me to figure out different solutions to problems that would come up.”
At-risk students often require help to succeed academically so they can transition into adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency, according to a report provided to the Department of Health and Human Services in 2011.
Students succeed more through academically intensive, interactive programs in smaller class sizes, McDonald said.
“It has a lot to do with making lessons more interactive,” she said. “If they are more engaged, they retain the information better because they had fun learning it.”
During McDonald’s internship, student scores increased from 69 to 96 percent in a life skills program that focused on money.
“The most satisfying thing was getting to see my students improve throughout the semester,” she said.
McDonald has not finished her education yet. She is working on a second Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts, which she should complete by December 2015.
“I’ve always liked art and found it is a way to express your emotions,” she said. “I think I can bring in the art factor while working with at-risk students. It’s another way for them to express their feelings; they can draw, paint and sculpt instead of expressing behaviors.”
McDonald is inspired by her mother, Sarah McDonald, who pushes her to succeed. A few dedicated professors also made sure she didn’t give up.
“I want to be that teacher for future students,” she said.
McDonald has some simple advice for students: Find a field you enjoy and make sure your heart is in it. She said graduating college makes her feel accomplished.
“My ultimate goal is to work for the Tribe with at-risk students that other teachers have given up on,” McDonald said. “I want to get back to my roots; I grew up in the culture, and I want to contribute to the Tribe.”