In the second grade, Elle Saunders' teacher made a big impression. And it was her first year teaching.
Saunders may not have known, as an 8-year-old, that this first-year teacher would influence her career a decade later. But today, as Saunders prepares to graduate from the University of Georgia College of Education with a degree in early childhood education, she is thankful for the memory of that inspirational teacher.
"From that moment on, I loved school," said Saunders, who was named a Presidential Scholar for the fall 2014 semester after receiving a 4.0 GPA. As soon as she came to UGA, she said, she has been focused on being a teacher.
"Now it's my passion. My calling. Every day, I can't imagine myself doing anything else," she said. "I've loved every second of it."
Originally from Peachtree City, Saunders isn't set on moving back home to work after she graduates in May. Given the timing of open teacher positions and graduation, she's still not sure where she'll be.
The one thing that's sure, though, is that she wants to work with elementary- age children. "There is a very clear path I'm taking right now," she added.
That passion is evident in her activities outside of college classes — all of which revolve around local elementary schools.
Not long after arriving on campus, Saunders began volunteering at the Boys & Girls Clubs. She also volunteered with the Clarke County Mentor Program and spent a year getting to know a fourth-grade girl. In her time at the College of Education, she has worked at two after-school programs and her classes brought her to a diverse list of schools in the area.
All of which, Saunders says, adds up to a well-rounded teaching experience.
"I've been to Barrow, Chase, JJ Harris, had classes at Alps and Fowler," said Saunders, listing several of the Athens-area elementary schools. "They're all so different, but I think that's great to see so many different options."
Preparing to graduate is bittersweet. But she also says she feels prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. And that makes the next step so much more exciting.
"I'm finally getting to do what I've practiced, and I really do seem ready,"she said. "The professors know who we are and they make the program meaningful. I feel so lucky to have found this program."