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GIPS Continues to Develop Educators with New PathBack Program Recipients

Matt Fisher, GIPS Superintendent, Dwain Duff, Michelle Fuentes, and Hank McFarland, GIPS Board President, smiling.

June 14, 2024

Grand Island Public Schools is continuing to “grow their own” and promote careers in the education field through the PathBack Program and Education Pathway.

Michelle Fuentes and Dwain Duff, GISH Class of 2024, are the 2024 recipients for the program and were honored during the GIPS Board of Education meeting on June 13, 2024. This is the seventh year of the GIPS PathBack Program, which mentors future teachers and offers them a teaching job after college. 

The PathBack program was launched at GIPS six years ago. Each year since, the district has awarded two students heading into the education field. Interested students must be graduates from the Education Pathway and submit an application. A team of district educators along with the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation review the applications and select two recipients.

Additionally, each PathBack student is connected to an education mentor within the district. Mentors are typically a teacher the student had during their time in GIPS. Mentors stay connected with the PathBack-ers throughout their collegiate careers and grant them opportunities to visit classrooms in the district when back on breaks or looking to complete observation hours towards their degrees.

Fuentes plans to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney to major in Elementary Education.

Michelle Fuentes signs Pathback agreement alongside Matt Fisher and Hank McFarland

Throughout her time at GIPS, Fuentes said she gained better critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and developed positive relationships with her teachers.

“Many teachers have been great role models that have impacted me in positive ways,” Fuentes said. “Because of these teachers' positive impacts, I developed a passion for teaching because I wanted to be that positive role model for other students as well. Seeing how teachers help students grow by just being someone who supports them and helps them is something so beautiful and rewarding that few careers get to see and enjoy.”

Duff plans to attend Central Community College and then a four-year school to earn his degree in Middle Elementary Education. 

The education pathway, Duff said, helped him unlock his true potential and made him realize he wanted to be a teacher.

“I love helping others and believe it is my passion,” Duff stated.  “I could not think of another city where I would want to start my teaching career. This is more than a job; it is my passion and goal to guide others to success.”

The opportunity to teach in the same district they attended is important to both Fuentes and Duff.

Dwain signs Pathback agreement with Matt Fisher and Hank McFarland

“If you could give back to the community you grew up in, wouldn't you take it?,” Duff questioned. “Grand Island is a fantastic town full of diversity and wonderful people. I would be honored to return and continue to impact the community positively.”

Fuentes echoed Duff’s sentiment, saying that GIPS made a positive impact in her life.

“Grand Island Public Schools allowed me to explore my interests, discover my passions, and pursue my goals,” Fuentes added. “For example, with the Academies of Grand Island Senior High, I have developed a deeper passion for teaching. They gave me an opportunity to receive college credit to get a head start in my future career. As well as an opportunity to student teach where I got to explore and experience what it's like being in a classroom beforehand.”

PathBack is just one way GIPS continues to strengthen the future generation of teachers. 

Brian Kort, GIPS Recruiting and Retention Coordinator, leads the program. Kort said the program is a benefit to the recipients not only because they will have a job waiting for them after college, but because they will also receive mentor support and professional development opportunities from GIPS.

“We want to support both PathBack recipients during their college career and help them in any way possible,” Kort said. “Michelle and Dwain already have a great foundation with their experience in the Education Pathway. We can’t wait to watch them grow even more and hopefully have them back at GIPS teaching the next generation of students.”