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Bradley Hilltopics

Spring 2010 • Volume 16, Issue 2  



Homegrown educators make a difference

ABOVE: LYDIA BRANCH ’09, the first graduate of the Peoria Grow Your Own Teachers program, teaches fifth grade at Glen Oak Primary School in Peoria.
Photo by Duane Zehr.


For SONYA NUNEZ ’11, a mother of two with a full-time job, earning a college degree seemed close to impossible. She didn’t have the time or the finances. But when the 32-year-old heard about Peoria Grow Your Own Teachers (PGYO), a grant-funded initiative that helps non-traditional students from the Peoria area become educators, Nunez’s dream became more realistic. She filled out an application for the program at the suggestion of a colleague. “When I found out I was one of the ones chosen, I just cried,” she said.

PGYO is a partnership among several community organizations that allows students to spend two years at Illinois Central College before completing their degrees in elementary education or special education at Bradley. The program pays for up to two courses per semester. Upon earning their degrees, the new teachers must work in Peoria District 150 schools for at least five years. “The biggest significance is that we are getting teachers who know and live in their community to become a part of supporting and nurturing children in their own neighborhoods and communities,” said Dr. Helja Antola Crowe, a liaison for PGYO at Bradley. “One of the challenges of our teaching force is that we have high levels of minority children, but not so many minority teachers.”

PGYO began in 2007. Its first graduate, LYDIA  BRANCH ’09, earned her degree last May at the age of 45 and is teaching fifth grade at Glen Oak Primary School. Branch’s daughter, ANGELA BRANCH ’09, though not a part of the PGYO program, earned her degree from Bradley last December and now teaches fourth grade at Glen Oak.

Lydia Branch and a co-instructor teach a class of about 30 students, many with learning disabilities. “I love working with the students and seeing the light shine in their eyes as they understand a concept that is being taught, or they get the answer correct,” Branch said. “I have found this to be the most exciting and rewarding part of teaching.”

Dr. Antonio Cantu, chairman of the Department of Education, said he is proud of the faculty members and students who have proven PGYO to be a successful program.

“This past spring, when Ms. Branch became the first PGYO student to complete the program, we had an opportunity to reflect on how far the first cohort of PGYO students have come, as well as how much the program itself has developed over the past couple of years,” Cantu said. “ … It truly is a program that has afforded an opportunity for many in our community, such as Ms. Nunez, to realize their dreams.”

Twenty-six students are enrolled in PGYO, with 19 of them in the Bradley phase of the program. DR. JANA HUNZICKER ’89 MA ’94, a liaison for PGYO at Bradley, said the program plays an important role not only in increasing diversity in District 150 schools, but also on both Bradley’s and ICC’s campuses. “It’s a win-win situation all around,” she said.

For Nunez, it’s a chance to change her life. “I have achieved a lot already just being in the PGYO,” she said. “I have gained belief, courage, strength, integrity, and the ability to realize life is what you make of it. … I have faith that one day, I will hold that degree in my hand. That day will be a gift and the beginning of a new dream.”


The Civil War — A 2010 Learning Trip


Visit, or contact Debbie Devine at (309) 677-2820.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute logoJoin the Peoria Historical Society and Bradley University’s Division of Continuing Education on an educational tour April 27–May 4 to explore some of the most significant sites of the Civil War.

Stops include the National Civil War Museum and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Antietam in Maryland, Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the U.S. Air Force Museum, both in Ohio.

Bernie Drake, former president of the Peoria Historical Society board, will guide the learning trip. Randy Saxon, a former Gettysburg guide, will enrich the historical perspective of the Civil War through his personal insights. SUE MANLEY, MA ’01, veteran traveler and program director of Continuing Education, is the host.

The trip costs $1,499 per person for double occupancy, or $1,799 for single occupancy. The cost includes charter coach, hotels, admissions, and all but two meals. Space is limited.