Education initiatives build connections with the teaching community
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 30, 2018) — When Leigh Martin sees the media center of Vickery Mill Elementary School in Roswell buzzing with activity and creativity, she appreciates the impact the collaboration between the Bagwell College of Education’s iTeach unit and local teachers is having in the community.
Martin and dozens of her Bagwell College colleagues are part of iTeach, which provides consulting services and professional development training to K-12 school districts and teachers. Martin worked with Vickery Mill’s media and educational technology instructor, Mandy Bell, to implement Genius Hour, an initiative that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.
Martin had utilized Genius Hour successfully at other schools, and she shared her research and experience with Vickery Mill Elementary. Bell provided students with an online, virtual bulletin board that linked them to inspiration and resources to research and plan their projects.
“Have you ever walked into a media center when it is being used to its fullest potential? It's quite a sight,” Martin said. “Students were still reading and checking out books, but they were also researching and designing and talking. They designed public service announcements for environmental causes and social issues like bullying. They created kindness projects and made bookmarks and other kindness-themed gifts to share with younger grade levels.”
The iTeach unit is just one way the Bagwell College utilizes its expertise and resources to serve teachers and students beyond Kennesaw State’s campuses. Another is the Academy for Language and Literacy, which provides reading intervention and tutoring to local second- through sixth-graders, particularly ones from low-income households.
“The program certainly is reaching students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and at the same time, it’s giving our education majors experience working exclusively with students from low socio-economic backgrounds,” said Megan Adams, co-director of the Academy with Sanjuana Rodriguez.
Stephanee Stephens experienced first-hand the benefits of iTeach when she was an eighth-grade Spanish teacher in a neighboring county and her school district enlisted the unit’s assistance. She now oversees the 62-person iTeach team in the Bagwell College.
“It’s a supreme gift that I get 61 other people on this team who have the same passion,” Stephens said. “One of us maybe could make a little bit of change happen, but we’re greater together than we would ever be individually.”
One of Stephens’ favorite iTeach success stories is one of the first teachers she collaborated with – a young elementary school teacher in Fulton County who was willing to try different teaching methods. It paid off as that teacher, Allison Townsend, was honored this spring as the Georgia Teacher of the Year.
“Through peer partnership, her instructional strategies completely shifted, and she created new experiences for her learners,” Stephens said. “She did effectively change her practice every year and grow as an educator, and she continues to do so.”
The community outreach extends to children as well, through a weeklong summer camp for K-8 students and the unit’s newest addition, the iTeach MakerBus. The 30-foot bus is a mobile classroom and laboratory that travels to local schools, providing K-12 students access to technology and a wide range of learning opportunities in science, technology and other disciplines.
The heart and soul of iTeach, though, continues to be its coaching, consulting and professional development services for classroom teachers. The unit works with local school districts including Cobb, Fulton and Henry counties, as well as schools in other states.
“I’m convinced that this role is what I’m meant to be doing,” Stephens said. “I am able to see teachers, at varying degrees of experience in their career path, take a good, hard, honest look about their practice and ask, what am I really doing for kids, and for my profession?”
Academy for Language and Literacy
The Academy for Language and Literacy provides reading intervention and tutoring year-round, but it truly shines at a time of year when many children aren’t focused on school – the summer.
The Academy offers a summer camp, where students in grades 2-6 participate in activities from 8:30 to 3:30 each day for four weeks at the Bagwell College. The intensive, all-day camp enables the tutors to become familiar with the students and thus meet their reading needs more effectively. Many of the campers then return for additional tutoring and reading help during the school year.
During the camp, known as the Fast Start Academy, the students take part in individual and group reading as well as journal writing and hands-on learning such as a game-design activity and a green-screen video project. The curriculum is designed and conducted by undergraduate students in the Bagwell College.
“The one goal that we have for our students is for them to leave in the summer feeling like they love to read, because most of them have experiences in school with reading that are not that positive,” Rodriguez said. “They struggle with reading and they see it as really hard, so we want to provide them a fun experience and for them to leave here seeing themselves as readers.”
The Fast Start Academy began in 2001 as a community outreach project through Volunteer Kennesaw and transitioned to the Bagwell College of Education in 2016. More than 500 children have participated in the 18 years of the summer camp, according to Adams.
“My favorite part of my job is doing this work with kids and with our teacher candidates,” Rodriguez said. “The summer is when we’re most engaged, and we appreciate our College dedicating the resources for faculty to do the Fast Start Academy. We love it.”
The Fast Start Academy is supported by federal America Reads funds, which are required to be spent on college students working with schools that have a certain percentage of low-income students. Some universities have stopped accepting America Reads funding because they consider the community outreach stipulation “a burden,” Adams said, but the Bagwell College of Education embraces the opportunity.
“It’s a gift,” Adams said.
– Paul Floeckher
Photos by Lauren Kress