Kennesaw State Helping Children Enhance their Literacy Skills

Paul Floeckher

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Sanjuana Rodriquez, an associate professor of reading and literacy education at Kennesaw State University, sees herself in many of the schoolchildren who are participating in the Bagwell College of Education’s annual Fast Start Academy.

During the four-week summer camp, which runs through Friday, Kennesaw State students and faculty members provide tutoring and educational activities for children in grades 2-6 who are below grade level in reading. Many of the Fast Start participants’ parents did not attend college, which Rodriguez can relate to as a first-generation college graduate herself. Rodriguez sees Fast Start as an opportunity for the children not only to boost their reading skills, but also to think big about their future as they’re spending time on a college campus.

“I think this program provides the children with an opportunity to see what could be,” said Rodriguez, who teams with associate professor of reading education Megan Adams as co-directors of KSU’s Academy for Language and Literacy. “I think what’s most important about Fast Start is the impact to kids that the University is having. It’s a way for us to serve our local community while also being a great opportunity for our teacher candidates in the Bagwell College of Education.”

Adams added that “Fast Start is even more important now than ever before” as research indicates that many K-12 students suffered setbacks academically and/or socially during the COVID pandemic. Some students struggled with remote learning, including some who lacked necessary resources at home.

Fast Start grew this year to 40 participating children through Marietta City Schools partnering with the Bagwell College. Marietta City Schools identified children in its district who would benefit from the program and provided data on each student’s reading level so the tutors would have an accurate starting point for their instruction and evaluation. In addition, the school district is providing bus transportation, breakfast and lunch for every day of the camp.

“We are fortunate to have a strong, ongoing partnership with Kennesaw State University,” said Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools. “The Bagwell College of Education and programs such as Fast Start provide learning enrichment opportunities for our students that are critically important, especially as many of our children recover from the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.”

Now in its 20th year at Kennesaw State, Fast Start returned to an in-person camp this summer after being conducted in an online format last year. Helping to design the camp’s curriculum and leading lessons in a classroom setting has provided valuable experience for elementary education major Denia Carbajal as she prepares for her first in-person student teaching this fall.

“This is great practice for when I’ll be doing face-to face instruction in a school for the first time,” said Carbajal, who is tutoring rising second-graders at Fast Start. “You form relationships with these children and you really care about them.”

Along with future teachers being involved in Fast Start, sociology major Jidea Flahnma also is working with the children. Flahnma learned about Fast Start last year from her best friend, an early childhood education major, and now is taking part for the second straight year.

“It is very rewarding to see the progress the children make in such a short time,” Flahnma said. “Kids learn so fast. They have come a long way in four weeks.”