Healthy Davie Preschool Project Changing the Lives of 18 Davie County Children

Pre-k Leanring

by Jeanna White

“What letter is this, and do you know what sound  it makes?” the teacher asked as she pulled a lettered popsicle stick from the jar.  One preschooler answered, “That’s “M” for Munching Mike,“ while five others quickly made a “MMMMMM” sound.

“Letter Zoom” is just one of the many ways Pinebrook preschool teacher, Katie Wagstaff, is preparing her class of eighteen four and five-year olds for kindergarten next year.

Studies indicate that the environmental factors that put children at risk and keep them from being successful students can be minimized if quality preschool opportunities are obtained and interventions are made at an early age.  But these eighteen preschoolers would not be receiving the benefits of preschool were it not for a joint grant from the Mebane Foundation, Davie Community Foundation, and the County of Davie.

Last fall, each of these three funders awarded $35,167, one-third of the project cost, to support the Healthy Davie  Preschool Project. The Project paid to create and staff one new preschool class at Pinebrook Elementary School where there was an available classroom. This allowed eighteen at-risk four-year olds to be taken off the Davie County Social Services waiting list for childcare/preschool scholarships and placed in the new classroom organized under the Davie County Schools Preschool Program. At-risk status was based on income, chronic health concerns, special educational needs, or a military status that requires the family to move frequently.

The Healthy Davie Preschool Project is part of the Healthy Davie Initiative launched by the foundations in December 2014 to encourage collaboration and cooperation among Davie County non-profits and agencies in addressing education, health and poverty.

Larry Colbourne, President of Mebane Foundation said, “The fact that three local funders came together to make attending a NC Pre-K program a reality for 18 local children and their families is a powerful statement. It’s a testament to how this community values equal access for all to a strong early childhood development program.”

Recognizing that a quality preschool program can play such a significant role in a child’s development, the foundations looked to Davie County Schools, and its proven track record through the NC Pre-K Program, to provide a program that would help the children reach their full potential.

Davie County Schools reported that 95% of the children attending the Davie County Schools Preschool Program tested as ready for kindergarten based upon Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL) screening scores while 63% of children from other programs tested ready for kindergarten. Of the 30% of 2015-2016 rising kindergarten students identified by the DIAL screening tool as having potential delays or at-risk factors, 46% had had no previous preschool experience.

The DIAL assessment tests a child’s motor skills (skipping, jumping, cutting, writing), conceptual skills (knowledge of colors, counting), and language skills (knowledge of letters and words, ability to solve problems). In addition, the Parent and Teacher Questionnaires measure a child’s self-help skills (dressing, feeding, bathing) and social-emotional skills (getting along with others, staying on task). The skills measured by the DIAL are proven to help predict a child’s success in the classroom.

The DIAL screening test can help parents and teachers decide if a child’s skills are appropriate for his/her age or if further testing or interventions are needed. This information can help with planning the child’s education and, if necessary, can help parents and teachers address any needs the child may have at home or in school.

Wagstaff, a veteran preschool teacher with six years experience in a More at Four program followed by six years in a Pre-K inclusion class for children with developmental delays, is well-prepared to recognize her students’ strengths as well meet their needs. She is assisted by Alisa Allen who has worked in early childhood education for 24 years. This is her 10th year working in the Davie County Preschool Program where she has worked in classrooms with 2’s, 3’s and 4-year olds.

For those having difficulties, Wagstaff  incorporates many of the same strategies she learned in the inclusion class such as lots of repetition, modeling, reminders, and working one on one to accomplish small goals. She tries to provide a balance of structure and love in her classroom and has been pleased with the students’ progress so far.

“These eighteen children are getting something they really need this year to be successful in kindergarten next year,” she said. “We try to work with every child on an individual basis to meet their needs the best we can. Some of the children would have had difficulty functioning behaviorally and academically next year, but I’ve seen a lot of improvement and growth.”

The success of the students will be tracked through third grade and evidence gathered to evaluate the success of the program. So far, parents have been thrilled with their children’s progress.

“My son has learned so much,” said one mother. “He comes home every day and talks about Letterland characters and measurements and how he has made so many friends. He loves his teachers and his classmates and hates missing school when he is sick.”

“He has always been a tenderhearted, emotional child, but he has gained a backbone and has learned to interact with other children. I wasn’t sure how he would like school since he had always been home with me, but he has absolutely loved it,” she added.

The students are not the only ones learning through the Healthy Davie Preschool Program.

Wagstaff offers monthly parent/child activities to teach parents what is expected in kindergarten and has been pleased with almost 100% participation. Past activities have included decorating pumpkins, making pumpkin bracelets, cutting out pumpkins, and making gingerbread houses and gingerbread men and then telling the story of the gingerbread man. Each activity teaches a skill like cutting, sorting, and sequencing.

“A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher. These activities show the parents how their child is progressing and what they can do to help them at home,” she said.

Parents have also attended workshops focused on nutrition, child development, financial management, healthy living, and career planning. This parent education portion of the program has been supported by community partners Just Hope Inc., Davie County Department of Social Services, NC Cooperative Extension Services, Smart Start of Davie, and others.

Colbourne summed it up with “When we can make strides to improve every child’s chance to be kindergarten-ready we’re also increasing their chances of success not only in the later grades, but in life. Now that’s powerful!”

Read to Achieve Creates Engaged Students with Newfound Confidence

05by Jeanna White

Only their huge smiles betray their excitement as 120 students wearing matching red camp t-shirts and Indian headbands enter the gym in quiet, single-file lines. It’s time to celebrate all that they have accomplished during Davie County’s Read to Achieve 2016 summer camp.

The camp is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. This year’s camp also included first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer, as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction.

As in the past two years, this year’s camp was a tremendous success. More than 27% of the county’s non-proficient third-graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade. Additional students are expected to pass the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp. A remarkable 76% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. All will continue on to fourth grade with more skills and as more confident readers.

The third graders were not the only campers to blossom. While assessments for first and second graders were limited to a social maturity inventory, a skill development checklist, and progress checks in HillRap sessions, over 65% of the youngest campers demonstrated strong growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations.

“While a 27% success rate may not seem extraordinary to people not close to education, and more specifically the Read to Achieve program, that rate is far better than those being reported by the majority of school systems in North Carolina,” said Larry Colbourne, President, Mebane Charitable Foundation, which provided a grant of $90,000 to support the 2016 summer camp. Since 2014, the Foundation has invested more than $235,000 in partnering with Davie County Schools to fund the intensive four-week camp.

“Without the consistent support of the Mebane Charitable Foundation, the reality of the DCS Read to Achieve Camp, a “launch pad” for students with potential, would be only an idea and fall short of the impactful program that it has become,” said Noel Grady-Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum and Leadership Development for Davie County Schools. “State funding is not sufficient to produce the model program that we have developed or to support the highly-effective teachers that are employed in Davie County Schools RtA camp.”

She attributes the success of the program to the implementation of both Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) sessions and A+ Schools Instruction during the summer program and subsequent school year which creates a consistent foundation for student achievement. A student teacher ratio of 8/1, working in small groups based on individual needs,  was also extremely beneficial to the struggling readers.

The ongoing goal is to bring these successful, research-based teaching strategies to all six elementary schools during the school year. The teachers who train and practice these approaches during the summer are spread out in schools across the county.

Davie County’s innovative Read to Achieve Camp employs a holistic approach to reading. Attendees actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

“I didn’t use to like to read. I just pretended that I got the words. Now we make things.. Like stories, plays, songs, and drawings that help me understand. So I get it now … for real,” said Ethan, a third grade camper.

A Recipe for Success
Each camper experienced 128 hours of instruction with over 28 hours spent in individualized learning sessions with three to four students in the group.

Students also had computer lab time to work with a new program called myOn, which offers a high-interest reading experience tailored to a student’s level and individual needs. The program allowed them to build vocabulary and score points for the number of books that they read at camp, on a digital device at home, or on a computer at the public library.  Campers read a total of 1,451 books over the course of the camp and into the month of August at home.

Each grade level benefited from a new partnership with the Davie County Public Library through which they enjoyed a weekly story time with Julie Whitaker from the library staff.

Students thrived on outdoor time during their activity/lunch time with their YMCA counselors, who serve as Davie County Schools teachers assistants during the school year.

Informal performances and “sharings” were held routinely throughout the entire camp experience. Students often begged to be able to perform for their peers which was another indication of their growing self-confidence as these performances often involved memorizing lines, playing musical instruments, or presenting a dance that they had choreographed with a small group. These ranked among the highlights of the camp experience.

The camp closed with a large all-camp celebration of the themes of Native American culture which recognized each camper as a valued member of the tribe.  Students sang, played musical instruments, performed traditional ceremonial dances, and shared their art exhibits. This was not a traditional performance, but what A+ Schools refers to as an “informance” that is held without the pressure of adults and families watching, but is solely for students to share their creations with each other.

It was an opportunity to celebrate four weeks of successes. For many, it was their first time to shine in an educational setting.

The final result? 120 excited, engaged students with newfound confidence who are ready to tackle a new school year.

Camp Pathfinder — Turning Struggling Readers into Enthusiastic Learners


by Jeanna White

The room is quiet. Heads bowed, faces scrunched in concentration, eight students are busily working — some are reading, some are writing, some are spelling, but all are learning through Camp Pathfinder.

Hosted by the Triad Academy at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC, Camp Pathfinder was created to serve rising first through fifth grade students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties. Each student receives one-on-one instruction from teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach which is famed for its ability to help dyslexics and other struggling readers.

In addition to the hour a day of individualized reading and literacy instruction, attendees of the 5-week program participate in study hall and a STEAM activity. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) based activities include nature investigations, pop bottle rocketry, and robotics.

According to Sam Merrick, Camp Pathfinder’s director and a teacher at Triad Academy, the program uses a “whole child” perspective to address learning by providing much more than remediation.

01“Offering a variety of activities allows kids to exercise their talents. We want to give them the opportunity to practice anything that they take pride in,” he said. ”These fun activities are like the sugar coating to the educational process.”

Merrick tells parents that the camp is like an inoculation. “You can’t cure dyslexia in five weeks, but this camp provides a start.”

More than sixty percent of the campers also stay for the camp’s afternoon session, which is designed to build self-confidence through field trips, outdoor discovery, arts and crafts, fun games, and sports.

Emery, a rising third-grader at Poplar Spring Elementary, loves the weekly trips to places like the pool and trampoline park, but she also loves going to tutoring and doing her work during study hall.

“I’m learning to sound out the hard words,” she said, a huge grin on her face. “I know I’m going to be able to read harder books when I go back to school.”

Unfortunately, highly successful, individualized training like this is extremely expensive and not widely available.

03Carrie Malloy, director of Triad Academy, said the school has to regularly turn down families who could benefit from Triad’s program but cannot afford the school’s annual tuition.

Transformative Impact
Camp Pathfinder was established last summer, through a $50,000 grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation, to help reach some of these families, train public school teachers in Orton-Gillingham so that more students can benefit from its life-changing approach, and to create a model that will have a transformative impact on how other organizations and educational institutions teach children with language-based learning differences.

Through the grant, ten area public school teachers received 70 hours of intensive Orton-Gillingham training free of charge in exchange for working with the 20 public school students enrolled in the camp. Teaching at the camp provided the teachers with the opportunity to practice their new skills under the supervision of the Academy’s Orton-Gillingham certified teachers before returning to their own schools and students.

The teachers were surveyed about their experience at the end of the summer, and one Forsyth County teacher wrote, “This experience has taught me so much. The information I learned is invaluable. I can’t wait to start back to school and use it to help my precious, struggling students. I am forever grateful.”

05Substantial Improvement Achieved
Every camper received a pre- and post- camp Gallistel-Ellis Test of Coding Skills assessment which measures whether the student can give the sounds for the various letters and clusters of letters and how well the student can recognize and spell words made up of these sounds. At the conclusion of camp, parents were supplied with testing results, a tutor summary, and a list of recommendations. In just five weeks, campers saw an average of a 15% improvement in reading and 34% improvement in spelling.

David, a rising third-grader at the Downtown School and repeat camper, represents one of Camp Pathfinder’s many success stories.

“When I first went to camp, I was very nervous. I didn’t know anyone and I had no idea how camp worked,” he said. “Once I got to know everybody, I started liking camp and it helped me a lot.”

“I have dyslexia. I was one of the lowest readers in my class and could only read easy chapter books. Now I can read humongous chapter books like Harry Potter” David added, a proud smile on his face. “If you have dyslexia, this is the perfect camp for you.”

On an end of camp survey, one appreciative parent commented, “We received [Camper’s] test scores & camp narrative. Wow! We were so impressed with the work he, the teachers, & you accomplished through this camp! Thanks again for an awesome camp experience this year!”

Due to the positive test results as well as the enthusiastic response from both students and teachers, the Mebane Foundation approved an additional $50,000 grant this year, which, combined with other funding, helped to expand the camp to serve 50 students and to train an additional ten public school teachers.

Thanks to “word of mouth” recommendations from last year’s teachers, ads, and contacts with area schools, both the student and teacher slots were filled and a waiting list formed.

Of this year’s 50 campers, 45 are public school students from Davie, Davidson, Forsyth, Stokes, and Yadkinville Counties. About one third are returning for their second year.

The 25 tutors needed to provide the camp’s one-on-one instruction come from Davie, Forsyth, Guilford and Stokes Counties as well Thomasville City Schools, and include reading specialists, EC teachers, and elementary school teachers. Ten of the public school teachers are newly trained in Orton-Gillingham and three have returned to camp because they believe in what is being accomplished and to further hone their skills.

Despite their different backgrounds, these teachers have one thing in common– a passion for their students.

“It’s hard to give up your summer, but with what this training is equipping me to do for my kids, it’s worth it,” said Lori Jensen, a teacher at Meadowlark Elementary who is tutoring at the camp for the second year. She used the training in her classroom last year and saw her students improve academically and gain confidence. This fall she will apply these skills to her new position with NC Virtual Schools.

Renee Bowman, the reading specialist from Poplar Springs Elementary in Stokes County, learned about the program from the parent of one of her students who would be attending. On the first day, she texted her principal and told him that everyone needed the training. She hopes that more teachers from Stokes County will be able to participate in the program next year.

“This is all about meeting kids right where they are,” Bowman said.

Davie County Read to Achieve Camp – Inspiring Success & Making Reading Fun!

by Jeanna B. White

They move in unison. Sixty little bodies stretch and bend with the music.

This “morning stretch” helps prepare the attendees of Davie County’s Read to Achieve camp for a day of learning, fun, and success.

Davie County’s Read to Achieve Camp employs a holistic approach to reading. Attendees actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

“Listening has a great deal to do with reading comprehension, and rhythm has a great deal to do with reading fluency,” said Noel Grady-Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum and Leadership Development for Davie County Schools. “We believe we need to challenge the students with a variety of modalities to enhance each child’s unique way of learning and provide a rich variety of opportunities for reaching mastery.”

The results have been inspiring. During the summer of 2015, more than 30% of the county’s non-proficient students reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade.  Other campers received extra assistance during the school year with an additional 15% of those students passing the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp. All of the students  achieved significant growth in confidence, engagement, and stamina in approaching new learning experiences.

“While a 45% success rate for the camp may not seem extraordinary to people not close to education, and more specifically the Read to Achieve program, that rate is far better than those being reported by the majority of school systems in North Carolina,” said Larry Colbourne, President, Mebane Charitable Foundation, which provided $90,000 to support the camp.

120 Davie County Students “Read to Achieve”
There are 120 students from across the county enrolled in this summer’s intensive four-week camp. Sixty-three are third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The rest are first and second graders, as mandated this year by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, who have not yet mastered the proficient level of reading. The first and second graders participating in the camp were identified as close to proficiency, but in need of summer support to prevent losing ground.

“Most of these students have a low perception of themselves as learners,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director and a 6th grade teacher at North Davie Middle School. “Many of these kids have already taken and haven’t proven proficient on two EOG’s and the Read to Achieve test. We try to not even say the word test because it causes stress and and has negative connotations. We take them through a variety of reading activities in a fun environment.”

“The structure of the camp creates a lot of excitement. Students aren’t used to singing, dancing, and rapping during a regular school day.”

The camp day begins at 8:00 a.m. with a short combined session focused on goal setting for the day. Students are divided into small groups with an average ratio of fourteen students per teacher except when students are in Hill RAP sessions at the four to one ratio. The student’s day is divided between Hill Rap sessions, writing to learn sessions, art and reading sessions, testing stamina sessions, music/theatre and verbal expression sessions, and diagnostic reading clinic sessions. Each session lasts approximately forty-five minutes. Each day ends at 2:45 p.m.

At the end of the fourth week, students will be allowed to retake the RtA Reading test, which is a form of the EOG. A celebration of learning follows the third grade testing. This camp-wide traditional Native American Powwow is a final opportunity for campers to share their new confidence as readers and their understanding of social studies themes of culture, family, and self.

Campers are also benefiting from myOn, a computer-based learning system, which the state is offering free of charge this summer as part of a pilot program.

Raymonda Shelton, the camp’s curriculum coordinator and the Instructional Coach at William R. Davie Elementary School, has collaborated with the RtA teachers to use the collection of leveled readers to create units that go along with what is being studied in the classroom, allowing students to build background knowledge to take back their literacy circles.

Hill RAP Plus A+ Schools Plus Passionate Teachers = 16 Days of Success!
Grady-Smith further attributes the success of the program to the implementation of both Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) sessions and A+ Schools Instruction during the summer program and subsequent school year which creates a consistent foundation for student achievement.

Through Hill RAP, eight specially trained teachers guide groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction where it is needed most.

A+ Schools combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know. In A+ Schools, teaching the state’s mandated curriculum involves a collaborative, many-disciplined approach, with the arts continuously woven into every aspect of a child’s learning.

Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly effective teachers. The heart of Davie’s RtA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators. Each has  been fully trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program and has personally completed each and every assignment the students complete. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions have at least three years of experience teaching Hill reading methodologies. The Hill RAP teachers completed additional training this year to use the digital learning system that allows students to manage their progress on iPads.

Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing, often for the first time.

“Read to Achieve Camp renews my love for teaching,” said Kerry Blackwelder, a reading specialist at Cooleemee Elementary who is teaching Hill Center groups for the third year. “We are able to look at each student, see how they learn, and teach them in a style that best meets their needs.”

“The students usually start out shy. They know the answers, but they are afraid to speak up,” Blackwelder said. “By the end of camp, they have gained confidence and become risk takers. When they come together here, they are one big melting pot. They discover that other students share their struggles, and they learn to love themselves for who they are. A lot of them cry on the last day.”   

“Read to Achieve Camp is magical,” she added.

Lauren Rieth, Lead Visual Arts Teacher for Davie County Schools and a third year camp veteran who is teaching art agrees. Although she is approaching retirement, she is determined to continue teaching at the camp.  

“When I walk into that classroom I see brilliance. Learning through play brings out their intelligence. Suddenly they are confident and free to be their natural selves. We don’t have any judgements about who they are. We love them for what they bring to the table.”

“So often I see myself in them,” Rieth added. “School never recognized my artistic intelligence or moving intelligence. When students take in information through art and movement it has staying power because they love what they are doing when they hear the information. Their brains turn on.”

“These kids can’t believe it. They are required to go to camp and then they can’t believe how amazing it is.”

Blackwelder and Rieth are two of the camp’s twenty-seven amazing educators from across Davie County that Brooks calls an “All-Star staff.” Others include:

Suzie Alonzo – Cornatzer Elementary School
Ashley Bailey – William R. Davie Elementary School
Jane Brooks – South Davie Middle School
Kim Brooks – Cornatzer Elementary School
Mary Lynn Bullins – Wm. R. Davie and Cornatzer Elementary Schools
Christy Cornatzer – Cornatzer Elementary School
Kilby Church – Pinebrook Elementary School
Kim Crotts – Pinebrook Elementary School
Lori Culler – South Davie Middle School
Leigh Ann Davis – Pinebrook Elementary School
Regina Dzybon – Shady Grove Elementary School
Shannon Eggleston – William R. Davie Elementary School
Suzie Hecht – Mocksville Elementary School
Angela Lankford – Cornatzer Elementary School
Mindy Ledbetter- Davie High School
Brenda Mosko- William Ellis and South Davie Middle Schools
Anna Newman – North Davie Middle School
Erin Penley – Cooleemee and Pinebrook Elementary Schools
Madison Pratapas- A + Student Apprentice – Graduate of Davie High School
Dana Roberts – South Davie Middle School
Alma Rosas – William R. Davie Elementary School
Susan Shepherd – Cornatzer Elementary School
Kolleen Sullivan – Shady Grove Elementary School

Many of the methods used in the Read to Achieve Camp are designed to be shared throughout the school system by these trained teachers. Schools and students county-wide benefit because these teachers are able to take the new training they receive each summer and their collective ideas and experiences back to their classrooms to share with their students and colleagues.

“After 26 years of teaching, I still learn new things and new methods of teaching,” Blackwelder said. “It gets me excited to start the school year. I wish this is how school could be all year long.”

The camp builds so much more than academic success. Students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities.  

“We provide 16 days of success so that the test is no longer such a big deal and the students have the resilience and confidence to make it through,”  Brooks said.