DavieLEADS – Professional Development and PLC’s – A Wonderful Process to Watch Unfold

By Jeanna B. White
“What steps will you take forward to help ensure a growth mindset for your team?” asked DavieLEADS consultant, Barbie Brown, during a workshop for the leaders of Davie County Schools’ Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Professional Learning Communities allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.

These meetings have become an essential component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed). Although the initiative, created through a 5-year $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, focuses on early literacy, all teachers across the county are benefitting from its professional development.

Davie County Schools’ PLCs are organized by grade level. Each school includes a time within its master schedule for the weekly meetings. During those meetings, teachers discuss how to increase academic performance by evaluating what is going well and what could be improved. The primary focus of the meetings is to gain a deep, collective understanding of what the standards are requiring our students to know, understand, and do. Teams also create common formative assessments, update quarterly pacing maps, and review testing data. The goal of PLCs is effective classroom instruction that ensures high levels of learning for all students.

PLC Leader Training
Over the summer, PLC leaders were trained to create a solid foundation for weekly PLC meetings. With the assistance of the school’s instructional coach, as well as the guidance of the PLC consultants, these leaders are learning to support collaboration in PLC meetings.

“PLC Leader’s Training is empowering our teachers,” said Kelly Myers, the instructional coach at Cooleemee Elementary School. “Through training, teacher leaders are learning how to plan for and facilitate effective PLCs.  We are putting structures and tools in place that allow us to think deeply about our standards and what students need to know and be able to do. Strong PLCs allow us to grow as educators and lead to laser-focused classroom instruction.”      

This month around 100 PLC leaders from preschool through high school met at Bethlehem United Methodist Church for continued instruction on facilitating an effective PLC meeting.

“Our goal is to train leaders in each grade level how to dig deeper into the standards and content so that the process can be sustained beyond the five years of the grant,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach.

Since this year’s PLC focus is clarifying standards and learning to teach them more deeply, the PLC leadership teams participated in activities that further clarified the work that should be done in PLCs.  Teachers gained a deeper understanding of the Depth of Knowledge/rigor that the standards require. Time and attention was focused on vocabulary instruction as well.

“PLCs are a work in progress, “ said Nancy Scoggin, DavieLEADS consultant. “We are on a journey. As we dig deeper into our standards, evaluate data, and examine teaching practices, we have to be patient and persistent.”   

“This is a huge process,” Brown added encouragingly,  “Nancy and I think you are making great progress. Pat yourselves on the back because you’ve done a lot of work even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

Tracie Welch, the instructional coach at Mocksville Elementary School, believes the hard work is paying off. “During PLCs, our teachers are really able to “dig in” to their learning standards for students and guide their instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  Our teachers are putting in a tremendous amount of work, and it shows through student growth. It has been a wonderful process to watch unfold!“

Letterland – Davie Teachers Receive Hands-on Literacy Training!

By Jeanna B. White

“When I say the word cuckoo, what do you think of? What does it remind you of?” asked Cindy Cooke as she prepared to read “The Cuckoo School” to a class of 2nd graders at Cooleemee Elementary School. 

Cooke, a trainer from Letterland, was modeling a lesson using the Letterland methodology and materials for the school’s 2nd-grade teachers. She and fellow trainer, Reba Walden, traveled to each of Davie County’s elementary schools March 5-7 to model lessons for teachers from kindergarten through 2nd grade and to answer questions about best practices using the program. Teacher assistants stepped in to cover classes so that all of the teachers could participate.

Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms, and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.

Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing. As students progress, the lessons become more complex maintaining student interest.

The program works. Engagement in Mrs.O’Neal’s classroom was high as students read aloud, defined vocabulary words, answered questions, and brainstormed ways to personalize the story for their own school.  

Letterland is an essential piece of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Mebane Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Although all preschool-2nd-grade teachers received Letterland training last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet in small groups and to ask the Letterland consultants specific questions about implementing the program in their classrooms.

“This training was tailored to meet our teachers’ specific needs and focused on what they wanted to work on,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach. “We know we need to elaborate and help our teachers in the areas they feel they need a little more clarification which also assists with implementing the program across the county with consistency.“

Cooke added, “When teachers attend initial training in Letterland, the information and materials can be overwhelming. Coaching is critical and necessary to help teachers implement the instructional practices built into the program. Reba Walden and I are here this week to provide teachers the support they need so they can teach the Letterland program with fidelity.”

The teachers appreciated the coaching and opportunity to ask questions.  

“I found it really helpful to watch someone do an example lesson with students,” said Jennie Kimel, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary. “I liked how we had the opportunity to debrief and ask questions afterward to clarify the techniques we saw. I found the visit to be productive and beneficial. I wish we did more training on site like this because handing us a manual is great but watching it in action is a completely different experience.”

Katie Sales, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee, agreed, saying, “It was nice to see what else the instructor did beyond the textbook instructions. It is always nice to see how others teach and get new ideas.”  

The Letterland trainers, Cooke and Walden; and literacy coaches, Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, also met with Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools, to examine the instructional framework for the district and to assess the implementation of Letterland across the County as a whole.  

Cooke and Walden will return in April to observe teachers in their classrooms and to provide ideas, tips, and tricks that will enrich future lessons.

TDR Training Helps Davie Teachers Create Active and Thoughtful Readers

 

By Jeanna B. White

“Everything is about what students need to know, understand, and be able to do,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach, while leading a professional development workshop for Teacher-Directed Reading (TDR).

As Davie County’s elementary school students headed home to enjoy their early release day on February 14th, their teachers fanned out across the county to delve deeper into TDR.

TDR is the guiding component of a Balanced Literacy framework for reading instruction that involves teaching by reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students. The Balanced Literacy approach fosters fluency and comprehension as well as perseverance, collaboration, focus, and stamina. Overall, the goal of Balanced Literacy is to create independent readers by inspiring an authentic love and appreciation for reading among students.

Balanced Literacy is a critical tool for achieving the goals of the DavieLEADS initiative, which was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.

“Professional development is an essential component of the DavieLEADS initiative,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools. “We want to invest in our teachers and provide them with quality workshops and training. They are much more valuable in producing student growth than a packaged program.”

Barbie Brown, DavieLEADS consultant, led the workshop for kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers across the district at Mocksville Elementary; Amy Spade, literacy coach, led 2nd and 3rd-grade teachers at Shady Grove Elementary; and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, literacy coach, led 4th and 5th-grade teachers at Cooleemee Elementary. Dividing the training by grade level allowed teachers to collaborate with their counterparts from across the county.

Elementary school teachers across Davie County spend 30-45 minutes of their daily teaching time on Teacher-Directed Reading. During TDR, the teacher guides students through standards-based, grade-level language arts instruction. As students read the text, teachers use and model appropriate comprehension strategies. This approach encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers, enhancing their understanding and comprehension of what they have read.

The workshop provided information on best practices for planning TDR lessons that focus on each of the state-mandated standards.Topics discussed included:

  • What types of text do I use for TDR?
  • When planning, do you select the text or standard first? And why?
  • How much surface knowledge should be taught before addressing the rigor of the standard?
  • If students don’t master the rigor of the standard, what are my next steps?

During the workshop, facilitators passed out a sample template and a clarifying document to help with preparing TDR lessons. Teachers then watched a video of a teacher teaching and evaluated how effectively she led the Teacher-Directed Reading. During breakout sessions, small groups shared their experiences as well as brainstormed new ideas and techniques.

Angela Spillman, a 2nd-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary, particularly appreciated watching the video of a TDR lesson being taught and discussing it with fellow teachers.

“It’s hard to step back and evaluate yourself when you are teaching,” she said. “Watching a video of a lesson and then discussing how well the concepts were taught was very valuable to me.”

Angelina Etter, a 2nd-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary, valued the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from across the county.

“Collaboration opens our minds so that all of the teachers and students are gaining. We are looking a lot closer at the standards so that our teaching can be more intentional.”

Spade said, “The DavieLEADS initiative has allowed us to tailor our professional development based on student needs and teacher needs while building a district-wide focus on Balanced Literacy.”

Hennings-Gonzalez agreed, “As teachers continue to grow in their craft, the DavieLEADS initiative is intended to provide continuous support. As a literacy coach, my personal goal is to ensure that teachers feel that they are encouraged and that they are equipped to use Teacher-Directed Reading in their daily instruction.”

“One great piece that the TDR training has created is the opportunity for teachers to reflect on their own instructional practices, realize the need for a change, and to reach out for support.”

Former Missionary Takes on a New Mission at Mocksville Elementary School

By Jeanna B. White

When Rachel Somerville found out she had been placed at Mocksville Elementary for her student teaching she was “over the moon excited.” That sentiment hasn’t changed as she has transitioned into a full-time first grade teacher at MES this semester.

“The teachers at Mocksville have just been so supportive, so warm and welcoming. Everyone has come up and offered me help or provided help when I didn’t even know I needed it,” Somerville said with a smile. “They have made me feel like a part of the family.

Somerville has always known she wanted to work with kids and has worked hard to make it happen.

“Both of my parents were teachers before becoming missionaries, I had always taught Sunday School in Mexico, and my parents started a Christian camp which involved a lot of working with kids. I just knew that working with kids was going to be my passion,” she said.

Born in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, Somerville moved to Mexico at the age of five, along with her seven siblings, when her parents became missionaries.

“We all moved to Mexico in a 12-passenger van with a giant Newfoundland dog. It was like Cheaper by the Dozen all over again,” she said, laughing.

After being homeschooled for all but one year of school, Somerville returned to North Carolina when she was almost 17 to finish high school, attend college, and get her teaching degree. She dual-enrolled at Isothermal Community College (ICC) in Rutherfordton where her older brother and sister were also students.

While she was at ICC, Somerville and her dad researched the best education colleges in North Carolina, and Appalachian State University appeared first on the list.

“We did a little bit of research on it, and I heard that it started as a teaching college and just had the best reputation in North Carolina, so I applied there and at no others,” she said. “My only plan was to go to App State. I didn’t know anybody there and hadn’t even taken a tour, but I just knew that I wanted the ‘best of the best’.”

Her desire to find the best continued as she evaluated student teaching options.

ASU/Mebane Foundation & Davie County Schools – Collaboration Continues to Pay Dividends
“They gave us a list of places we could go, and one of them was Davie County. I had never heard of Davie County, but when they mentioned that Davie County offered free housing for their student teachers and that they interviewed their prospective student teachers, I knew that that was where I wanted to be. …It set a really good tone for me of excellence and expecting excellence.  Davie County became my number one choice. Davie County School’s good reputation, focus on technology, Kagan activities, and DavieLEADS initiatives were added positives,” she said.

Davie County Schools began a close relationship with ASU in 2008 when the Mebane Foundation collaborated with the school system and Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education to create the Mebane Masters program. This first-of-its-kind academic degree program allowed 15 Davie County teachers to remain in their Davie County classrooms while pursuing their Master of Arts Degrees in Instructional Technology. These teachers became their school’s primary resource for questions about the best and most pragmatic ways to maximize technology’s benefit in the classroom.

A student-teacher component became a crucial piece of the Mebane Masters Program. Over five semesters in 2½ years, 60 Appalachian student teachers were housed in Davie County, spending their 15-week semester paired with one of the 15 master teachers. The technology-rich environment created an intensive learning environment for Davie students, student teachers, and master teachers. Although the Mebane Masters Program ended, the Davie County School system continues to maintain two condos to attract the best and brightest student teachers.

“We have more student teachers from ASU than from any other college/university, and they are prioritized for housing because of our partnership with ASU,” said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for academic services. “However, we welcome student teachers from other places. (The limitation is usually how far the college supervisor is willing to travel for visits unless they have someone who lives in the area.)  Since I’ve been helping recruit and place student teachers the last few years, we’ve had student teachers from Salem, Catawba, UNC-Charlotte, Lees McRae, ECU, UNCG, Liberty, WCU, and NC A&T, in addition to the majority from ASU.”

“We want to be involved in helping train student teachers!  Student teaching is a critical part of their education and preparation to step into their own classroom. In addition, hosting student teachers is one way we recruit high-quality staff since some student teachers are hired and stay with us. It’s a win-win!” she added.

Somerville met with Haynes during her application interview. “She told me that she had the perfect teacher for me,” Somerville said. “That was just so cool too that they can tell so much about you through that interview. She matched me with Madison Wyatt in third grade, and it was perfect. I had heard horror stories of students getting stuck with really difficult teachers who only used them to make copies, but Madison and I really bonded. We thought the same way, and it made all of the difference.”

“My student teaching was the best experience ever and the free housing made so much difference. It really set the standard. They (DCS) provided that for me so naturally I really wanted to do my best to make them proud. Coming home to other student teachers and being able to talk about our assignments or take a deep breath together on the hard days and celebrate the good days was amazing. Student teaching is a crazy semester, your brain has to make the jump from student to teacher, and that condo really provides a professional atmosphere of ‘I’m here to work.’”

Impressed with Somerville’s work, Jennifer Swofford, principal of MES, approached her after a meeting and informed her that a spring semester position was opening up and asked if she would be interested.

“Having a student teacher in our building is always exciting because of the energy and thoughtfulness they bring to the table,” said Swofford. “Rachel immediately immersed herself in the culture of Mocksville Elementary and proved herself very quickly to be a natural at positively connecting with students. When we had the opportunity to hire her early this year, it felt like the stars aligned in having Rachel join us as a new official staff member.”

Somerville responded to Swofford’s offer with a resounding “yes”!

“I told her of course! I was all in, I wanted to be here,” Somerville said with a grin. “It’s every student teacher’s dream to stay at the school where they student taught because they know the staff and know the school. First-year teaching is scary beyond belief, so having that familiarity and support group is the best thing I could have imagined! My only concern was housing because I’m not from Davie County and I didn’t know about apartments or if someone could lease to me this quickly or for how long.”

Somerville decided that concern wasn’t going to deter her from staying and she began to think creatively. “I wondered if it was possible to stay in the condo and mentor the new student teachers since I had just gone through the process myself. I already knew the challenges and knew that I could provide on-site support.”

Determined to keep Somerville in Davie County, Swofford and Haynes had considered the same thing. Fortunately, there was room this semester for Somerville to stay in the condo and it has benefitted all involved.

“The concept of having a first-year teacher as a “condo mom” was an interesting concept to consider as far as another layer of support, connection, and collaboration,” Haynes said. “I recently met with the student teachers, and they expressed how helpful it is to have Rachel living with them.  She is able to provide perspective, advice, and support since she just recently completed her student teaching. We don’t always have room for another roommate, but it’s working great this semester!”

“It’s wonderful to know that our investment in the Mebane Masters Program continues to pay dividends to this day in ways that no one could have anticipated, which is often the case with the best collaborative efforts,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation.

Somerville “Called” to Teach!  
“Rachel is eager to make a difference for our kids, and I believe teaching is truly her calling,” Swofford said. “She is exactly where she is supposed to be, and we are lucky to have her.”

Somerville is grateful for the opportunities she has received in Davie County.

“I just want to say thank you (to the Mebane Foundation and Davie County Schools)!  I know that I’m blessed,” Somerville said. “I feel blessed every day to wake up in the condo and to get to come to an awesome school. The teachers here have really poured into me, and I hope one day to be able to do the same for others. I know that I was placed here for a reason, and I’m thankful for that.”

DavieLEADS Focus on Development – Supporting Professional Learning Communities in Davie County Schools

By Jeanna B. White

“Really having the time to clarify standards with colleagues can become an ‘ah-ha experience’,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County schools, referring to the Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings that have become a key component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed).

DavieLEADS was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.

“Professional development is an essential component of the DavieLEADS initiative,” Lynde said. “We want to invest in our teachers and provide them with quality workshops and training. They are much more valuable in producing student growth than a packaged program.”

According to Lynde, this year’s professional development focus is strengthening PLCs meetings. These PLCs allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.

Davie County Schools’ PLCs are organized by grade level. Each school includes a time within its master schedule for the weekly meetings. During those meetings, teachers discuss how to increase academic performance by evaluating what is going well and what could be improved. They also delve into other issues such as creating common formative assessments, updating quarterly pacing maps, and reviewing testing data.

Over the summer, PLC leaders were trained to create a solid foundation for weekly PLC meetings. With the assistance of the school’s instructional coach, as well as the guidance of the PLC consultants, these leaders are learning to support collaboration in PLC meetings.

“It has been really great watching the teacher-leaders take ownership,” Lynde said. “In just the short amount of time we’ve been focusing on PLCs, the level of rigor in instruction is beginning to increase.”

Clarifying standards is another focus within the PLCs, according to Lynde.  “These meetings are where we are asking the really difficult questions such as, ‘Do we thoroughly understand the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and is our instruction rigorous enough to match?’”

“We’ve seen that Davie County is doing a good job at teaching the standards but not always going deep enough. It’s developing that depth that is really going to increase reading scores,” said DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown. She and fellow consultant, Nancy Scoggin, are both retired educators who have worked as classroom teachers, curriculum facilitators, and instructional coaches.

Although this depth of evaluation and analysis is challenging, Lynde said teachers and administrators are beginning to recognize the long-term value of the process and embrace the challenge.

“This process has allowed us to look at what we are already doing and take it to the next level,” said Julie Holt, a kindergarten teacher at Pinebrook Elementary School.

During a recent PLC meeting at Pinebrook, Brown led the kindergarten teachers through an exercise to clarify writing standards. Kindergarten students completed an assignment using a common writing prompt and their teachers evaluated the assignments using the same scoring rubric.

At the meeting, the teachers compared writing assignments to evaluate the consistency of their scoring. Although the state has had a scoring rubric, Davie County recently adopted its own rubric to increase consistency across the county’s six elementary schools.

“I’ve been really proud of this team,” said Brown. “They have really worked hard and have been willing to make some changes.”

The kindergarten teachers appreciate Brown’s support.

We love having someone provide us with feedback on how we are doing,” said Emily Moore.

“These ladies are so knowledgeable. I really feel like we are getting something that we need,” Pam Cope added.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, attended the PLC and was impressed by the experience. “Asking these already good teachers to be willing to put themselves out there in front of their peers in a PLC setting is a tough proposition. I’m sure it’s been challenging, and I do not doubt at the end of the day many seasoned teachers feel as if this might just be another fad that comes and goes. However, I’m encouraged by their commitment and that of the leadership team, all the way to the superintendent’s office.

“Sure, there’ll be bumps along the way of our journey together, but I’m confident their commitment, coupled with the love they have for their students, will push them from being good to being the best North Carolina has to offer!”

Comprehensive, Effective, Kid-Friendly Phonics? Letterland Becoming Key Component of DavieLEADS

By Jeanna B. White

There were Kicking Kings and Quarrelsome Queens, Zig Zag Zebras and Red Robots when Pinebrook Elementary School’s kindergarteners dressed up as their favorite Letterland characters.

The costumed cuties sang each letter character’s song and made its sound and hand motion, demonstrating their growing literacy development for the dozens of family members and friends who turned out for Letterland Day.

Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.

Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing.

Letterland Characters“I love Letterland!,” said Marianne Stein, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee Elementary School. “It is the most comprehensive, most effective, most kid-friendly way to teach phonics. When you hear the word phonics, you think “ugh”. But this program is so multi-level, so multisensory, how better to teach five-year-olds than with music and dancing and pictures and games? They just love it! They get so excited about it!”

“Letterland helps with gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and appropriate tracking of letters that turn into words. No matter where a child is in a skill level or skill set, they get something out of it. It could be word blending or the letter A, it could be Annie said “a”, but if you are consistent, and if you buy into it and believe in it, they will too,” she explained.

Davie County Schools began using this innovative literacy program for kindergarten through 2nd grade in 2004 and in preschool around 2007, but over time, materials wore out or were lost and newer teachers were not trained in the methodology.

letterland chsaractersWhen Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, and representatives from Davie County Schools began holding roundtable discussions to determine ways to move the needle in early childhood literacy, they quickly recognized the value of Letterland and decided to revitalize its usage.

“During those roundtable discussions we decided that there were a lot of things we were already doing really well, we just needed to get better at what we do, and Letterland was a piece of that,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction. “ We already knew Letterland was working well in the pockets in which it was being used so we wanted to make sure that everyone had the updated materials, everyone had all of the training, and we expanded it to 2nd grade.”

In 2016-2017, the Mebane Foundation gave a $44,000 grant to provide Letterland materials, software, and professional development for all Pre-K-1st-grade classrooms.

This year, second-grade classrooms have received materials, software, and training as part of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade. The grant will also provide Letterland materials, professional development and coaching to private daycares in Davie County. In addition, all incoming teachers will receive training to maintain the effectiveness of the program.

This is the first year Letterland will be fully implemented in Pre-K through 2nd grade and teachers from across the county are excited about the program’s potential.

“Through the stories and songs, students connect with Letterland. It makes our language make sense to them,” said literacy coach, Amy Spade. “It’s super engaging instead of abstract. When Tracy Miller and I went through Reading Foundations, we saw the huge benefit of being able to tie in syllable types with the characters, helping 2nd graders really understand how syllables work. We wanted to continue giving them that solid foundation.”

“The whole program makes it possible to teach to every different learning style when you teach it the way it is laid out for you,” said Tracy Miller, who teaches 2nd grade at Pinebrook. “Each child in your classroom will attach to it in some way.”

“It is developmentally appropriate for all students no matter where they are in reading,” added  Pinebrook kindergarten teacher, Emily Moore.“Letterland allows them to connect the sound to a letter before they even know it is a letter, so a lot of them know their sounds and are ready to read before they even realize that.”

“Letterland is comprehensive,” said Jill O’Toole, who teaches Pre-K at Pinebrook. “We can use it for the whole group, we can break up into small groups, we can put things in centers. Especially in Pre-K, a child can pick up a duck and say, “d,d, Dippy Duck” and then connect those things with real life.”

“I’ve seen an increase in the number of kids I have leaving my classroom that are ready to take that step in kindergarten into reading,” O’Toole added. “They are more aware of sounds, how sounds link together to make words … and they are more confident in what they are doing. I’ve had kids who walk into my class knowing no letters and leave, maybe not knowing the letter’s name, but knowing the character it is attached to and the sound it makes. That makes kindergarten so much easier, especially starting out with us and having Letterland flow through every grade.”

“Letterland touches boys and girls,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschools. “A lot of  boys are not interested in reading and letters yet due to developmental stages, but they become interested when you add Noisy Nick, Firefighter Fred and Fix-it Max, characters that mean something to them, it makes it come to life.”

“In second grade, the program really allows us to differentiate because we are able to break students into groups and meet them where they are,” Spade said. “If a student needs to repeat a lesson we can do that while another group moves ahead to work on syllable types.”

The DavieLEADS grant also funds two literacy coaches who will offer teachers on-site professional development and support, including assistance with Letterland. Later this year, consultants from Letterland will be further enhancing professional development by doing observations in classrooms and offering lesson modeling, feedback, and coaching sessions.

The additional support demonstrates the significance of the program and will help teachers maximize the program’s potential for their students.

“When you have that much support, it makes it more obvious to the teachers that are teaching the program that it is important and that they need to use it and use it the way we’ve been trained,” said Miller.

“If there is a problem, we have people to go to,” said Bridgett Bailey, who teaches 1st grade at William R. Davie. “When you feel better about something you are going to do better, you are going to teach it to the best of your ability.”

“I really appreciate that we can now use Letterland across the district and it is not limited to where we were able to get funding or not get funding,” Spade said. “Thanks to the Mebane Foundation, all students from preschool through 2nd grade will be getting this solid foundation.”

Davie County Read to Achieve Summer Camp – 16 Days of Success!

by Jeanna B. White

Sixteen days can change a life and a future.

Ask the 120 students who attended Davie County’s summer 2017 Read to Achieve Camp.

Many who had been reluctant to attend were now sorry to see it end. Some, who had never experienced academic success, did so for the first time. All received a new level of confidence in their ability to succeed during the coming school year.The camp is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade, as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction. The camp also included first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer.

The camp is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade, as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction. The 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 in the past three years, this year’s camp was a tremendous success. More than 24% 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 81% 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. Preliminary DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) results indicate strong gains, with 74% of 1st and 2nd grade campers making growth in reading fluency.

“While a 24% success rate may not seem extraordinary to people not close to education, and more specifically the Read to Achieve program, that rate has historically been 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 over $99,000 to support the 2017 summer camp. Since 2014, the Foundation has invested more than $338,000 in partnering with Davie County Schools to fund the intensive four-week camp.

According to the camp’s director, Jeremy Brooks, the camp’s consistent level of success is beginning to cause educators across the state to take notice. Other school systems have begun to call him asking questions about the program and one school system sent representatives to observe.

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

“I believe using the arts in our approach to the Read to Achieve Camp makes us quite unique,” said Brenda Mosko, who taught drama during the camp. “We have incorporated many of the techniques used in the A+ Schools model for education in our camp. This enriched atmosphere creates magic for our students. During the year, our children receive their arts classes only once a week, but at camp they are nurtured in the arts on a daily basis.”

“Our camp integrates art, music, drama and dance into our main theme each week as we race across North Carolina from the mountains in week one to the coast in week four. Our teachers find material that seamlessly weaves reading into each art form,” she said.

“Arts integration uses teaching practices that have been shown in brain-based research to improve comprehension and long-term retention. For example, when students create stories, pictures, or other nonverbal expressions of the content they are learning — a process researchers call elaboration — they are also helping to better embed the information.”

“From the first day of camp to the last, we work to not only build up our children’s reading confidence but also their self-esteem. We start with a daily warm up in the gym to get our mind and body prepared for a day filled with learning. Each child completes a child-friendly multiple intelligences inventory based on the work of Howard Gardner. Through this inventory, each child discovers which of the multiple intelligences are their strongest. They also find that they truly are smart. Once they realize this very important fact, their outlook on camp and the test changes dramatically.”

A Recipe for Success
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,

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.

Each session lasts approximately forty-five minutes. Each day ends at 2:45 p.m.

Campers 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 program called myON, which offers a

Students also had computer lab time to work with a 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. Each grade level benefited from a partnership with the Davie County Public Library through which they enjoyed a weekly story time with Julie Whitaker from the library staff.

Each grade level benefited from a 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

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

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.An A+ camp requires A+ teachers

An A+ camp requires A+ teachers
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 trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions are experienced in teaching Hill reading methodologies. “We have awesome teachers in this program,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “We have National Board certified teachers, Teachers of the Year, teachers with a lot of experience, and teachers who genuinely care about kids and know how to nurture them and work with them in the summertime when they aren’t exactly eager to be at school.”

“We have awesome teachers in this program,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “We have National Board certified teachers, Teachers of the Year, teachers with a lot of experience, and teachers who genuinely care about kids and know how to nurture them and work with them in the summertime when they aren’t exactly eager to be at school.” Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing. Both Lauren Reith and Noel Grady-Smith scheduled their retirement dates around being able to teach at this summer’s camp.

Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing. Both Lauren Reith and Noel Grady-Smith scheduled their retirement dates around being able to teach at this summer’s camp. Grady-Smith and Reith are two of the camp’s twenty-seven amazing educators from across Davie County. Others include:

Grady-Smith and Reith are two of the camp’s twenty-seven amazing educators from across Davie County. Others include:
Suzie Alonzo – Hill Center (Cornatzer)
Shelly Bryans – Teacher Assistant
Kerry Blackwelder – Hill Center (Cooleemee)
Jeremy Brooks – RtA Director (North Davie)
Kim Brooks – Reading Coach (Cornatzer)
Mary Lynn Bullins – Reading Coach (Cornatzer)
Kilby Church – 1st Grade Reading Coach (Pinebrook)
Christy Cornatzer – Hill Center (Cornatzer)
Lori Culler – Reading Coach (Pinebrook)
Leigh Ann Davis – Reading Coach (Pinebrook)
Regina Dzybon – 2nd Grade Reading Coach (Shady Grove)
Shannon Eggleston – Reading Coach (William R. Davie)
Michael Errickson – 3rd Grade Art TA (Cornatzer)
Angelina Etter – 1st Grade Hill Center (Mocksville)
Suzie Hecht – 2nd Grade Hill Center (Mocksville)
Jenny Kimel – 1st Grade Reading Coach ( William R Davie)
Mindy Ledbetter- 1st and 2nd Grade Art (Davie High School)
Brenda Mosko- Music (William Ellis/South Davie)
Anna Newman – Music (North Davie)
Erin Penley – 1st and 2nd Grade Music (Pinebrook)
Dana Roberts – Art (South Davie)
Alma Rosas – Hill Center (William R. Davie)
Raymonda Shelton – Assistant RtA Director (William R Davie)
Kolleen Sullivan – Hill Center (Shady Grove)
Julie West – 2nd Grade Reading Coach (Shady Grove)”The Mebane Foundation has provided resources and staff support for our students in

“The Mebane Foundation has provided resources and staff support for our students in Read to Achieve Camp that would not be possible with the limited state funding provided for summer camps,” said Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent of Davie County Schools. “The students attending camp are receiving a personalized learning experience enhanced by the arts. Additional specialized teaching staff blend individualized reading instruction and the arts. This fun-filled experience leads to improved reading fluency and comprehension, which affects a student’s performance in all other subjects. The professional development and new skills our camp teachers incorporate into summer camp carry over into their schools across the district throughout the school year.”The camp builds so much more than academic success. Students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities.

The camp builds so much more than academic success. Students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities. “It’s more than reading lessons, it’s more than the arts, it’s teachers instilling confidence in kids and making them feel successful every day so that when they go take that test their confidence is through the roof,” Brooks said. “It’s growing a mindset in kids in four weeks that when you retake the reading test you will be fine, you CAN pass this, and you WILL pass this test.”

“It’s more than reading lessons, it’s more than the arts, it’s teachers instilling confidence in kids and making them feel successful every day so that when they go take that test their confidence is through the roof,” Brooks said. “It’s growing a mindset in kids in four weeks that when you retake the reading test you will be fine, you CAN pass this, and you WILL pass this test.” “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.”

“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.”

Reading Achievement Programs

HILLRAP I (2003-2007)

As part of our four-year, $750,000 funding agreement, The Hill Center was also charged with designing a continuation of the HELP project to address teacher training for grades K-3 with a similar methodology. The Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) is an adapted version of the Hill Methodology that is more prescriptive, easier for teachers to implement, and more cost-effective to deliver than traditional Hill Methodology delivered at The Hill Center.

rap1

Twenty-six elementary teachers from Davie County’s six elementary schools began HillRAP training in the summer of 2005, and started implementing the intensive reading intervention program when the school year began.

HillRAP includes the five essential components of a successful reading program as put forth in the National Reading Panel Report of 2000. Phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are the core of the daily instructional program that is ideally implemented in 45- to 60- minute sessions five days a week. While students work in small groups of four, each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction in areas where there are demonstrated skill deficits in reading. Small units of information are presented sequentially and practiced daily until a set criterion is met for three to five consecutive days and overlearning is achieved. Mastered skills are reviewed weekly to ensure retention. Classes are designed to maximize opportunities for oral and written student responses and success experiences. All student responses are graphed and charted daily by the teachers and students in order to document mastery before advancing to a higher level skill. Student-teacher interaction focuses on praise and positive reinforcement for correct answers or approximations of the correct response.

When RTI reported impressive results, the program was extended through 5th grade at all six schools. As a result of the intensive nature of the program, often involving a 4-to-1 student-teacher ratio based on the students’ reading levels, reading specialists in the program began forming what are now known as “RAP Clinics.” These interventions included classroom teachers and assistant teachers under strict supervision of highly trained RAP teachers, and provided group support to many more struggling readers in the early grades. Eventually, at least one elementary school used the same RAP Clinic model with community volunteers working under the guidance and supervision of a RAP-trained reading specialist. This approach enabled the schools to provide benefits from these proven reading interventions to many more children.

Davie County Schools found similar results to those experienced by Brunswick County Public Schools (report) and Carteret County Schools (report) in partnerships with The Hill Center between 2008-2012, as reported by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Watson School of Education. Link to the hill site

children.

HILLRAP II (2007-2010)

On the heels of successful HELP and HillRAP I partnerships with The Hill Center and Davie County Schools, the Mebane Foundation made an additional commitment in 2007 of nearly $1 million for the design and implementation of a reading comprehension program, HillRAP II, for 6th-8th graders. In keeping with its efforts to involve community commitment and participation that ensure long-term sustainability, the Foundation used its funding as a challenge to the Davie County Commissioners, who, in a unanimous vote, approved $1 million to fund the program along with 80 SMART Boards, six more audio-visual (distant learning) classrooms and the last of six pre-K technology-enhanced classrooms.

rap2

Twenty-one teachers from Davie County’s three middle schools participated in a 3-day training offered by Hill Center staff in August 2008. The training included a 1-day training in Phonics Breaking the Code, a 2-day HillRAP workshop, and two half-day follow-up workshops. In addition, training was offered on the Hill Center’s Reading Assessment instrument, which helps create a profile of strengths and difficulties and allows the teacher to start instruction at the most appropriate level for each student. The grant also involved training three Davie County teachers in both HillRAP I and HillRAP II methodologies, providing mentors in the school system to help maintain the project after Foundation funding and external Hill Center training were no longer available.

Implemented in the fall of 2008, HillRAP II focused on middle-school students with reading disabilities and featured an additional reading-comprehension component.

A Duke University study in June 2011 (hill center site) found that HillRAP II improved the reading proficiency of struggling readers and began to close the gap between these students and their peers on a state-mandated achievement test (i.e., EOG) and a nationally-normed achievement test (i.e., WJ-III).

Mebane Masters Program

Initiated through its $750,000 challenge grant and a vision for enhanced learning through far more effective use of technology, the Mebane Foundation collaborated with Davie County Schools and Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education to create a first-of-its-kind academic degree for 15 Davie County teachers and a profoundly innovative and extravagantly successful program of interactive technology they helped implement in 100 percent of the school system’s classrooms.

mebane-mastersThe program, Mebane Masters, has changed the face of education in Davie County, grades K-12, since it was launched in 2008. Providing a holistic method of teaching to technology savvy students, Mebane Masters has earned overwhelmingly positive responses from students, teachers, administrators and community.

The core of the program was a 30-month partnership between Davie County Schools and the ASU Reich College of Education. The 15 teachers in the program remained in their Davie County classrooms while pursuing their Master of Arts Degrees in Instructional Technology. They acted as the school’s primary resource for their peers when it came to questions about the best and most pragmatic ways to maximize technology’s benefit in the classroom. It was our first look at real-time, teacher-driven, in-house professional development.

mebane-masters2The student-teacher component became another crucial piece of the Mebane Masters Program. Over five semesters in 2½ years, 60 Appalachian student teachers were housed in Davie County, spending their 15-week semester paired with one of the 15 master teachers. The technology-rich environment laced with a palpable innovative spirit created an intensive learning environment for Davie students, student teachers and master teachers.

Most of these master teachers remain in Davie County and embrace their professional-development roles. Also, many of the student teachers who rotated through the program have decided to teach in the Davie County Schools.

In summary, the Mebane Masters Program…

  • Substantially improved education for students in every classroom at every grade level throughout Davie County Schools;
  • Created a powerful, new model for teacher education and professional development;
  • Made it much easier for Davie County Schools to recruit and retain the best teachers;
  • Laid the groundwork for STEM Infusion.

It is our hope that Mebane Masters Program has created a model for teaching, learning and professional development that can reshape the educational landscape and address many of the issues facing public education in our state and nation.

Mebane Technology Challenge

Launched in 2004, the Mebane Technology Challenge was not only delivered cutting-edge technology to every classroom in Davie County Schools, but it also brought the community together to achieve a vitally important common goal – improving education for thousands of children throughout the county while at the same time ensuring the effort would be sustained through ongoing support.

tech-challengeIn 2004, the Mebane Foundation issued a challenge: If the county could raise $1.5 million from individuals, companies and civic groups, then the Foundation would contribute $750,000 over a three-year period to add the best educational technology to classrooms in every school across the county.

By the fall of 2007, without any government/taxpayer funding, the community had raised more than $1.5 million and Mebane Foundation had completed its match. Those funds provided teachers in all but 80 of the school system’s 500 classrooms had SMART Board technology, projectors and laptop computers… plus pre-K classrooms in five of the six elementary schools.

Seeing the excitement among students and teachers as well as the enhanced educational environments created by the technology, Davie County Commissioners voted unanimously to spend $1 million to pay for the remaining SMART Boards, six new audio-visual (distant learning) classrooms, a technology rich professional-development hub for training teachers and the last of the six pre-K, technology-enhanced classrooms.

tech-challenge2By then technology was transforming education for students in every classroom in every school. Perhaps the most significant result of the across-the-board SMART Board infusion was the well-documented interactive learning that had taken root across Davie County – and the elimination of virtually all disciplinary problems in classrooms. The children were visually stimulated and engaged in learning as never before.

Another positive result was that teachers, many who had resisted integrating computers into their lessons, were buying into the new pedagogy and becoming eager to learn more computer/SMART Board applications.

Finally, having technology – and enthusiasm for it – in all classrooms laid the foundation for the innovative professional-development models to come through Foundation initiatives: MEBANE MASTERS and STEM INFUSION.

Cooleemee Reading Project

Davie County’s Cooleemee Elementary had an enrollment of 520 students in kindergarten through the fifth grades in February 2009, and 72-73 percent of them were considered “Economically Disadvantaged” (receiving free and reduced-price lunches) by the State of North Carolina. Statistically, students who fall into that category are more likely to be academically at risk. Report card grades and standardized tests confirm that risk. The previous year,  Cooleemee Elementary did not make Acceptable Yearly Progress (AYP) in math under the No Child Left Behind federal legislation, and the students struggled to meet local standards as well.

cooleemee

From 2009-2011, the Mebane Foundation partnered with Cooleemee Elementary and Davie County Schools to help fund a systematic intervention program featuring diagnostic and prescriptive research-based programs delivered by computer – Waterford software for kindergarten students and Successmaker for the older children. In addition, teachers also employed comprehensive reading intervention strategies using The Hill Center RAP model. Student’s On-Going Achievement in Reading (SOAR) was added during the summer reading program.

In each lab, the program coordinator provided continuity, monitored students and provided technical support as needed. She was also responsible for generating and reviewing reports with teachers after every five lessons. The reports, which provided information about individual students and the entire class, were used to direct the complete intervention strategy, including instructional planning. Successmaker and Waterford reports, including grade-level equivalency, were also sent to parents with quarterly report cards and with progress reports mid-quarter. The frequent assessments provided a variety of helpful data about student progress. The assessments were also prescriptive, offering clear direction about areas needing improvement before end-of-year standardized tests.

The summer reading program ran for three weeks and provided three hours of small-group or individual reading instruction each day along with free breakfasts and lunches through Child Nutrition. During the summer, when many students regress in their academic skills, Cooleemee students demonstrated growth that continued into the school year.

Each of these programs and interventions provided another layer of support for the students, and each layer offered an opportunity to bring students closer to increased academic achievement and a more promising future.

The Summer Reading Program at Cooleemee was a tremendous success! We achieved the initial goals 1) to increase student achievement in this academically-challenged school; and 2) to provide a successful working model that could be implemented throughout the other Davie County elementary schools.

But challenges remained, exacerbated by the continued economic downturn of the area. They are reflected in the increasing populations of Cooleemee at-risk students:

  • Of the 452 students enrolled during 2010-2011, 83% (382 students) were Economically Disadvantaged;
  • An average of 185 students received Book Bags for Hope weekly;
  • Of the 22.8% Hispanic population (105 students) in the school, 13.2% (61 students) were served in the English Language Learners’ program because of a language barrier to their learning.
  • A comparable number, 13.4% (62 students) were served in the Exceptional Children’s program because of learning difficulties.

FINAL RESULTS

Summer Reading Program

  1. Successmaker, Waterford and other researched based intervention such as Hill RAP or Hill Strategies have been used.
  2. Bus transportation for students enabled them to access the Child Nutrition Program of free breakfast and lunch before and after reading instruction.
  3. Data generated through assessments given throughout the year has been maintained to track progress. The focus of instruction continues to be for students at-risk in reading, primarily to help them improve comprehension skills. Students’ gains carry over into the regular year from the summer program.
  4. We have documented a number of success stories of students connecting in the small groups to produce a more positive, productive attitude carrying over throughout the year. We have also tracked steady gains with many students who have continued to attend the summer camps.
  5. For the first two summers, a pre-kindergarten camp has been included during the last 8-9 days of SOAR. This has proven to be very beneficial in preparing those identified as most at-risk to transition more successfully academically and socially into kindergarten, narrowing the gap with those who are more prepared.

Successmaker Computerized Program and Lab

  1. The Successmaker lab has had a tremendous impact on student learning in the school over the first two years. Benchmarks were raised during the second year, and minimum proficiency level to advance increased from 65% to 80%. The grade-level proficiency benchmark was raised to the next grade level instead of the average required to score proficient on the End-of-Grade tests.
  2. Teachers have become more attentive to data generated by Successmaker reports and how it can improve classroom instruction through literacy centers and individualized instruction.
  3. The program’s evolving effectiveness and efficiency has captured the interest of others. The school was asked to conduct a workshop for the other five elementary schools in the county focusing on the use of reports available, the additional options that had been developed, and classroom applications. Cooleemee Elementary was also asked to present its system at the North Carolina Title I Conference during the second year.
  4. Data provided by the Cumulative Gains Reports continues to indicate students are making progress at and above expected rates.

Waterford Computerized Program and Lab

  1. Scheduling for kindergarten and first grade improved in the first year, providing small-group instruction in the classrooms and researched-based instruction in the lab.
  2. Teachers wanted access to the media center stations for additional sessions to support students outside the scheduled groups who were significantly below grade level.
  3. Reports from Waterford matched indicators from the classroom and provided information that supported classroom instruction as well as parents’ awareness of their children’s progress.