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!”

EdTalk: Meet Larry Colbourne and the Mebane Foundation

From the Mebane Foundation on its work:

The Mebane Foundation doesn’t claim to have all the answers about how to create a top-tier, transformative, career-building and life-enriching learning environment. But beginning in 1998, we began searching for at least some of those answers.

From the start, we have focused on a simple proposition to help address a complex, deeply-rooted problem:

The Foundation will do everything in its power to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, will be reading at or above grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.

Research consistently shows that these children are vastly more likely to succeed in school. And we all know that a child who succeeds in school is more confident and more likely to succeed in work and in life.

Wanting to promote equal access to excellent education for all children, the Foundation established a partnership with the Davie County Schools. Since then, the Foundation has served as a catalyst by granting more than $13 million to educational program partners in Davie County and across the state.

A handful of programs the Foundation has funded have not been successful. But we learned a lot in the process. Most of the time, the lack of success stems from the lack of strategic business planning and the kind of support that creates long-term sustainability, not from the effectiveness of the educational initiative we funded. That is why we now insist on having overwhelming community-wide support — school administration, teachers, parents, elected officials, and taxpayers — before committing to a partnership.

For almost 20 years, the Foundation has forged numerous strong relationships with corporate and philanthropic partners and all levels of education, as well as participated in educational-policy issues at the local and state levels.

In the future, it is our hope that school systems across North Carolina and the nation will incorporate many of our successes into their educational systems.

Moving the needle: Investments, not silver bullets

Note: This story originally appeared on EducationNC (EdNC)  – Moving the Needle: Investments not silver bullets

The Mebane Charitable Foundation has invested more than $17 million in literacy-related programs since 1998. The Foundation invested more than $7 million in literacy intervention partnerships with public school systems, traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and other literacy-focused organizations in Davie County. While some interventions have worked better than others, all have provided valuable data, metrics, and research results.

A big bet, a national model

In April, the Mebane Charitable Foundation announced its largest partnership to date, a grant of almost $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Davie County Schools has a rich history of academic success and consistently ranks in the top 10-15 percent of districts in the state of North Carolina. But despite the county’s successful academic performance, approximately 30 percent of students do not enter kindergarten “ready” according to DIAL scores (Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning) and 34 percent do not show reading proficiency by the end of the third grade as demonstrated on the NC End-of-Grade (EOG) Reading Test.

The goals of this initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 students each year over the 5-year implementation period.

Details of how those goals would be achieved were introduced to more than 400 Davie County pre-K and elementary school personnel during an end-of-year celebration in June 2017 at the West Campus of Calvary Baptist Church, complete with pom-poms, music, and a few spontaneous dance moves.

“When Dr. Hartness and his staff presented this proposal to my board it was a scary moment for everyone,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “What we hope to accomplish is a daunting task, but I told my board, that without a doubt, if there is a system in North Carolina that can do this, it will be Davie County Schools. You folks in the room can make it happen. I’m confident of that.”

Initially, the initiative will be a collaboration between Davie County Schools, Smart Start, and the public/private preschools. The grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide professional development, materials, and specialized support staff totaling $2,447,188.00 over five years, with additional supplementary funding for the Read to Achieve Summer Camp for at-risk first, second, and third graders who need extra academic support beyond the regular school year. In addition, this project will develop and build the professional capacity of 111 preschool through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities. These educators will continue impacting countless students for years to come.

“I would like to make you a promise,” Colbourne added. “The Foundation does not want to get in your way. We are not going to make your jobs any more difficult than they already are.”

Dr. Darrin Hartness, the superintendent of Davie County Schools, added, “We wanted to bring you together to help you share in the excitement that we have in what is on the horizon and the things that are ahead for us. I have never been as thrilled about an opportunity as I am about this one. In my career in education, I’ve never seen a commitment from a private entity investing in what we do every day. This initiative with the Mebane Foundation is going to make you an envy of teachers across North Carolina. This is not some silver bullet, some shiny new thing in our school system. Instead, this is an investment in the most important factor in a child’s education because this is an investment in you. ”

Process and partners matter

“This school year we began to hear from Dr. Hartness and Larry Colbourne the phrase ‘moving the needle,’”said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for academic service. “They started asking, how can we move the needle, how can we improve, how can we do even better than we are already doing?”

“As we looked at our 2015-2016 data, the problem we identified is that 30 percent of our students aren’t ready for kindergarten and  34 percent of our students are not proficient at reading at the end of third grade. As well as we are doing, about a third of our students aren’t making it, and we can’t be okay with that one third not being prepared for the future,” Haynes said.

“This school year we began to hear from Dr. Hartness and Larry Colbourne the phrase ‘moving the needle,’” continues Haynes. “They started asking, how can we move the needle, how can we improve, how can we do even better than we are already doing?”

Those questions and concerns led to a series of roundtable discussions involving Colbourne, SmartStart, and Davie County Schools administrators, and pre-K–3rd-grade representatives from each elementary school with varied perspectives — all brainstorming how to improve early childhood literacy. Focus groups involving principals, instructional coaches, reading specialists, media coordinators, private child care directors, and SmartStart gathered input, prioritized, and built buy-in. Together they carefully crafted DavieLEADS, the long-term plan designed to move the needle in early childhood literacy in Davie County.

“Everyone in this room knows the importance of education,” Haynes said. “Education allows students to break the cycle of poverty and it opens the doors of opportunity for our children. We know that research tells us the importance of being able to read proficiently by the end of third grade, which is why it is a national focus, not just in North Carolina or Davie County.”

Realizing the value of being able to assess the effectiveness of this project and others they invest in, the Mebane Foundation developed a series of metrics that will help it prioritize its investments and maximize its impact.

Performance metrics: Q&A with Larry Colbourne

Q: The Mebane Foundation has made significant contributions to literacy initiatives for the past 16 years and has achieved great success. Although many project results have been anecdotal, why develop specific metrics now?

Through the years we know we’ve partnered in some great work and had good success helping children, but as an organization, we felt it was time “to move the needle.” The only way to do that is to measure growth, and without achievable and tangible metrics, how can we know whether we’re truly moving in the right direction? Well-defined metrics will also allow us to tweak our approach throughout the process. If we expect potential partners, like other school systems, foundations, and political leaders to someday replicate our work, we need to be sure we can prove how we achieved our success.

Q: What are the performance metrics the Foundation has adopted to assess its work? How did the Foundation arrive at the specific metrics being adopted?

In the fall of 2016, the Mebane Foundation board went through an extensive exercise that led us to a consensus on what metrics we should hold to for years to come. First, we wanted to continue to engage other partners, whether that meant peer foundations and corporate funders, or political and educational partners at the local, regional, and national level. Secondly, we wanted to look at our funding decisions more closely through a financial lens. In order to maximize our impact, our decision-making process will now be driven by the number of children served, the predicted growth, and the program costs. Finally, we decided we wanted to “popularize” what we do with our partners. We see this as a win-win: The partnering organizations get great exposure and we get the opportunity to share ongoing best practices with peers in our educational space.

Q: What do you anticipate the impact of these metrics will be for the Foundation?

For the Mebane Foundation, these metrics put us out there in front of our peers and enable us to share valuable information and ideas. We no longer want to operate in a silo. These metrics allow us to evaluate and validate what we’re doing.

Q: For the grantee organization?

We see the same benefits for our partners. Our metrics also will help them evaluate and validate their success.

Q: For students?

At the end of the day, it’s all about offering every student the best opportunity to succeed. Our metrics are not meant to be intrusive and create more work and tests for our students and teachers. Our main goal is to add support so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. Metrics are a necessity, but they shouldn’t make the task at hand more difficult. On the contrary, the metrics should serve as a guide for our students and teachers.

Q: Why did the Foundation provide such a generous grant to Davie County schools? What does it ultimately hope to achieve?

We have a strong history with Davie County that has been forged over many years through multiple partnerships. This project is a huge undertaking that will require a strong partnership built on trust. With everything we’ve been through together over the last 15 years, and with all the assets remaining intact, we couldn’t think of a better place to tackle these aggressive goals and metrics.

Q: How does the Foundation envision its future? What would it like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years?

Five to ten years from now, I hope to see us funding similar partnerships to the one with Davie County Schools. That would mean it was a success. We will know the number of children served, the growth achieved, and the cost. Armed with that knowledge, I would anticipate that other systems and partners will be willing to take a similar approach. It is our hope that the Mebane Foundation will continue to be a catalyst for excellence and innovation in early education for many years to come.

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.”

HillRap and A+ Training Strengthen Individualized Reading Instruction at Read to Achieve Summer Camp

RTA Reading 450

by Jeanna B. White

During Davie County’s intensive four-week Read to Achieve summer camp, each camper experiences 128 hours of instruction with over 28 hours spent in individualized learning sessions with only three to four students in the group.

Tailored instruction through Hill Center HillRap reading sessions, as well as small group literacy circles and reading groups are essential aspects of the camp’s holistic approach to reading. Campers also actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music, and creative writing.

“HillRAP is a research-based multisensory structured language approach to teaching reading and when you combine that with A+ Schools training, it provides the students with a well-rounded approach to literacy,” said Kerry Blackwelder, who has taught HillRap to third graders at the camp for the past four summers and has taught the Hill Methodology to students at Cooleemee Elementary for the past 13 years.

“Instruction is individualized to meet the needs of all of the students and this allows us to make the most of our sixteen days at camp. We are able to work with each student in the area of phonics they need. The exciting thing about HillRAP the past two summers is that we have been able to use the Hill Learning System and implement HillRAP on the iPad. This keeps the students engaged from the beginning of the 45 minute session until the end. They are excited about mastering their word lists, reaching their fluency goals, and answering comprehension questions on the iPad.”

“I have a passion for this program because I have seen students improve their literacy skills and become confident readers,” Blackwelder said.

Using this Hill Learning System (HLS), seven specially-trained teachers guide these small groups through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Progress is continually monitored as students work toward mastery of skills.

Students are also assigned to a reading group of 4-8 students led by a reading coach. These groups provide extra practice and expand upon the skills learned during HillRap sessions.

Each day focuses on a different genre of reading: fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. The main focus for each genre is understanding the text and being able to retell the story in the proper sequence.

“All of our reading activities incorporate A+ Schools strategies using dance, visual art, or music,” said Lori Culler, a third grade reading coach. “This promotes high engagement from the students. The Read to Achieve Camp provides opportunities for third grade students to shine and succeed in an area where they have often struggled.”

Drama at Reader’s Theater Builds Literacy Skills at Read to Achieve Summer Camp

RTA Drama 450

by Jeanna White

“Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand”

This old Native American proverb expresses the impact that active play can have on a child’s ability to learn and exemplifies why Davie County’s arts-based Read to Achieve Camp has been so successful.

Enhancing reading skill and creating confidence are important goals of the intensive four-week camp. Davie County Schools uses a unique approach to its summer Read to Achieve Camp. In addition to traditional reading exercises, the school system incorporates visual arts, music, movement, and theater to create a holistic experience for each student.

“Dramatic activity is a natural part of most children’s lives before they start school in the form of make-believe play, enabling them to explore meaningful fictional situations that have parallels to the real world,” said Brenda Mosko, who taught drama during Davie’s Read to Achieve Camp. “This can be integrated into school through the use of structured play and drama which encourages children to learn actively and interactively throughout their education and across the curriculum.”

“Children like to move and to interact with others,” she said. “In drama we ask them to do exactly this. Rather than sitting still and listening they are encouraged to move, speak and respond to one another. Students who are challenged by reading and writing (including those with English as a second language) often respond more positively to the imaginative and multisensory learning offered by drama. This in turn helps them develop such skills as creativity, inquiry, communication, empathy, self-confidence, cooperation, leadership and negotiation. Most importantly, drama activities are fun – making learning both enjoyable and memorable.”

“Drama is ideal for cross-curricular learning and is a valuable tool for use in many subject areas. In particular, drama develops literacy skills – supporting speaking and listening, extending vocabulary and encouraging students to understand and express different points of view. Dramatic activity also motivates children to write for a range of purposes.”

“Drama encourages children to think and act creatively, thus developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied in all areas of learning. Through drama, children are encouraged to take responsible roles and make choices – to participate in and guide their own learning,” Mosko said.

Using a “Reader’s Theatre” format, Mosko combined students’ desire to perform with their need for oral reading practice.

“In Reader’s Theater, students “perform” by reading scripts created from grade-level books or stories. The objective is to enhance reading skill and confidence through practice with a purpose,” she added.

During one session, students enacted a “live” weather report, complete with TV anchors wearing red blazers and weather reporters clad in raincoats. All class members played a role and wore a costume. All seemed eager for their turn to read.

“Reader’s Theatre not only offers an entertaining and engaging means for improving fluency and enhancing comprehension; but also helps readers learn to read aloud with expression as well as build reading confidence,” she said.

“Reader’s Theater motivates reluctant readers and provides fluent readers with the opportunity to explore genre and characterization. In Reader’s Theater, there is no risk, because there’s no memorization required. There’s enough opportunity for practice, so struggling readers are not put on the spot,” Mosko said.

“Although costumes are not a requirement for Reader’s Theatre, students tend to get more into character and enhance their role playing through the use of simple costumes.  Reader’s Theatre helps a child use their imagination to create a character. By nurturing a child’s imagination, we are also enhancing their creativity, a skill that will help them throughout life.”

For complete details on the Davie County Read to Achieve Summer Camp, please visit http://www.mebanefoundation.com/news/read-to-achieve-camp-it-truly-is-amazing/

Using Creativity and Movement to Build Literacy Skills at Read to Achieve Summer Camp

RTA Movemnet 450

by Jeanna White

Ribbons streaming, the first-graders glide across the stage. Although moving in unison, students perform their own dance.

Each student created their dance based on things they like to do, such as swinging a bat or swimming, and then taught it to a partner who acted as a shadow.

This exercise teaches tracking, concept identification, visualization, and sequencing. According to Noel Grady-Smith, movement instructor for Davie County Schools Read to Achieve Camp, these are important skills that influence reading.

Improved literacy skills are the ultimate goal of the intensive four-week camp.  Davie County Schools uses a unique approach to its summer Read to Achieve Camp. In addition to traditional reading exercises, the school system incorporates visual arts, music, movement, and theater to create a holistic experience for each student.

“Our premise is that students need to learn about themselves and their strengths,” she said.

Strengths come in many different forms. Developmental psychologist, Howard Gardner, who created Multiple Intelligence Theory, said that every individual possesses several different and independent capacities for solving problems and creating products. He described these intelligences as verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.

Movement is a powerful learning tool, particularly for students who are bodily-kinesthetically inclined.  

“We get to focus on the things that really drive teachers crazy, the motor skills, because this is the age group where children want to move all of the time,” Grady-Smith said with a smile. “We give them a lot of permission to move, but with a tremendous amount of structure built in.”

In addition to free movement, students manipulate props such as hoops, ribbons, and bean bags to help help them understand the impact of their movement as well as to create a connectivity to the space around them.

“As we are moving we are naming the words that describe our movements, which gives them terms they are beginning to understand. These become vocabulary words they will never forget. We are also connecting it with the literature they are seeing in their classroom,” she added. “Today we began the Corn Dance which is also being taught in music and mirrored in the first- grade curriculum and will be part of the camp’s celebratory Pow Wow.”

Third graders participate in morning stretch, a program designed to develop intense focus and collaborative skills.

“Teachers want to go into the classroom and find students who already have some of those skills. If I can build them here, it is a lot better.”

For an introductory overview of Read to Achieve Summer Camp 2017, please visit http://www.mebanefoundation.com/news/read-to-achieve-camp-it-truly-is-amazing/

Music Helps Build Literary Skills during Davie County Schools Read to Achieve Camp

RTA Music Internal

by Jeanna White

Using wooden blocks, metal triangles, and drums, Erin Penley’s students tap out the words of the poem printed on the smartboard.

“There is a large body of research that shows a direct correlation between building oral fluency and performing rhythm exercises through musical performance,” said Penley, who is teaching music during Davie County Schools’ Read to Achieve Camp. “This research asserts that through building oral fluency, students are developing their literacy skills.”

Improved literacy skills are the ultimate goal of the intensive four-week camp.  Davie County Schools uses a unique approach to its summer Read to Achieve Camp. In addition to traditional reading exercises, the school system incorporates visual arts, music, movement, and theater to create a holistic experience for each student.

“The arts-based approach in camp is child-centered; this approach allows children to learn through the arts, including visual art, movement, drama, and music,” Penley explained. “Further, these artistic modes of learning are natural ways that children play, learn, and grow. Through this child-centered approach, many students in camp experience success, some for the first time, and feel excited about their learning.”

For an introductory overview of Read to Achieve Summer Camp 2017, please visit http://www.mebanefoundation.com/news/read-to-achieve-camp-it-truly-is-amazing/

Building Literary Skills through the Visual Arts at Davie County Schools Read to Achieve Summer Camp

RTA Art Internal

by Jeanna White

Armed with paint brushes, some students add personal touches to pictures that will be joined together to create a totem pole for the end-of-camp celebration. Others are applying the final layer of glaze to ceramic tiles bearing their personal symbols. Containers of hand-made clay beads and medallions cover the tables and floor.

What may appear like chaos is actually learning in its highest form.

“In the arts, we start with creativity, which is at the top of the intelligence scale,” said visual arts teacher, Lauren Rieth, referencing Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, which promotes higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating concepts, processes, procedures, and principles, rather than just remembering facts.

“The ability to see in many different ways and to solve problems are important 21st-century skills,” she added

Davie County Schools uses a unique approach to its summer Read to Achieve Camp. In addition to traditional reading exercises, the school system incorporates visual arts, music, movement, and theater to create a holistic experience for each student.

This summer, all camp activities are centered around the reading of The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin. In the story, a Native American girl is looked down upon because of her looks, but in the end, she is recognized and admired for her inner beauty.

“Read to Achieve Camp is full of boys and girls who sometimes don’t feel respected because they have different strengths and different ways of learning,” Rieth said.

“In this class, we use the creation of personal symbols and power necklaces and medallions to help them find the inner fierceness and strength needed to become the leaders they were meant to be.”

For an introductory overview of Read to Achieve Summer Camp 2017, please visit http://www.mebanefoundation.com/news/read-to-achieve-camp-it-truly-is-amazing/

Read to Achieve Camp – It Truly is Amazing!

read to achieve start int1

by Jeanna White

They started arriving at 7:45 am. Some were eager, some nervous, a few a bit teary, but all were ready for fun and success during Davie County’s Read to Achieve Camp.

“Mrs. Eggleston (3rd grade teacher at William R. Davie) told me the camp is awesome! I can’t wait!” said a third grade girl. Clutching shoeboxes for an upcoming camp project, she and another third-grade girl shared their enthusiasm about the first day. Both proudly showed the star stickers that identified which school bus they would ride home; one was excited because it would be her first time, likely only one of a number of exciting firsts during the camp.

Read to Achieve Camp is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The intensive four-week camp also includes 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. This year’s camp will serve 80 third graders, 30 second graders, and 30 first graders.

read to achieve start int2With $90,000 provided by the Mebane Foundation combined with state funds, students attending the 2017 Read to Achieve Camp will 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. This is the fourth year Davie’s highly successful RtA will use this holistic approach to reading.

Raymonda Shelton, an instructional coach at William R. Davie Elementary who also serves as the Read to Achieve Camp’s curriculum coordinator, loves the camp’s multi-faceted approach.  “Students who have had difficulty learning one way, are so good at learning other ways. They discover that they really can learn this information. It becomes magical.”

read to achieve start int3During last summer’s camp, more than 27% of the county’s non-proficient third-graders  reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade and a remarkable 76% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. In addition, over 65% of the youngest campers demonstrated strong growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations.

Parents are excited about the positive impact the camp can have on their child’s learning and future academic success.   

“I think this is a really great opportunity,” said the mother of a rising 2nd-grader. “I wish I had this camp when I went to school.”

One father said his son was nervous because he didn’t know anyone, but added,”This is going to be good for him. I think he will learn a lot and have a great time.”

Shelton said, “Read to Achieve Camp is truly a lot of fun. I think a lot of times families are apprehensive about their child having to go to summer school, but by the end of the first week we are receiving phone calls from parents asking how they can get their child into the camp. The word travels fast so we know it is a good experience.”

“We spend several weeks in advance defending the camp and trying to talk some of the parents into it and then five days after we get here we are having to turn people away,” she added.  

“This camp is really a good thing. Kids start feeling better about themselves and better about school. It truly is amazing.”

Davie Teachers Give Thumbs Up for A+ Schools Training!

Thimbs Up for A+ Teacher Training-int

by Jeanna White

For two days last week, the teachers became the students as 29 Davie County educators learned creative new ways to teach reading, a skill that is fundamental for success in school as well as in life.

This A+ Schools training was in preparation for Davie’s summer Read to Achieve Camp which is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The camp also includes 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. This intensive four-week camp began on Monday, June 26th.

The A+Schools of North Carolina Program combines interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know.

A+ Schools TrainingRead to Achieve Camp – an Awesome Experience!
This is the fourth year Davie County’s highly successful Read to Achieve Camp, partially funded by the Mebane Foundation, will employ this holistic approach to reading. The camp’s attendees will 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.

Children learn by example, so the camp’s teachers participated in seminars on storytelling, film reading, creative movement, and songwriting, all in preparation to use the arts to promote growth in the children’s reading mastery.

Raymonda Shelton, instructional coach at William R. Davie Elementary, who serves as the Read to Achieve Camp’s curriculum coordinator said, “The excitement at this training is palpable. Each year we come back almost thinking, ‘Ok, we’ve almost got this thing planned. We will do a lot of the same things we did last year,’ but never do we do everything the same.”

A+ Schools Training2“We always get something amazing from this training and go back and tweak things. We realize that we can make it better, we can do more, we can push harder. I think that is why our success has risen each year. We get more excited and understand the possibilities even more. It’s just an awesome experience,” Shelton said.

“I had students who attended the camp last year and loved it, so I wanted to be a part of it this summer,” said Jennie Kimel, while painting a Kamishibai box which is used in Japanese storytelling. Kimel, who just completed her second year as a 1st grade teacher at William R. Davie, is one of the five new teachers to the camp this year. “I also knew the camp followed the A+ model and I wanted to gain that training as well as be a part of such a positive program.”

While most of their colleagues are enjoying a well-deserved break, many of these devoted educators consider the camp to be the highlight of their year.

Professional Collaboration – an Additional Benefit
“I love, love, love the camp,” said third-year camp instructor, Erin Penley, who teaches music at Cooleemee and Pinebrook. “A lot of times these kids come to this program feeling defeated in their reading skills. We get to rejuvenate their love of reading by helping them to experience reading in a fun new way.”

“I also love the professional collaboration we get to experience that we don’t usually have time for during the regular school year,” she added.

Lauren Rieth, lead visual arts teacher for Davie County Schools and a fourth-year camp veteran is so passionate about the camp, she scheduled her retirement date for August so that she could participate at least one more year.

“I can’t think of a better way to end my teaching career than this vital program,” she added. “I will enter retirement with my heart singing!”

Moving the Needle in Early Childhood Literacy – Introducing “DavieLEADS” – Literacy Empowers Everyone in Davie to Succeed!

DavieLEADS Kickoff-int

by Jeanna White

The desks have been emptied, books packed up, and goodbyes said; but Davie County’s pre-K and elementary school teachers are already looking ahead to an inspiring new literacy program beginning next year, thanks to the Mebane Foundation.

The Mebane Charitable Foundation announced in April a grant of almost $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Davie Leads Title INTThe goals of the initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

Details of how those goals would be achieved were introduced to more than 400 Davie County pre-K and elementary school personnel during an end-of-year celebration on Monday, June 12, at Calvary Baptist Church – West Campus complete with pom poms, music, and a few spontaneous dance moves.

The celebration kicked off with a skit designed to allay any fears teachers might have about DavieLEADS and to encourage them to relax and to be open to the exciting literacy initiative to come.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, then congratulated teachers and staff on a successful year and shared his enthusiasm about the partnership that begins next year.

“When Dr. Hartness and his staff presented this proposal to my board it was a scary moment for everyone,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “What we hope to accomplish is a daunting task. But when we left that meeting, we had a $2.5 million 5-year deal that we are really thrilled about.”

DavieLEADS Larry Colbourne int“I told my board, that without a doubt, if there is a system in North Carolina that can do this, it will be Davie County Schools. You folks in the room can make it happen. I’m confident of that.” – Larry Colbourne

“I would like to make you a promise,” Colbourne added. “The Foundation does not want to get in your way. We are not going to make your jobs any more difficult than they already are. This is about Davie County Schools, the people in this room, and how we can support you.”

Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent of Davie County Schools, added, “We wanted to bring you together to help you share in the excitement that we have in what is on the horizon and the things that are ahead for us. I have never been as thrilled about an opportunity as I am about this one. In my career in education, I’ve never seen a commitment from a private entity investing in what we do every day. This initiative with the Mebane Foundation is going to make you an envy of teachers across North Carolina.”

“This is not some silver bullet, some shiny new thing in our school system. Instead, this is an investment in the most important factor in a child’s education because this is an investment in you.”

DavieLEADS Teachers intJinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for academic services, shared a historical perspective of some of the past partnerships between the Mebane Foundation and Davie County Schools which included providing Smart Boards in every classroom, funding preschool classrooms at each of the elementary schools as well as a second classroom at Pinebrook Elementary this year, funding a team of teachers to earn their Master’s degrees in Instructional Technology, providing intensive training for teachers in Hill Center methodology, and funding Read to Achieve Camps for struggling readers.

She added that although Davie County Schools is doing well, it is always seeking ways to do even better.

DavieLEADS Dr Hartness int“This school year we began to hear from Dr. Hartness and Larry Colbourne the phrase “moving the needle”. They started asking, “How can we “move the needle”? How can we improve? How can we do even better than we are already doing?

“Everyone in this room knows the importance of education,” Haynes said. “Education allows students to break the cycle of poverty and it opens the doors of opportunity for our children. We know that research tells us the importance of being able to read proficiently by the end of third grade which is why it is a national focus, not just in North Carolina or Davie County.”

“As much as we have to celebrate, and as well as we are doing, the reality is that we still have students that are not on target at the end of third grade and they are not making it,” she added.

“As we looked at our 2015-2016 data, the problem we identified is that 30 percent of our students aren’t ready for kindergarten and  34 percent of our students are not proficient at reading at the end of third grade. As well as we are doing, about a third of our students aren’t making it and we can’t be okay with that one third not being prepared for the future.” – Jinda Haynes

DavieLEADS Skit intThose questions and concerns led to a series of Mebane Roundtable discussions involving Colbourne, SmartStart, and Davie County Schools administrators,and pre-K – 3rd grade representatives from each elementary school with varied perspectives brainstorming how to improve early childhood literacy. Focus groups involving principals, instructional coaches, reading specialists, media coordinators, private child care directors, and SmartStart gathered input, prioritized, and built buy-in. Together they carefully crafted DavieLEADS, the long-term plan designed to move the needle in early childhood literacy in Davie County.

The grant from the Mebane Foundation provides professional development, materials, and specialized support staff, with supplementary funding for the Read to Achieve Summer Camp for at-risk first, second, and third graders who need extra academic support beyond the regular school year.

DavieLEADS Teachers int2“We have a chance here and we have to make the absolute most of it,” Dr. Hartness said. “We can be #1 in North Carolina and we can be a place in America where people want to come and learn about how to teach children to read.”

“Larry, this is a tremendous investment in each of the people in this room and into their classrooms. You and your foundation could invest in any district in America and I know you personally travel across America finding the best practices. For you and the Foundation to say you believe in Davie County says something about the people in this room and their commitment to excellence.”

“On behalf of Davie County Schools and our board members that are here today we want to say a tremendous thank you to the Mebane Charitable Foundation for making the largest investment in your history as a Foundation in Davie County Schools.”

Mebane Foundation Measuring Progress to Ensure Results: Performance Metrics Will Help Drive Success of Early Childhood Literacy Initiatives

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by Jeanna White

Since its beginning in 1998, the Mebane Charitable Foundation has focused on a complex, deeply-rooted problem: literacy. The Foundation resolved to do everything in its power to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, will be reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. Research consistently shows that these children are vastly more likely to succeed in school. And a child who succeeds in school is more confident and more likely to succeed in work and in life.

Over the past 16 years, the Foundation has invested more than $7 million in literacy intervention partnerships. Those partners have included public school systems, traditional public schools, public-charter schools, private schools, and other literacy-focused organizations. While some interventions have worked better than others, all have provided valuable data, metrics and research results.

Realizing the value of being able to quantify the effectiveness of each project, the Mebane Foundation recently developed a series of metrics that will help it prioritize its investments and maximize its impact. This year, the Foundation will begin applying those new metrics to its largest grant to date: $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, explained the new metrics and how they will guide the Foundation’s future endeavors.


Larry-Colbourne-Mebane-Foundation400Q: The Mebane Foundation has made significant contributions to literacy initiatives for the past 16 years and has achieved great success. Although many project results have been anecdotal, why develop specific metrics now?
Through the years we know we’ve partnered in some great work and had good success helping children, but as an organization we felt it was time “to move the needle”. The only way to do that is to measure growth, and without achievable and tangible metrics, how can we know whether we’re truly moving in the right direction? Well-defined metrics will also allow us to tweak our approach throughout the process. If we expect potential partners, like other school systems, foundations and political leaders to someday replicate our work, we need to be sure we can prove how we achieved our success.

Q: What are the performance metrics the Foundation has adopted to assess its work? How did the Foundation arrive at the specific metrics being adopted?
In the fall of 2016, the Mebane Foundation board went through an extensive exercise that led us to a consensus on what metrics we should hold to for years to come. First, we wanted to continue to engage other partners, whether that meant peer foundations and corporate funders, or political and educational partners at the local, regional, and national level. Secondly, we wanted to look at our funding decisions more closely through a financial lens. In order to maximize our impact, our decision-making process will now be driven by the number of children served, the predicted growth, and the program costs. Finally, we decided we wanted to “popularize” what we do with our partners. We see this as a win-win: the partnering organizations get great exposure and we get the opportunity to share ongoing best practices with peers in our educational space.

letters400Q: What do you anticipate the impact of these metrics will be for the Foundation?
For the Mebane Foundation, these metrics put us out there in front of our peers and enable us to share valuable information and ideas. We no longer want to operate in a silo. These metrics allow us to evaluate and validate what we’re doing.

For the grantee organization?
We see the same benefits for our partners. Our metrics also will help them evaluate and validate their success.

For students?
At the end of the day, it’s all about offering every student the best opportunity to succeed. Our metrics are not meant to be intrusive and create more work and tests for our students and teachers. Our main goal is to add support so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. Metrics are a necessity, but they shouldn’t make the task at hand more difficult. On the contrary, the metrics should serve as a guide for our students and teachers.

Q: Why did the Foundation provide such a generous grant to Davie County schools? What does it ultimately hope to achieve?
We have a strong history with Davie County that has been forged over many years through multiple partnerships. This project is a huge undertaking that will require a strong partnership built on trust. With everything we’ve been through together over the last 15 years, and with all the assets remaining intact, we couldn’t think of a better place to tackle these aggressive goals and metrics.

Q: How does the Foundation envision its future? What would it like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years?
Five to ten years from now, I hope to see us funding similar partnerships to the one with Davie County Schools. That would mean it was a success. We will know the number of children served, the growth achieved, and the cost. Armed with that knowledge, I would anticipate that other systems and partners will be willing to take a similar approach. It is our hope that the Mebane Foundation will continue to be a catalyst for excellence and innovation in early education for many years to come.

Mebane Foundation Grant to Fund Five Year Multi-Million Dollar Transformative Strategic Initiative with Davie County Schools to Address Early Literacy

Mebane Foundation Pre-K Student Activity Feature Image

by Jeanna White

The Mebane Charitable Foundation has approved a grant of almost $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

“The Mebane Foundation has been funding quality literacy interventions for years, but we felt it was time to find a partner and aggressively move the needle toward kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency by the end of third grade,” said Larry Colbourne, President of the Mebane Foundation. “Over the years we’ve invested heavily in Davie County and many of those assets remain and are alive and well, making Davie County the obvious choice for this long-term and strategic early literacy initiative.”

Davie County Schools has a rich history of academic success and consistently ranks in the top 10-15 percent of districts in the state of North Carolina. But despite the county’s successful academic performance, approximately 30 percent of students do not enter kindergarten “ready” according to DIAL scores (Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning) and 34 percent do not show reading proficiency by the end of the third grade as demonstrated on the NC End-of-Grade (EOG) Reading Test..

The goals of this initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 students each year over the 5-year implementation period.

“Our county leadership and community partners all seem to be working from the same sheet of music, thus we felt the time was right to throw out such a bold set of metrics that if reached, would put Davie County schools at the top in North Carolina,” Colbourne said.

“We’ve been following closely the recommendations of the Business Roundtable, a national group of CEO’s from around the country, led by folks like North Carolina’s own Jim Goodnight of SAS, and at this moment in time we believe, as do they, that kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency by third grade are the keys to the future success of our workforce and our country.”

Initially, this project will be a collaborative effort between Davie County Schools, Smart Start, and the public/private preschools. The grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide professional development, materials, and specialized support staff totaling $2,447,188.00 over 5 years, with additional supplementary funding for the Read to Achieve Summer Camp for at-risk first, second, and third graders who need extra academic support beyond the regular school year. In addition, this project will develop and build the professional capacity of 111 preschool through third grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities. These educators will continue impacting countless students for years to come.

The partnership will demonstrate how districts can leverage high quality professional development and technology to support individualized learning and improve overall reading results, especially for those students who are most difficult to reach.

Colbourne added, “Through the partnerships created with the Healthy Davie Initiative we feel this five-year plan will only get stronger as we move forward. Initially, I see it heavily involving our partners at Davie County Schools, Smart Start and our county daycares, but as it evolves, we have the ability and county partnerships to make enhancements on the fly. We will do this!”

“Davie County Schools is extremely excited to partner with the Mebane Foundation and other community organizations to make significant improvements in early literacy,” said Dr. Darrin Hartness, the Superintendent of Davie County Schools. “This partnership will be a national model for ensuring early literacy in preschool through third grade.”

“This public-private partnership between Davie County Schools and the Mebane Foundation creates a unique opportunity to provide high quality professional development, strengthen instruction, and deliver the most effective learning experiences for all children in Davie County.  We will focus efforts to ensure our children are developing foundational literacy skills from preschool through early grades.  Research clearly indicates the correlation between reading proficiency by third grade and success in school; equipping our children early with these essential literacy skills prepares them for life.  Through this collaboration, improvements in literacy will open doors of opportunity for students, and our community will be on a path to a more competitive and prosperous future.”

“We want to thank the Mebane Foundation leadership and Board of Directors for their confidence and continued investment in Davie County,” continued Hartness. “Your generosity and support allow us to provide experiences far beyond what can be funded in other public schools.  You have challenged us to dream and to sharpen our focus.  Our teachers and the children we serve are blessed by your intentional efforts to change lives through literacy.”