DavieLEADS Brings Letterland to Faith-Based Pre-K Classrooms Across Davie County

Deitre Junker, preschool teacher at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland Parade

Deitre Junker, preschool teacher at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland Parade

By Jeanna Baxter White
As the opening notes of the Letterland theme song began to play, fifty excited preschoolers dressed as their favorite Letterland character began to march in a slow circle around the churchyard. Annie Apple led the parade followed by Bouncy Ben, Clever Cat, and all of their fellow Letterland characters.

The students in Mocksville’s First United Methodist Church’s half-day preschool program were celebrating Letterland Day and the completion of the entire Letterland program, from Annie Apple to ZigZag Zebra.

“We went through a different letter each week and ended last week so today’s parade commemorated their experience,” said Allison Gupton, the preschool’s director. “Letterland has really helped a lot of them. We’ve seen so much growth and development, often from knowing nothing to knowing the characters, the songs, the sounds the letters make, and recognizing the letters. It’s been really neat to watch them evolve from thinking this is a character, like in a TV show, to knowing that it means something.”

Allison Gupton, preschool teacher at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland parade

Allison Gupton, preschool director at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland parade

Letterland is a phonics-based program that teaches students how to read, write, and spell. It is a well-established program for students from preschool to 2nd grade, with a carefully constructed curriculum for children at each grade level. The program has friendly ‘pictogram’ characters based on different letters that live together in Letterland. Stories featuring the letter characters explain phonics to children in a way that’s more entertaining than your typical lesson and thus sticks in the minds of students.

Davie County Schools (DCS) 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.

Sherri Robinson, Pre-K teacher at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool watches as Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher, talks to students in “Peter Puppy” letterland costume.

Sherri Robinson, Pre-K teacher at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool watches as Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher in Peter Puppy Letterland costume engages students

When 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.

The program became 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.

From 2016-2018, the Mebane Foundation provided Letterland materials, software, and professional development for NC Pre-K to 2nd-grade classrooms in Davie County. This year, the program was expanded to include half-day faith-based programs, as well. Six preschool programs from the following churches participated: Bethlehem United Methodist Church, Center United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church of Mocksville, First United Methodist Church, Hillsdale Baptist Church, and Hillsdale Methodist Church.  Each received a Letterland for the Early Years curriculum kit, literacy training for their staff, and onsite coaching to support their literacy curriculum.

“One of the things we realized was that we had to create a continuum of educational interventions that started early and extended through the third grade,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation. “That’s the big difference with the DavieLEADS grant. We went down into the pre-k world. Normally, we would get the kids in kindergarten and then try to get them reading by the third grade. We decided to go deeper, and that’s a huge part of this project.”

Preschool teahers Donna Koontz (left) and Deitre Junker (right) with their class of 4-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville

Preschool teachers Donna Koontz (left) and Deitre Junker (right) with their class of 4-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

The approach has been successful. At the end of DavieLEADS’  first year, kindergarten readiness in Davie County has improved from 71 percent to 80 percent based on the Dial-4 screening assessment.

“It’s a fabulous idea to introduce Letterland at this level so that when the children get to kindergarten they don’t have to learn an entirely different concept,” said Sarah Watkins, preschool director at Hillsdale Baptist Church. “They were already learning the alphabet here in our program, but it’s even better if the program we are teaching is consistent with what is used in the elementary schools.”

“One of the coolest things has been when I’m talking to a child outside of class and they reference Peter Puppy or another character and some of the things they have learned. That is a highlight, it’s just wonderful!”

Preschool teachers Sherri Hendrix (left) and Susan Myers (right) with their class of 3 and 4-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

“As a private non-profit, Letterland is not something we could afford. Having the Mebane Foundation provide this training and the curriculum packet has been invaluable,” she added.  She hopes to find the money to purchase additional materials so that Letterland can be introduced to the younger classes next year.

First United Methodist was able to purchase a second Early Years curriculum kit which is being shared by the younger classes. “The children will be getting the foundation in the twos, we will build on it through the fours and then the possibilities are endless as they enter elementary school,” said Gupton.

“The children have been so excited and we’ve been pleased with their progress and what they’ve learned thanks to this partnership with the Mebane Foundation. It’s been a true blessing to be able to do this. The kids, the grownups, everyone enjoys Letterland, but most importantly, the kids are learning.”

Preschool teachers Susan Wall (left) and Holly Sinopoli (right) with their class of 3-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

Preschool teachers Susan Wall (left) and Holly Sinopoli (right) with their class of 3-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

In fact, many of Gupton’s students love the program so much that they asked for it for Christmas. “I was texting parents where we ordered our stuff from and it became a Christmas list item.”

Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher, said that coordinating the curriculum between private and public preschools ensures the same high-quality instruction no matter the preschool setting.

Additionally, using Letterland across the board provides all of the preschool students with the same frame of reference and eases their transition into kindergarten because they are already familiar with the Letterland characters.

“When they see Letterland again in kindergarten it makes them feel good by building familiarity when everything else is so new and gives them just a little boost,” said Nelson. “It’s a fabulous program, very multi-sensory, very appropriate for young children. Letters are so abstract, but when you link them to a character and a story, they become easier to understand.”

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

“When most people think about children identifying letters, they think about identifying the shape and saying the name of it,” Nelson explained. “But really the most important part of this for preschoolers is to identify the sound, whether or not they can attach it to a letter.  We teach children to train their ear to hear things in a different way which helps build phonological awareness.”

For Sherri Robinson, who teaches the pre-k class at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool, the transition to Letterland has been easy. She had already been teaching a similar program and all three of her children used Letterland in elementary school so she was already familiar with it.

“I love the program. I think it’s fabulous for the kids,” said Robinson, who has also taught kindergarten. “They love the characters which provides so much more meaning for them. Letterland is very engaging and keeps their interest. The materials are great! I like the big letter cards and the way that they can trace them with their finger. The program has songs to make it more playful. I also love the kinesthetic aspect of having a hand motion with each letter that allows children who can’t sit still to move. Letterland is the total package.”

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

“I love early literacy, I think it is very, very important for a child’s development. They are like little sponges, the more you can engage them the more they just soak it up.”

Letterland has been a huge help,” said Deitre Junker, who has been teaching preschool at First United Methodist for 19 years. “I’ve been using something similar but this incorporates more of what they need in kindergarten. The kids have taken to it so well and love it. Every time we start playing the song or doing the motions they love it. All of the children know the characters and know the letters and will be able to transition easily into using the same program in kindergarten.”

Lucas Crotts, a student in Ms. Junker’s class at First United Methodist Church Preschool wearing a “Zig-Zag Zebra” Letterland character costume

Lucas Crotts was happy to demonstrate.“I love Clever Cat and ZigZag Zebra, they are my favorite Letterland characters. I learned them from Mrs. Deitre.” He quickly went on to name every character and letter in the alphabet and made its sound and showed each hand motion.  

His favorite thing about Letterland? “I like to learn about all of the characters and I love to get my coloring books and draw them.”

Junker believes kindergarten won’t be such a shock to them and they will be ready and ahead of the game. “I also think it could help them academically in the long run.”

“Parents love it! Some of the children have siblings already in school doing Letterland and the parents love that we are starting it here, too. The siblings are having conversations about Letterland. It’s a win-win for everyone!”

Cognitive ToyBox – Achieving Early Literacy in Davie County

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Colt Sexton completes an assessment with Cognitive ToyBox

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County Schools is continuing to make strides in addressing key challenges to kindergarten readiness. Through DavieLEADS, a partnership with the Mebane Foundation, Davie County Schools has had the unique opportunity to pilot solutions that can move the needle in early childhood education.

From the outset, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher, identified the need for better assessment tools. In seeking an assessment tool that was less subjective and more objective, they chose to pilot Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform to measure school readiness. Their goal was to increase the reliability of student assessments across the county.  Now in their second year of using the tool, both administrators and teachers have found it to be effective in addressing their assessment needs.

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

“Through Cognitive ToyBox, we have an unprecedented level of individualized data across language and literacy, math and social-emotional development that we can use to improve instruction and individualization on an ongoing basis,” said Nuckolls.

Cognitive ToyBox enables direct assessment of early language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs. For the 2018-2019 school year, the goal was to familiarize teachers with the data-driven instructional planning opportunities available through using this assessment data.

Central Davie PreSchool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Central Davie preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Key to this model was the strong collaboration between Nelson and the school system’s NC Pre-K teachers. Nelson also coached a subset of NC Pre-K teachers located in childcare programs. They discussed how to review and use their assessment data to differentiate learning opportunities based on children’s progress.

“Throughout the course of the year, teachers became more comfortable with using the reports on their own to make decisions on small group instruction on a weekly basis,” shared Nelson.

“I really enjoy using Cognitive ToyBox in my classroom with my students,” said Felicia McClamrock, who teaches NC Pre-K at Central Davie and was one of the three DCS teachers who piloted the program last year. “It is a great program for our children, and they enjoy using it. It is also easy for them to use. The program helps me know what level my students are on, what they know, and what they need to work on. It helps me to know who needs more individual attention in certain areas, and I learned that some of the students that I thought had mastered certain skills were the ones that needed the extra help.”

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

“I like that it is aligned with what I am teaching and it helps me spend less time doing assessments, and I can use the data from the assessments and get exactly what I need for meetings, report cards and teaching in the classroom,” McClamrock added.

The time-savings stems from a reduction in typing and paperwork. Traditionally, teachers would need to write notes on each child and then type them into a digital system after class. Cognitive ToyBox’s game-based assessments automate that process by automatically collecting the data and organizing it into reports and recommendations for teachers.

In addition to the time she saves using the assessments, Josey Redinger, who teaches at Central Davie and was part of the pilot program, also appreciates the teacher-led portion of the platform. “It allows me to reinforce concepts again and again.”

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as pre-k student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as preschool student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Meredith Koeval, NC Pre-K teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, agrees that Cognitive ToyBox has the potential to be a good tool for assessments and said she appreciates that it keeps data all in one place and tends to be faster than her own teacher-created assessments. “This tool helps me keep more data on students throughout the year so I can track their progress better. Sometimes, though, I can tell children are just randomly guessing when they complete the independent portion of the game, which does not lead to an accurate assessment. When I am working hands on doing the teacher-led portion, I do not have that issue.”

Administrators also found value from the platform. “We have had some differentiation of instruction challenges in the past year, and the Cognitive ToyBox reports helped us to keep abreast of progress towards our school readiness goals,” said Nuckolls.

The data has also enabled the DCS team to improve their instruction at the program level. “The data has been valuable in conversations with teachers about student growth, state standards, and assessment practices,” said Nelson.

In preparation for Year 3 of DavieLEADS, district leaders are looking into ways to ease the transition for students between preschool and kindergarten. Cognitive ToyBox data is being incorporated into other student assessment data that will be shared with kindergarten teachers over the summer. Kindergarten teachers can then use the reports and recommendations to get a head start in planning for the upcoming year.

“We could not have asked for a better partner than DCS,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox. “Thanks to their ongoing feedback over the past two years, Cognitive ToyBox has been considerably improved, not only for NC Pre-K providers but for all early childhood education providers.”

Kids Visit Davie Elementary Schools During Pre-K Transition Field Trips – DavieLEADS

By Jeanna Baxter White

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round” …. Just ask the NC Pre-K students from Almost Home Child Care who recently rode a school bus to William R. Davie Elementary School for a tour as they prepare to enter kindergarten this fall.  For many, it was the first time on a bus and the first time in an elementary school.

“The transition from preschool to kindergarten can be one of the most significant events a young child experiences,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools, who organized the field trips.  “Many emotions characterize this moment; excitement, fear, happiness, anxiety, surprise and a sense of being overwhelmed are a few of the emotions children and families might feel. However, with careful advance preparation and planning, this transition can be a successful milestone for the child. DavieLEADS is giving thoughtful and deliberate attention to this process in many ways.  One way is by creating these transition field trips for students attending NC Pre-K classrooms that are located in child care settings.”

DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), is a five-year early literacy initiative created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading proficiency.

Through the initiative, collaborative work with NC Pre-K classrooms located in private child care settings has been progressing with the goal of creating educational opportunities equitable to the educational opportunities the students in public school NC Pre-K classrooms receive. While all NC Pre-K classrooms, regardless of location, meet the same state guidelines and provide the same curriculum, students attending NC Pre-K in public school settings get an opportunity to gain familiarity and comfort in the elementary school setting before attending kindergarten.

The field trip included a tour of the school conducted by William R. Davie NC Pre-K teachers, Margaret Steele and Alisa Allen, and the opportunity to join their class for a story and a Letterland activity in the gym.

“We hope that when the students come back next year and see a familiar face within the staff, it will really help,” Nelson said. “The teachers and kids have loved it, and the administrators of the child care centers have been very thankful for this opportunity through the grant from the Mebane Foundation.”

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round!

Sabrina Lever, an NC Pre-K teacher at Almost Home Child Care, said, “I value that our Pre-K students have this opportunity to explore an elementary school and the kindergarten classrooms. The whole experience of the children getting to ride a bus, visit the cafeteria, gymnasium, media center, and computer lab was educational and extremely fun for them. Now they can visualize Kindergarten when we are talking about it. This experience has helped them developmentally by preparing them for what’s to come. They know more of what to expect and now have a better understanding of what it means to be a Kindergartner.”

In addition to familiarizing the students with elementary school, the tours provided another opportunity for the NC Pre-K teachers from the private sites to connect with their counterparts at the schools to build the professional community.

The participating NC Pre-K classrooms included Almost Home Child Care, LLC, Kountry Kids Learning Center & Preschool, Mocksville Head Start, Mudpies Child Development Center, and Young Children’s Learning Center. The participating elementary schools and public NC Pre-K classrooms included Cooleemee, Cornatzer, Mocksville, Pinebrook, and William R. Davie Elementary Schools.

The students who have completed their field trip have been excited to see their elementary school.  During one recent field trip to Pinebrook Elementary School, a student from Mocksville Head Start excitedly told the bus driver, Susan Pifer, “This is the best day of my life!.”

Apseed ~ Supporting our Youngest Readers

Young child using Apseed Seedling

By Jeanna Baxter White

“We aren’t looking for advocates anymore, we are looking for accomplices and we have them in Davie County,” says Greg Alcorn, founder of ApSeed Early Childhood Education. “The Mebane Foundation has been the rockstar of all partners for ApSeed.”

The Mebane Foundation and ApSeed Early Childhood Education joined forces last spring to increase literacy scores among at-risk children in Davie County by providing a free e-Reader preloaded with applications designed to help children start school kindergarten-ready. From music that will soothe a newborn to games that teach simple spelling and math, the tablet’s carefully selected apps meet the developmental needs of children from birth to kindergarten.

“ApSeed strives to help children stay age proficient at home, so they can be grade proficient in school,” said Alcorn. “Our goal is to provide a Seedling to every socioeconomically disadvantaged child 0-4 years old. We believe the ApSeed Project will level the playing field while also being a tool for real and lasting enrichment.”

Through a $105,000 grant from the Foundation, almost 1,000 custom-built tablets, called Seedlings, have been distributed free of charge to children 0-4 whose families are enrolled in the WIC program through the Davie County Department of Public Health, Parents as Teachers through Smart Start of Davie County, or Davie County’s NC Pre-K program.

“We’re always on the lookout for best practices and resources to support our youngest readers, with this partnership and with the Seedling I believe we’ve hit a home run!” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation.

Colbourne believes the Seedling is a valuable tool to support DavieLEADS, a five-year early literacy initiative funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The initiative seeks to improve kindergarten readiness from 70% to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

Children using Apseed Seedlingz

In order to receive a Seedling, parents must provide their email address and agree to complete a short, five-question survey which is emailed every 90 days. ApSeed measures the results of the surveys in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Seedling and to continue perfecting its programming. Questions include 1. How are you using the Seedling? 2. How much per day? What is your child’s favorite app? 4. What is your child learning? 5. What is the Seedling doing for you as a parent?

It is too early to make research-based conclusions in Davie County, but Alcorn said the ApSeed internal survey results have been favorable and no one has expressed that their child has experienced boredom or burnout with the device.

Responses have included: “At first he couldn’t say the alphabet but now he can use ALL of the letters,” “likes tracking letters and is trying to learn to spell words,” “the twins were born early and their speech is behind but now they are catching up,” “I can hear her singing with the tablet,” and “plays with it until the battery is dead.”

Usage by age has been consistent with Rowan County. Children begin with the music app and transition to letters and numbers as they get older. ApSeed’s analysis for Davie County explained the progression.

“Under the age of one, the music player (Pulsar) app is used the most. Pulsar can play songs over and over, meaning the Seedling can allow the infant to listen to pleasant music. Since the parent/caregiver is operating the Seedling, bonding is the most helpful value the Seedling does for the family.

Age one shows a significant increase in the child focusing. Favorite apps become shapes and colors. The brain is forming allowing the child to want to focus. Another striking development is the parent/caregiver is teaching their child. Now the child is a little less dependent on the parent/caregiver but just enough to be taught. At this stage, the child is learning how to learn to read.

Ages two and three show an amazing increase in learning colors and shapes. Parents notice this as well. The child is learning to read. Therefore, bonding decreases because the child is more independent.

At age four children use the 123 Numbers and ABC Kids apps the most because they have already learned the colors and shapes. These apps encourage tracing letters and numbers, so the children are learning to write. We have observed children tracing their letters on the Seedling, then grabbing a piece of paper to try to replicate what they just learned demonstrating the child is ready to learn to read. The Seedling is so familiar by age four that it is very easy to use. At this stage, the child is ready to enter Kindergarten at the age proficiency of the other children.”

Based on what ApSeed has learned, the apps are arranged on the tablet in age-proficiency order. Alcorn says this will help parents help their child be kindergarten-ready. Ideally, a child should spend about 400 hours over the four years using the Seedling.

Apseed Seedling

“Students less than 50% proficient in school are less likely to catch up. It’s too late when a child is in the 8th month of third grade to expect them to be able to make up for six years of not being close to age proficient and to expect them to pass the end-of-grade reading test. That’s what we are charged up about, helping children get to where they are supposed to be.”

ApSeed is now brainstorming ways to increase parent/caregiver response rates. “We want to figure out if there are additional things we should be doing to reach out to parents to find out how well the Seedling is working for their child since the response rate to our surveys is about 25%,” said Alcorn. “Most would say that’s a great return but it’s not to me. We want to be able to take a comprehensive look at the other 75% in order to know if the responses we are getting from the 25% are representative of the children as a whole.”

“We want to identify any additional needs the children might have because we have room for more apps. We also have six tutorial videos about operating the device that we’d like to get to parents.”

ApSeed also hopes to expand its social media presence so that everyone learns about the benefits of the Seedling. “The ideal situation would be to have every parent/caregiver and every person involved in the child’s life on our Facebook so that they support each other and get guidance from each other.”

“Eventually, we would like to get to where the Seedling is recognized as valuable for all of North Carolina so that it can be distributed through public funding instead of just private funding, that’s our next goal.”

Alcorn may soon get his wish. Representatives Horn, Warren, Lucas, and Howard have sponsored a bill to the North Carolina General Assembly recommending that the  Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development and Early Education, establish a three-year pilot project to implement the ApSeed program in Forsyth, Hoke, New Hanover, Watauga, and Yadkin Counties beginning in July 2019.

To learn more about the history of ApSeed in Davie County please visit http://www.mebanefoundation.com/davieleads/apseed-and-mebane-foundation-join-forces-to-provide-1000-mobile-touchscreen-tablet-e-readers-free-to-qualifying-davie-county-preschool-children/

ApSeed Early Childhood Education is privately funded through foundations and donations. For more information about ApSeed visit apseed.org or call (980) 643-0451.

DavieLEADS strives to improve kindergarten readiness

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on Education NC (EdNC –DavieLEADS strives to improve kindergarten readiness) and is republished here with permission.

Cooleemee Elementary pre-K. All photos by Liz Bell/EducationNC

Davie County is in its second year of the DavieLEADS grant program. That is a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and third grade reading proficiency. Its specific goal is to get kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and third grade reading proficiency from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

In the past few days, we’ve talked about DavieLEADS’ efforts around elementary schools in the county, but another crucial aspect of the initiative is intervening in pre-K classrooms.

NC Pre-K is the hallmark program of North Carolina early childhood education, bringing high-quality pre-K instruction to students around the state. In contrast to North Carolina’s traditional public school system, NC Pre-K is administered by a mix of public and private institutions.

In Davie County, the school district is using DavieLEADS to get private and public pre-K programs on the same page.

“In pre-K, our main goals were number one trying to make sure that all preschool classrooms, NC Pre-K in particular, but preschool across the county — whether they were public schools or private preschool and child care centers or half-day churches — that we’re getting the teachers some of the same information, some of the same curriculum materials, so that everybody has resources to do a high quality job,” said Stephanie Nelson, a preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County.

She talked with EducationNC reporters in the midst of a swirl of students inside a pre-K classroom at Cooleemee Elementary in Davie County. In a word, the classroom looked like chaos, with students moving to and fro, picking up and playing with a variety of items, and talking excitedly.

Nelson said that when it comes to pre-K, looks can be deceiving.

“In preschool, our main goal is for children to learn through play. So, it looks like we are just goofing off, but we are not,” she said.

She went on to explain that every piece of equipment in the room is helping students learn how to do certain things, like manage playing with materials, cleaning up, and interacting with other students.

Some of the big changes Nelson has seen since the implementation of DavieLEADS is increased communication and access to resources.

She explained that pre-K is often separate from the rest of the K-12 education system. They are, in essence, a world apart.

“As you can see, physically here, pre-K stands alone in many places, and you’re the only preschool teacher,” she said.

One of the goals of DavieLEADS is to increase collaboration among preschool teachers across the county. This gives them the natural interaction that many K-12 teachers take for granted. The grant has also allowed Davie County pre-K to access more technology and other resources, including the ability to better collect and analyze data.

Nelson has been working with the DavieLEADS program for two years, but pre-K teacher Jodi Walker was at Cooleemee prior to the grant. She says the technology and programs that help monitor development in pre-K students have been especially helpful. And she says she’s noticed a change in the students since The Mebane Foundation stepped in.

“Do I see a change in them?” she asked. “Yes. They’re more interactive.”

Cooleemee Elementary pre-K. Liz Bell/EducationNC

The pre-K classroom at Cooleemee is, obviously, part of the district’s school system, but through DavieLEADS, Nelson and other district staff are also working with private preschools like Kountry Kids Preschool in Mocksville.

Housed in a stand-alone trailer, the preschool really is in a separate world from the traditional K-12 school, a challenge that separates it from its preschool analogues housed in the traditional school system, according to Lynn Marrs, the site director for NC Pre-K at the facility.

“In my experience in working in an elementary school, they wouldn’t have daily exposure to a school environment,” she said of the students at Kountry Kids.

Kountry Kids pre-K. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Marrs is a former elementary school principal. When she was in a traditional public school setting, she said that preschool students would have regular chances to do simple things that older students take for granted, such as going to the lunchroom, seeing the media center, or even getting exposure to what a kindergarten classroom looks like.

These may seem like simple things, but for preschool students, exposure to what their next level of education is going to look like is a big deal. Through its partnership with Davie County Public Schools, Kountry Kids students do get to make visits to elementary schools, but Marrs said the environment is definitely the big difference between her program and what you might see in a traditional public school.

Other than that, she said the curriculum is pretty much the same. Private NC Pre-K programs have to follow state guidelines around who they hire as teachers and what kind of curriculum they teach, but through the DavieLEADS grant, the school system is trying to coordinate the curriculum between private and public preschools even more, ensuring that the quality of education students get is basically the same no matter the preschool setting.

Student at Kountry Kids. Liz Bell/EducationNC

One of the big advantages of the grant, Marrs said, is the increased resources Kountry Kids has access to. That includes technology, such as programs that allow her school to better assess students using robust data. She said parents were really impressed when Kountry Kids was able to provide more detailed assessments of students thanks to the DavieLEADS grant.

“When we went through report cards and we went through assessments, it was a big eye opener,” she said.

And thanks to the data to which the school now has access, Kountry Kids is better able to differentiate instruction based on the needs of students.

Students at Kountry Kids

When The Mebane Foundation was trying to figure out how best to intervene in Davie County Schools to improve literacy, one of the things it recognized was that it had to create a continuum of educational interventions that started early and extended through the third grade. That’s the big difference with the DavieLEADS grant, according to Larry Colbourne, president of the foundation.

“We went down into the pre-K world,” he said. “Normally, we always got the kids in kindergarten and then try to get them reading by the third grade. We decided to go deeper, and that’s a huge part of this project.”

In year two, DavieLEADS has a long way to go, but Colbourne has already been giving a lot of thought to the future. When the grant is over, if it has been successful, what is a way forward for Davie County? Part of the hope is that the money will have enabled the district to align all its pre-K through elementary grades in such a way that the foundation has been set and the progress can continue. But he recognizes that a monetary infusion will always be helpful.

To that end, he said it’s likely that when the grant is over, The Mebane Foundation will continue to have a role in the district.

“As the Mebane Foundation, I would say, listen, we’re not going to back away,” he said. “Let’s look at what it would cost the state. Maybe we can split the difference. We know if we’re going to sustain, the school system is going to need additional money, and in this environment, it’s difficult to find those funds. Although we’re not going to walk away totally, we would hope in good faith, whether it’s Davie County or anywhere else we’d partner with, that once leadership at the county level sees these types of gains, they would jump in and say we’ll pay some here.”

Here is a video highlighting the EducationNC team’s journey through Davie County reporting on the impact of DavieLEADS.

 

The evolution of Davie County’s elementary schools

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on Education NC (EdNC –The evolution of Davie County’s elementary schools) and is republished here with permission.

A student at Mocksville Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

A student at Mocksville Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

With the help of the Mebane Foundation, Davie County has embarked on a mission to improve reading in its elementary schools.  Yesterday, EducationNC talked about the success the DavieLEADS grant has had in helping turn around Cooleemee Elementary, but the initiative is active throughout the other area elementary schools as well.

DavieLEADS is a five-year, $2.5 million grant, with a specific goal to get kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022. It began in the 2017-18 school year and the success is already starting to show. After the 2017-18 End-of-Grade test results were announced, the county discovered it had moved up from 45th to 17th out of all 115 districts in the state for third-grade reading proficiency.

Mocksville Elementary is another school that has seen impressive gains from the initiative. When the 2017-18 EOG results were announced, the school found out its grade-level proficiency in third grade had increased to 64.9 percent from 52.9 percent the year before. Teachers and staff who work at the school attribute that to many things, but it’s not hard to draw a direct line to the work of DavieLEADS.

 

Liz Bell/EducationNC

Madison Wyatt and Suzanne Doub, both third grade teachers at the school, point to the work of the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) from last year.

PLCs are essentially where teachers can get together at the school to discuss the standards they’re working with in the classrooms and get a better grasp on how to teach to them. The focus of the schools working under DavieLEADS last year were these PLCs, while this year they are focusing on implementing guided reading.

Wyatt said that the PLCs last year focused on understanding and breaking down the standards so that teachers knew how to really teach them.

“Really, honestly, you can be handsome on a standard … but what are you teaching and how are you teaching it?” she said.

Wyatt explained how she might go about teaching one particular standard: making connections in a text through sentences and paragraphs.

That standard includes a lot of different skills, such as compare and contrast, cause and effect, and understanding sequences. She said she would start out with fiction reading, because it’s easier for teaching cause and effect and compare and contrast. She would focus on one skill in a week, say compare and contrast. The next week, the students would move on to cause and effect, but meanwhile, she would also be looping back to the skill they learned the week before. She does that with each new skill set, introducing a new one while revisiting prior ones. She said that prior to the PLCs, standards were taught far differently.

Shady Grove Elementary Schools. Liz Bell/EducationNC

“We would just say, here’s our standard, we’re going to teach this standard,” she said. “And we would not have thought and processed it like we have.”

Doub said another part of the PLCs last year was getting a firmer grasp on where kids were coming from and where they needed to go.

“We also looked at vertical alignment,” she said. “What are the kids coming to us with, and what do we need to prepare them with for fourth grade?”

For Meaghan Irons, this is her first year at Mocksville teaching third grade. But watching her more veteran colleagues, she is not at a loss for why the school has improved.

“Being the new kid on the block, I can definitely see how they got here,” she said. “They literally come in every week and break apart every standard.”

She said the support she has gotten in Davie County has been phenomenal, and that’s thanks in part to the literacy coaches and professional consultants brought in using funds from DavieLEADS.

“I have literally probably gotten more support and more training in the last year I’ve been here than I got in the last five years at my last school,” she said.

Different schools in Davie County have different levels of needs and resources, and sometimes it doesn’t pay to be well off. While Mocksville and Cooleemee are both Title I schools, meaning that at least 40 percent of the children in the school are low-income, Shady Grove Elementary School is not. That comes with certain advantages, but also some disadvantages. Title I schools are eligible for federal funds that can help with school programs, but Shady Grove doesn’t get any of that extra money. For Shady Grove Principal Sarah Maier, DavieLEADs has helped fill in that gap.

“The level of support that you get is amazing,” she said.

She previously worked in Davidson County where she was most recently at a non-Title I school. There was no reading specialist or instructional coach. Any new programs or initiatives that were introduced were the responsibility of her and her assistant principal to implement.

Guided reading lesson at Shady Grove Elementary Schools. Liz Bell/EducationNC

“Coming from that to a non-Title I school that has a half-time instructional coach … also the help with implementing guided reading. I can see them implementing the … plan in what took our school in Davidson four years; they’re doing it in three months,” she said. “Because they have coaches in there helping them. If you don’t have coaches in there it’s harder to get that implementation as quickly.”

Guided reading, the centerpiece of Davie County’s strategy this year, is part of what’s called a balanced literacy approach, and here’s how it works.

There are different elements that are rotated. One is where a teacher reads aloud from a text that is above grade level. Here, students are just listening. Then there is teacher-directed reading. That is grade-level text that each student is holding or viewing via projection.

“Whether they are on grade level or above grade level, that is their window into how to read grade-level text,” said Nancy Scoggin, one of the consultants who came in to work under the DavieLEADS grant. She said this is the portion where standards are explicitly taught.

Then there is guided reading. These are small groups of students reading texts at their instructional level with the help of the teacher.

“It’s all about the mistakes that they’re making, so that we can see what to do next,” Scoggin said.

These components, combined with writing and working with words, comprise what is called balanced literacy, and they are the components of the guided reading model Davie County is using.

In the video below, Kelly McGilvary, a third grade teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, explains guided reading and what it looks like in her classroom.

The model of guided reading used in Davie County is based on the work of literacy expert Jan Richardson. Schools may say they’re using a guided reading method, but not all strategies are created equal.

Julie Fletcher is a third grade teacher at Mocksville. She has been teaching for 22 years, but this is only her third year teaching third grade. Prior to that, she was a second grade teacher. She said implementing the Jan Richardson model has been a huge change.

“I’ve taught guided reading lessons for years and years, but we’ve never done it in this way,” she said, adding later, “I can see a big difference. And like I said, this is my third year, you know, so just in two years it’s a big change.”

Kids use shaving cream to practice spelling at Shady Grove Elementary School. Liz Bell/EducationNC

The foundation of reading is understanding how words work, and that’s where Letterland comes into play. This is a phonics-based program that aims to teach students aged 3 to 8 how to read, write, and spell. Letterland played an integral role in helping improve Cooleemee, but it’s also implemented throughout Davie County’s elementary schools.

Students at Shady Grove Elementary get a lesson on letters via Letterland. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Amy Spade, a literacy coach at Shady Grove Elementary, is a huge champion of Letterland and its efficacy in helping make kids literate.

“Letterland is like a small island that all these Letterland characters live on. So all the letters become characters,” she said. For example, A is Annie Apple. “The kids meet these characters to learn their letters and sounds, how to spell, how to read,” Spade continued.

In the video below, Spade goes in depth into Letterland.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, spends a lot of time visiting the schools his organization is helping. He enjoys seeing the academic progress the schools are making, but especially at this early stage (not even two years in), he’s even more excited at how staff are responding to the changes being made.

“What I’ve seen in the way the teachers, the leadership, and the community has rallied around this initiative, is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve tried many partnerships with large dollar amounts and large initiatives, but this thing right now is as good as it gets.”

The journey to third graders reading on grade level begins long before third grade, however. It even starts before kindergarten, and that’s where the other part of the DavieLEADS plan comes into play. As mentioned before, one of the goals of the grant is to increase kindergarten readiness in the county from 70 percent to 90 percent, and that means working in preschools.

More on that coming soon.

DavieLEADS gives Cooleemee Elementary a boost

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on February 27, 2019 on Education NC (EdNC – DavieLEADS gives Cooleemee Elementary a boost) and is republished here with permission.

Davie County Public Schools got some good news last year. After the 2017-18 End-of-Grade test results were announced, the county discovered it had moved up from 45th to 17th out of all 115 districts in the state for third-grade reading proficiency. Cooleemee Elementary was singled out in those results for moving into the top 4 percent of all elementary schools in the state for academic growth.

This growing success in the district is being bolstered by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency in the third grade. It’s called DavieLEADS, and it’s a five-year grant with a specific goal to get kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest celebrates Cooleemee Elementary becoming one of the top four percent elementary schools in the state for academic growth. Courtesy of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Facebook page.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest celebrates Cooleemee Elementary becoming one of the top four percent elementary schools in the state for academic growth. Courtesy of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Facebook page.

That’s the big picture, but the changes happen on the ground, and walking around Cooleemee Elementary, you can feel the excitement buzzing in the hallways.

In the second year of the grant, Cooleemee is focused on guided reading. This combines writing, phonics, word-work, and other lessons together in specialized groups that focus on specific children and the reading levels they’re on. For instance, you may see a group of kids gathered at a table with a teacher, reading a specific book. That book will be one that is suitable to the reading level those children are on. The teacher will do a lesson with them, and then that group will be replaced with a different set of students reading a different book suitable for their specific reading level.

“It’s taking all the components children need to read — balanced literacy — and putting together the components,” said Cynthia Stone, the principal of the school.

The work this year follows on the foundation set last year when Cooleemee focused on Professional Learning Communities (PLC). That’s essentially where teachers can get together at the school to discuss the standards they’re working with in the classrooms and get a better grasp on how to teach to them. Kerry Blackwelder, a reading specialist who has been at Cooleemee for 23 years, said those PLCs were essential.

“Reading a standard and telling [teachers] what to do and having them do it is different than all of us coming together and talking about it and understanding it,” she said. “I’ve been a reading teacher for a long time, and I felt like I knew my standards. I didn’t know my standards like I should have. So I feel like I’m a better teacher because I understand what I need to ask my kids and do with my kids for them to understand that standard.”

Pre-K student at Cooleemee Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Pre-K student at Cooleemee Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

 

The money from DavieLEADs includes funding for two literacy coaches and two professional consultants in the district. Those consultants were instrumental in helping lead PLCs last year, which put Cooleemee and other schools on a firm footing to focus on guided reading this year.

“When we were trying to run PLCs ourselves, we didn’t really have the training,” said Amy Stokes, another reading specialist at the school. “We made strides, but it’s been just so much more cohesive.”

She said the PLCs and the work under DavieLEADS has made a big difference because the staff of the school all feel like they have a common purpose.

“We’re following our standards, we’re all working together, and everyone is collaborating and working together to help our students grow,” she said.

Nancy Scoggin was one of the consultants who came in to work under the DavieLEADS grant. She was assigned Cooleemee, which she said was already ahead of the curve when she arrived. The grant lasts only five years, and after that the school will have to find a way to keep the gains they’ve made in that time. Scoggin said they are well positioned to do so because they have collaborated in such a way that teachers at every grade level have their fingers on the pulses of their students.

“When we talk about sustainability … every grade level is aware of what the next grade level is dealing with,” she said. “They use every single piece of data in this school that they possibly can. It’s not done with a ‘gotcha.’ It’s done with ‘let’s look at where we are. How do we need to arrange the schedule to use every single person in this building to get every inch of growth that we can?’”

One of the keys to knowing the kids is working with them in small groups during the guided reading sessions. Entering a classroom, you may see a teacher reading a sentence over and over again, substituting one word and asking the students if it makes sense.

Another tool you’ll see in classrooms is Letterland. This is a phonics-based program that aims to teach students aged 3 to 8 how to read, write, and spell. Letterland has characters based on different letters that live together in Letterland. Stories featuring the letter characters explain phonics to children in a way that’s more entertaining than your typical lesson, and thus sticks in the minds of students.

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Of course, all of this reading and learning wouldn’t be possible without books, and Cooleemee has a lot, thanks in part to funds from the Mebane Foundation. About six years ago, Stone and others were building a book room in a small space at the school. Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, came over and asked how he could help.

Now the room is huge, with books for every conceivable reading level.

“The teacher can come and pull resources on that level specific to what the student needs,” Stone said.

Stone said that one of the things she appreciates most about DavieLEADS is flexibility. Colbourne is a familiar face around the school, and if teachers or leaders need an adjustment to how they use the money from the grant, they can talk directly to him and work it out. She also appreciates that the grant isn’t just about getting teachers new resources or lesson plans. It’s about showing them how to teach differently, and hopefully, more effectively.

“My teachers are getting skill sets,” Stone said. “They’re not just getting a material to consume.”

Editor’s Note: The Mebane Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.

 

The Mebane Foundation leads Davie County schools into the future

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on February 26, 2019 on Education NC (EdNC – The Mebane Foundation leads Davie County Schools into the future) and is republished here with permission.

Larry Colbourne, Mebane Foundation, listening and learning from the team at Book Harvest.

Larry Colbourne, Mebane Foundation, listening and learning from the team at Book Harvest.

As part of the EdNC series on early-grade literacy, EdNC is focusing on what Davie County is doing to improve kindergarten readiness and reading for students by third grade. Part of the strategy Davie County Schools is using involves funding from the Mebane Foundation, which has launched a five-year, $2.5 million initiative called DavieLEADS. We’ll be talking a lot about DavieLEADS this week, but first, here’s a Q & A with Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne to kick things off. The interview has been edited for clarity.


Q: Tell me a little bit about how the Mebane Foundation has been intervening in schools in Davie County historically.
A: Since its beginning in 1998, the Mebane Foundation has been actively involved in numerous initiatives in Davie County. Many of those revolved around literacy interventions and helping kids reach their potential before third grade. The Foundation supported the Hill Center as it developed HillRAP and other programs that made its product even better and purchased Smart Boards and other technology for the school system to try and help teachers do their jobs better. Since I joined the Foundation in 2007, we have continued to be literacy driven. For a while, we veered away onto a professional development model, which wasn’t a bad thing, because we partnered with more county schools as well as the Mooresville Graded School District. However, we came back together as a board in 2016 and said, “Okay, is this a direction we want to keep going in? Professional development is important, but do we want to go back to our roots, which is literacy?” And what came out of that whole process was, “Yes, we do.”

Q: How did that lead into DavieLEADS?
A: It all began with a report I read by Dr. Jim Goodnight of the SAS Institute for the Business Roundtable. He was getting ready to make recommendations to the state about what needed to be done to help children with literacy. The report included six recommendations, and as I read them, I thought, “You know, that’s exactly what my board is talking about, those six bullet points. Why couldn’t we do this?” Their recommendation was to go to the state, and hopefully get some movement there to try to support some of the recommendations. I said, “You know what? Why don’t we try and partner with a school system and see if we can’t prove this out.”

Several of the bullet points were similar to initiatives the Foundation had worked on individually in the past. It made sense to combine them together and to propose a partnership with one school system. We were already in Davie County and had all of the resources and all of the connections, so we decided to try to make a go of it. I sat down with Dr. Hartness, the superintendent, and I said, “Dr. Hartness, do you think based on what we’re seeing here, we can move the needle in Davie County in the next five years?” And that’s how it all started that January.

And then we met many, many times. It was called the Mebane roundtable and included senior leadership from the school system, top teachers in the area, and some folks with Smart Start and other groups. We came up with this plan and presented it to the board in April 2017. DavieLEADS was based around what we had seen in that business roundtable, “Why Reading Matters and What to do About It. And when I look at how we’re executing it, it really does match up with those six policy recommendations.

Q: Give me a high-level view of what DavieLEADS is.
A: When we got together in the Spring of 2017 we said, “What are the one or two most important things for getting kids ready and able to read after third grade?” The first thing, we all knew, was pre-K, and making sure that all children show up to kindergarten ready. Our first metric became kindergarten readiness scores. At that time we were at 70 percent ready. We decided push for 90 percent in a five year span. That became our first goal.

We then decided to vertically align kindergarten readiness with third-grade EOG (End of Grade) scores. At that time, Davie County was at 60 percent reading proficiency and the best district in the state was at 80 percent. Our second goal became increasing reading proficiency from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022, which would put Davie County at number one in the state based on that year’s numbers. Those were the two metrics we decided to use. In the past, we’ve started with kids in kindergarten and tried to have them reading by the third grade. This time we decided to go deeper, back to the pre-K world, which is a huge part of this project.

Q: How is the funding used with DavieLEADS?
A: A lot of the funding has been for professional development to help the teachers. We brought in two consultants and hired two K-3 literacy coaches. It’s their role for the next five years to ensure the fidelity of the program that we’re trying to implement in the six elementary schools. We also hired a pre-K teacher coach to help vertically align what all the pre-K’s are doing, not just the ones in the school system but also the private facilities. When the children show up for kindergarten, we want them to have all had access to the same things taught in a school-based NC Pre-K program.

The consultants also worked with the leadership and teachers at each school to build PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) that provide teachers the opportunity to meet on a weekly basis to discuss how things are going and to ensure that the program is being implemented with fidelity.

Q: How do you feel it is going so far?
A: I try not to get too caught up in the results, but the first year’s results were phenomenal! Davie County Schools went from 45th to 17th in the state in 3rd grade reading proficiency. We’ve seen a 4 percent increase in our EOGs, and a 10 percent increase in kindergarten readiness scores, but more importantly, and what really makes me happy, is to listen to teachers talk and know that there has been a cultural shift. So I think it’s going great. All that being said, who knows?

I have no idea what the new cohort coming through this year looks like. I’ve learned over time that cohorts are often very different and last year’s might have been an “A” team coming through. But what I’ve seen in the way the teachers, the leadership, and the community has rallied around this initiative, is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. We’ve tried many partnerships with large dollar amounts and large initiatives, but this thing right now is as good as it gets.

Q: How do you make this sustainable after the money from the Mebane Foundation is gone?
A: When Mr. Mebane was alive and I started working with him, our goal was to provide funding for three years. We would inject a lot of capital, prove a model, and then hope either the county school system or someone else would say, “Wow, this thing worked, let’s go ahead and take over the funding for the remainder and sustain this through time.”

Deep down, that’s still what we want to do. Basically, the budget comes down to about $400,000 a year in year five. From my perspective, I don’t think we will be able to live by that model where we pull out totally. If 2022 rolls around and we’ve moved the needle by like 15 points over a five-year period, I would hope the local municipality in Davie County would say, “Okay that’s huge. We need to go ahead and pony up a little as well,” but we haven’t had those conversations yet. As the Mebane Foundation, I would say, listen, we’re not going to back away. Let’s look at what it would cost the state. Maybe we can split the difference. We know if we’re going to sustain, the school system is going to need additional money, and in this environment, it’s difficult to find those funds. Although we’re not going to walk away totally, we would hope in good faith, whether it’s Davie County or anywhere else we’d partner with, that once leadership at the county level sees these types of gains, they would jump in and say we’ll pay some here.

Make and Take – DavieLEADS Supporting Early Literacy Teachers in Davie County Schools

Katherine Johnson and Pam Cope make sight word games

By Jeanna Baxter White
For two hours on a Monday afternoon, the Central Davie gym resembled a workshop. Seated at long tables, teachers were talking and laughing while cutting word strips, sorting and bagging colored squares, and taping the edges of shower board to create small whiteboards.

The teachers were attending one of three “make and take” sessions organized by Davie County Schools to support its elementary school teachers and to provide them with valuable tools to assist with this year’s DavieLEADS focus on guided reading.

DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) was created in 2017 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.

Isabelle Clark, Sierra Tardell, Landon Murphy, Nathalie Hernadez, Kierra Craig Students in Mrs. Brooks’ 1st grade writing stories using sticker stories

Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction.

During guided reading, the teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can read similar levels of texts. The other students in the class work on literacy activities independently or in pairs while they wait for their turn to work with their teacher. High quality, hands-on activities fuel literacy development while keeping students engaged so that teachers can focus uninterrupted on reading with their small groups.

Susan Shepherd and DavieLEADS consultant Barbie Brown, working on a compound word activity

Grant funds were used to cover the cost of the supplies, and DavieLEADS Consultants Barbie Brown and Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coaches Renee Hennings-Gonzalez and Amy Spade created and assembled six to eight activities specifically for each grade level. There were separate sessions for kindergarten and first grade, and second and third grades were combined.

Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for Davie County Schools, said the idea to host the make and take sessions came from discussions she and Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction, had with teachers about the challenges they were experiencing with guided reading and the resources they needed.

“We wanted teachers to know that they had been heard, and it was important for us to find ways to help meet their needs as we moved forward,” said Haynes. “Make and take sessions are not something districts can normally provide; however, we knew that they would be a practical but POWERFUL way to support and encourage teachers.”

make and take use

“Our consultants and literacy coaches invested a lot of time and effort into putting each of the activities together,” said Lynde. “Teachers didn’t just come and learn something that they had to go back and find the time and supplies to create themselves. They were able to take what they learned and apply it immediately, which has been very beneficial. Another benefit was the opportunity to talk and share ideas while being together during these sessions.”

At each station, teachers were able to make something to use at their guided reading table or something their students could use at their literacy stations.

“For every station we’ve assembled, we’ve tried to find things that would be appropriate for maintaining a level of independence for the kids so that the teacher can focus on what she is doing,”  said Hennings-Gonzalez.

One station had word sheets and cookie sheets that students could use with magnetic letters to practice making words, digraphs, and blends, while others offered phonics activities and games to practice sight words.

Teachers prepped “sticker stories” and “squiggle stories” where students write about the character on the sticker using vocabulary words printed on the card or turn a squiggle into an illustration and write about it.

Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach, with retell hand

A favorite station was the “retell hand” station. Teachers began by stuffing a garden glove and attaching a paint stick to it. Then they hot-glued storytelling clues to each of the fingers — characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, and the heart of the story in the palm. Students can use the hand to help them retell stories.

To maximize the budget as well as the value of the make and take tools, each activity was designed to be used in multiple ways over an extended period of time. The activities are also being uploaded to a website so that teachers can share other ideas they come up with for using the materials.

Sixty-three teachers attended a make and take session and they were glad they did.

“This make and take is really important because it is hard to find hands-on tools and to have the money to go purchase them,” said Sherry Wooten, a 1st-grade teacher at Cornatzer Elementary. “Having something that is already put together and ready for me to use in my classroom the next day means a lot to me.”

Nikki Whiteheart, a 1st-grade teacher at Cooleemee Elementary, said, “This session has been great because it’s provided us so many new ideas we might not have come up with on our own. I can’t wait to watch my kids use these hands-on activities and really engage with learning to read.”

Ismael Barrera, LaFaith Hall, students in Mrs. Boger’s class working on sight words

“I love having resources!” said Cindy Boger, a 1st-grade teacher at Cornatzer. “These tools will be valuable for my different literacy stations because they can be used multiple ways and are differentiated according to skill levels.”

“The 2nd and 3rd-grade session had to be postponed because of weather,” said Lynde  “We actually had additional teachers call or email to sign-up because they saw the tools their kindergarten and 1st-grade colleagues made, and they decided they wanted to attend, as well.”

“Gathering all of the supplies and finding the time to create materials can be so frustrating,” said Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach at Cornatzer Elementary. “Seeing teachers so excited about their new materials and listening to them brainstorm how they are going to use them has been so rewarding. This is such a timesaver for our teachers and I’m glad to see so many of them capitalizing on the opportunity.”

“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of research and a lot of time,” added Hennings-Gonzalez, “so it’s nice to see teachers walking away smiling and feeling supported.”

Pam Cope, a kindergarten teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, summed it up well in a post-event thank you note, “You guys really organized a wonderful make and take. I felt like it was still Christmas. That was one of the most helpful things you could have done for us. I got home feeling VERY supported and encouraged. Thank you for all the work that went into making today’s session great. I was tired when I got home, but it was a GOOD tired.”

Giving the Gift of Reading through HillRAP

Moving counter-clockwise: Luwonna Oakes, Davie HillRAP teacher; Honor Draughn, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Petra Murphy, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Amelia Battle, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Brynlee Logan, a third-grade student at Pinebrook Elementary School

By Jeanna Baxter White
It’s 3:15 in the afternoon. While most of their friends are finished with school for the day, four third-grade girls are bursting through the door of the Mebane Foundation office in downtown Mocksville to take advantage of an amazing opportunity to boost their literacy skills.

The Mebane Foundation is piloting a unique program that utilizes a retired teacher to provide the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) to students who don’t receive the powerful literacy intervention during the school day.

HillRAP is a research-based multisensory structured language approach to teaching reading developed by the Hill Center of Durham. During HillRAP, a specially-trained teacher guides groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has a specialized curriculum to provide individualized instruction where it is needed most.

Because HillRAP is so individualized and requires direct instruction, the program cannot be used for a whole group. Teachers and schools must intentionally schedule the time to implement the program, limiting the number of students able to participate.

Amelia Battle, Mocksville Elementary School student practices reading fluency using HillRAP software on an iPad

“Our number one goal is to help children succeed in reading,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “Secondly, we are trying to assist the Hill Center by testing a tutoring model that makes the Hill methodology accessible to a lot more families and students. The normal cost is $50 per hour per student which isn’t attainable for many of the families who need the program. By using a retired teacher who is at the top of her game when it comes to Hill, we are piloting and subsidizing a program that provides this valuable methodology for only $25 a week per student for three hours of tutoring. It’s been rewarding that we had available space in our office since early literacy is our mission. This program is a win for the child and a win for the retired teacher who is able to increase their income in retirement. We’d love to replicate the program with more retired teachers trained in HillRAP and help more students.”

“Although we are starting small because we don’t know where this will lead, my hope is that the program becomes so attractive to families and teachers that we have difficulty handling the volume,” he said, adding that he hopes to expand the program this summer to help prevent summer reading loss.

HillRAP small group tutoring sessions allow individualized training as students practice skills that are assigned based on each student’s needs

Colbourne selected Luwonna Oakes to serve as the first tutor. She retired from Davie County schools last spring after 21 years as William R. Davie Elementary School’s reading specialist. Coincidentally, she has been involved with the Mebane Foundation’s work since 2002 when she was selected for a committee to explore K-3 best practices in Davie County Schools. She was among the first to receive Hill Center level one certification and level two mentor training through funding from the Foundation and participated in the pilot program to evaluate the digital version of the HillRAP methodology which was released in 2016.

“I’m thankful that Larry reached out to me because I knew I would need to work part-time when I retired and this is the perfect opportunity,” Oakes said. “I’m also grateful to have been involved with the Mebane Foundation since 2002 when Mr. Mebane was still alive and beginning his involvement in Davie County.” She still proudly displays the plaque she received for being one of those early Mebane Scholars. “The funding he has provided to Davie County schools not only allowed me to have HillRAP training but to go back to the Hill Center for continued professional development.”

Whisper phones allow students to quietly read or practice words so that they can hear themselves but others are not disturbed. Reading out loud helps them to correct their own errors as they hear what they are saying

Oakes was tasked with selecting the first group of four as quickly as possible. She found the first, Brynlee Logan from Pinebrook Elementary, after a chance discussion with her mother at a social gathering. She then turned to Suzie Hecht, reading teacher at Mocksville Elementary, the closest school to the Mebane Foundation office, for help identifying three additional students to finish out the group.

“We started with third-graders because of the pressure on them to meet the North Carolina standards and to pass their first EOGs. It puts a lot of stress on the students and their parents,” Oakes said.”We hope to expand the program to include first and second graders this summer.”

“We wanted to find children who needed additional support in literacy and who would benefit from this specific methodology but weren’t already receiving it at school. Using data from school assessments, the reading teachers identified students who needed a little extra help developing reading fluency (reading rate and expression) and accuracy.”

Hecht sent out 10 letters and the first to respond, Amelia Battle, Honor Draughn, and Petra Murphy were selected to participate.  “Our invited students were very close to meeting goals in various reading assessments, indicating they might show proficiency in third grade by the end of the year. However, they were not there yet,” said Hecht. “These students needed an extra intervention to specifically target their needs. Hill RAP was a great fit – I knew they would be in very capable hands with Luwonna. We were so excited to be on the ground floor of this new initiative. We are very appreciative of all the Mebane Foundation has done to impact literacy in Davie County.”

Family members are thrilled with the generous opportunity the girls are receiving.

“There are students who are doing well but could be doing so much better if they had just a little bit more help,” said Lana Weaver, Amelia’s grandmother, who as a teacher for 42 years quickly recognized the value of this program. “Amelia loves to read and is excited about coming.”

Barbara Everhart, Brynlee’s grandmother, and a former teacher said she was “overjoyed because this is something that will make her feel better about her reading ability.”

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Aubrey Draughn, Honor’s mother. “I hope it will give her more confidence in her reading, writing, comprehension, and fluency, and she is excited about it.”

Oakes knows well the value HillRAP can bring to a child’s life. Her first HillRAP students are now seniors in high school and doing well.

“I want all children to have a joy for reading and a love for learning,” she said. “I want to support them crossing the bridge to reading efficiency and experience the fun of reading, where they can visualize, enjoy, and escape through a book. They may never personally visit Africa or the Outback of Australia, but they can go there in a book. It’s the next best thing to being there.”

For a more detailed story on the HillRAP program, please visit HillRAP: Direct, individualized literacy instruction to help struggling students succeed.

DavieLEADS ~ Guided Reading “Often Becomes Their Favorite Part of The Day”

Davie Elementary teachers attend “Guided Reading” workshops

By Jeanna Baxter White
It’s 7:45 a.m. on Monday, November 12th, and hundreds of Davie County Schools’ teachers and administrators are filing into Davie County High School for Davie Experience 6, a full day of workshops and collaborative sessions designed to provide professional development for all certified staff in the district.

A key workshop for elementary teachers focuses on guided reading, an instructional approach in which a teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can all read similar levels of texts. The text is on the student’s instructional level and is easy enough to read with some fluency, but also offers challenges and opportunities for problem-solving.

Guided reading is a component of a balanced literacy framework for reading instruction, which also includes reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students. The balanced literacy approach, as adopted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction strikes a balance between phonics and comprehension and is a way to teach all elements of English language arts instruction. It is designed to meet the needs of all readers and to inspire an authentic love and appreciation for reading among students. The other components of this framework are read aloud, shared reading, independent reading, word study, and writing.

Davie  Elementary teachers attend “Guided Reading” workshops

This year, guided reading is the professional development focus of the DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) 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. The grant also provides funding for all elementary schools to develop a guided reading room filled with sets of leveled readers that will continue to be expanded throughout the initiative.

DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown provides Guided Reading instruction

DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown and Literacy Coach Amy Spade facilitated the guided reading workshop for teachers who have students in the Pre-A, Emergent, and Early lesson plans while Consultant Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coach Renee Hennings-Gonzalez conducted a training session for teachers with students in the Early, Transitional, and Fluent lesson plans.

“Before the workshop, we emailed teachers a survey asking for feedback about what they had learned, training they still needed, what was going well, questions they had, and challenges they were experiencing so that we could really tailor the training to their needs,” said Spade.

During the workshop, facilitators addressed those concerns and also passed out a sample template and a guided reading plan to help with lesson preparation. They then presented a step-by-step demonstration for planning and implementing a lesson that focuses on the state-mandated standards and meets individual student needs.

“Guided reading is about what the child needs and filling in the holes for each individual reader,” Brown told attendees as she introduced the guided reading lesson plan template. “It’s about practicing word level strategies and comprehension strategies at the child’s instructional level. The whole purpose of guided reading is growing students who read, comprehend and develop a love for reading. Research shows that guided reading is an effective way to get them there.”

Davie Elementary teachers attend “Guided Reading” workshops

To further enhance their understanding of the concept, teachers who attended the session for Early, Transitional, and Fluent lesson planning had the opportunity to sort profiles of typical readers to determine the level of assistance students needed.

“That really spoke to teachers because they had to think through ‘if I had this student sitting in my classroom, what would I do for them and how would I meet their needs?’ said Hennings-Gonzalez. “They walked away feeling better about how to serve the students in their own classrooms, and that felt really good to me personally.”

“Often, as teachers, we think that if we give students a book and they are making mistakes it’s too hard, and that’s not true,” said Scoggin. “Students will make mistakes even on their instructional level, and those mistakes actually inform teachers what each child needs in order to progress as a reader. We are working with the teachers during guided reading lessons to help them determine strategies children need, based on their individual reading struggles.”

Last year, elementary school teachers across Davie County spent 30-45 minutes of their daily teaching time on teacher-directed reading (TDR). During TDR, a teacher guides students through standards-based, grade-level language arts instruction.

DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown provides Guided Reading instruction

This year, guided reading is taking language arts instruction to the next level by focusing on each student’s individual instructional needs. During small group reading, students quietly read out loud while the teacher walks from child to child listening to them read and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses in order to address any skill gaps.

“This progress monitoring will help teachers know when to move a student up in reading levels and whether their instructional practices are making a difference,” Hennings-Gonzalez said.

“Guided reading is considered best practice among small group reading structures. However, it’s new to a lot of teachers, and therefore sometimes intimidating,” said Kris Shepherd, a 5th-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary. “Barbie, Nancy, Amy, and Renee have been instrumental in working alongside teachers to implement this new structure. This training was evidence of that.”

“As educators, our ultimate goal is to get our students to demonstrate grade-level proficiency,” said Madison Wyatt, a third-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary School. “In order to do this, we must provide differentiated instruction to meet individual needs. Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction. Through this progressive model, students are able to grow and advance in their reading proficiency, and I am excited to see the value of this program in my own classroom.”

“I love the new guided reading program,” said Sandy Hendrix, a first-grade teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, “It is very structured and intentional.  We work with children on their reading needs. The lessons focus on a variety of important reading skills every day. The skills include reading strategies, comprehension, sight word recognition and spelling, word work, as well as a writing component. The children love guided reading time, and I am seeing growing confidence in their abilities.  We have received excellent training. This is the most confident that I have ever felt teaching small group guided reading.”

According to Spade, as an added benefit, the guided reading plans will help teachers have “vertical conversations” between grade levels about where students are in a plan and the strategies that have been used so that subsequent teachers can continue to build upon those successes. “There will be a common language within the plan about the skills children are working on and where they are.”

In addition to the workshop, the consultants and literacy coaches will be providing one-on-one coaching through co-teaching support and confidential instructive observations in each teacher’s classroom.  

Hennings-Gonzalez said, “We realize that this process isn’t going to be perfect overnight. It is important to recognize teachers’ effort and to support their needs, but we also want to make sure that we are all learning from our mistakes.”

“We are using a co-teaching model to support teachers, and we want teachers to look at their lesson plan and be able to say, ‘You know what, I don’t really understand this part of the plan. Can you jump in and help me with this part?’ That’s our goal–to help teachers understand, as well as being reflective practitioners so that they can tailor their instruction to support their students’ needs.”

“Once teachers begin to see the growth in their kids, they will understand the ‘whys’ of guided reading,” Brown added. “And once they get it, guided reading often becomes their favorite part of the day.”

DavieLEADS – Building Momentum on Encouraging First Year Results

By Jeanna Baxter White
Davie County Schools is on a roll–an honor roll. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has released its statewide End-of-Grade (EOG) test data for 2017-18, and Davie County has moved from 45th to 17th out of 115 districts in 3rd-grade reading proficiency.  Based on last year’s test results, Cooleemee Elementary is now in the top 4 percent of North Carolina elementary schools for academic growth, with a ranking of 47th out of 1,218 schools statewide. In addition, kindergarten readiness in Davie County has improved from 71 percent to 80 percent based on the Dial-4 screening assessment.

Front row left to right: Representative Julia Howard, Joyah Abrams, Amy Zamora, Alex Rueda-Romero, Mary Jordan, Sam Sellers, Dayvee Smith. Back row left to right: Principal Cindy Stone, Superintendent Darrin Hartness, Lt.Governor Dan Forest, Xavier Parker, Town Clerk John Chandler, AJ Imes. Exuberant smiles standing under Top 4% Growth Banner

These are just three of the successes Davie County Schools officials shared while summarizing the first year of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative launched in April 2017 to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, the specific goals of the initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 elementary students each year over the 5-year implementation period.

DavieLEADS Teacher Training

Hard Work of Dedicated Educators Leading to Outstanding Results
“Dr. Hartness [superintendent, Davie County Schools]  and Larry Colbourne [president, Mebane Foundation] challenged us to ‘move the needle’,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools. “In just one year, students and staff have made real progress.  For example, moving from 60 to 64 percent proficient in 3rd-grade reading may not sound like a huge difference, but the rise from 45th to 17th in the state shows just how significant the gains are. Sustaining this level of growth for the next four years of this initiative would make Davie #1 in the state.”

Letterland Training through DavieLEADS

“These results are attributed to the hard work and dedication of our teachers,” Lynde added. “They have been diligent in the use of a balanced literacy approach, as well as in strengthening their grade level professional learning communities (PLCs.)  We are also seeing the benefits of incorporating research-based programs that build foundational literacy skills, such as Letterland and HillRAP in all of our elementary schools.”

Cooleemee Elementary Attracting Attention of State Leaders
“Cooleemee attributes our growth to meeting every child, every day on their level,” said Cindy Stone, principal of Cooleemee Elementary School. “DavieLEADS has strengthened our balance between meeting a student’s specific need and holding to the rigor of North Carolina standards which led to a snowball effect of student growth.“

DavieLEADS Impacting Private Daycare Learners

Recognizing this tremendous growth, state officials Lt. Governor Dan Forest, Senator Dan Barrett, and Representative Julia Howard toured Cooleemee Elementary last week to see the process for themselves.

“It was empowering for my staff to have state officials tour our school because they wanted to understand exactly what we are doing to achieve such substantial growth, and it was priceless watching the students share about their learning.”

Through DavieLEADS, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschools, appreciates the opportunity to work with other childcare providers across the district to ensure children are prepared for kindergarten. “DavieLEADS has enabled all NC Pre-Kindergarten sites to use the same curriculum and assessments.  Coupled with supportive professional development, this has brought a new alignment between public and private preschool classes. To better understand what ‘kindergarten ready’ means, preschool teachers are visiting kindergarten teachers and experiencing expectations in their classrooms. All of these efforts are building capacity and consistency in expectations and teaching practices in preschool programs across the county.”

Professional Learning Community

Early Results Confirm “None Better than Right Here in Davie County”
“To be honest, my board and I weren’t expecting these types of gains in the first year of implementation, so when Dr. Hartness and his staff presented the first year results to us in September, we couldn’t have been happier,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “We recognize the hard work, time, and effort that our educators have put into the additional training and professional development in Year 1, and they are to be commended and thanked, not only by the Mebane Foundation but by families who benefit directly from that extra work.  So, I personally want to say ‘thank you’ to all of them!”

Officials are pleased with these early results and optimistic about continued growth, as teachers receive ongoing professional development on Guided Reading, Letterland, HillRAP, and Reading Research to Classroom Practice (RRtCP) through DavieLEADS.

DavieLEADS is an investment in Davie County Schools. “We are so grateful for the partnership with the Mebane Foundation,” said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent. “This laser-focused literacy initiative is building teacher capacity and providing resources we wouldn’t otherwise have to support teaching and learning. The work isn’t easy; ask any teacher. However, we want the best for students and the community we serve, and the results are already reflecting teachers’ efforts. We hope seeing the results from the first year will be encouraging and help us build momentum.”

“We realize that this is a 5-year journey in our partnership with DCS and its teachers,” said Colbourne. “That being said, I know that right now our teachers are being asked to do much more than ever before, not only with our reading initiative in DavieLEADS but with new math standards introduced by the state this fall. However, I believe that even in light of these new standards and instructional changes, we can maintain our momentum. This community should be proud of the results that our teachers produced in Year 1 and should continue to support their continued efforts.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, over the last 10 years I’ve been in dozens of school systems and in hundreds of schools across this state, and none is better than what we have here in Davie County!”

Cognitive ToyBox – Data-Based Assessment Tool to Accelerate Progress in Early Childhood Literacy

By Jeanna Baxter White
Assessment of child progress, a National Association for the Education of Young Children program standard,  helps teachers to improve their teaching and enhances student learning. Currently, observation-based assessment is the most common assessment approach in Head Start and state-funded Pre-K programs. However, it is also time-consuming for teachers, who spend 
four to six hours per week writing notes on student development, transcribing the notes into a digital form, and then scanning for patterns to guide instruction.

Three pre-school teachers from the Davie County School system in Mocksville, NC were among the first to evaluate the efficacy of a new assessment system through a pilot program during the spring of 2018.

The pilot partner, Cognitive ToyBox, developed a research-backed, game-based platform that enables direct assessment of early language, literacy, math and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs.

Data-Based Assessments – Accurate, Consistent & Actionable
“By making data collection easier and enabling teachers to utilize the data in real-time to drive instructional adjustments, we can help teachers focus on the things that matter most for a child’s success: high-quality interactions between teachers and their students,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox.

Ideally, CTB Assess will become a valuable tool in achieving the goals of DavieLEADS, the school system’s five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students
reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

DavieLEADS is funded through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, which also brought the two organizations together. The Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals, business leaders, elected officials, and the community that help ensure that children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential.

Mebane Partnership with 4.0 Schools Continues to Pay Dividends
Foundation President, Larry Colbourne, learned about Cognitive ToyBox through a grant to New Orleans-based 
4.0 Schools, a non-profit incubator that finds, trains, and invests in passionate people solving the most critical challenges in education. He recognized its applicability to the preschool portion of DavieLEADS which has ultimately led to a serendipitous partnership between two programs the Mebane Foundation supports.

“The goal of funding 4.0 Schools was to gain access to great educational thinkers across the country,” Colbourne said. “We hoped to find entrepreneurs with ideas that align with our mission and we believe we have done so with Tammy (Kwan) and Cognitive ToyBox.”

Colbourne shared the program with Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools.

Standards Aligned Data by Student, Class, and District
Both Nuckolls and Nelson quickly recognized CTB Assess’s potential for creating consistency and increasing reliability in assessments throughout the county’s public and private NC Pre-K classrooms, particularly since it aligns with the standards used by preschool teachers across all settings.

“We saw its value as a universal and less subjective measurement tool that could truly focus on the child’s ability versus what the teacher thinks the child can or cannot do, erasing any potential bias,” Nuckolls said.

“Data can be pulled by student, class or district. This is helpful for administrators as well as teachers who can take student data and sort children by skill mastery which aids in putting children together in small groups to focus on different skills and objectives. After talking with Tammy (Kwan), we decided to give the platform a try.”   

During the pilot, the school system met with Kwan each month to provide feedback on what worked about the platform, and what could be improved to better support their program.

“Participating in the pilot program has been great,” said Nelson. “Tammy has continuously asked, ‘What do we need to tweak? What do we need to change? How can we make it better? She isn’t afraid to make changes.’”

Tam Hudson, Felicia Myers, and Josey Redinger, who used the platform in their classrooms for three months, found the platform user-friendly and appreciated the additional data.

“My Kids Love Cognitive ToyBox” – Engaging and Interactive
“My kids loved Cognitive ToyBox,” said Redinger. “It was engaging and interactive. It provided an opportunity to work on their own at their own pace and also an opportunity to work alone with me. I enjoyed it for the same reasons. I also like how the reports gave me some insight into their abilities and helped me to group them in learning activities!  This also helped me to complete student assessments for GOLD checkpoints.”

Hudson said, “By looking at the results, I was able to use the information to lead my teaching in large group and small group instruction. It is a quick picture that gives me a clear idea on what areas a child may need extra time with us to master a skill/task. My students loved it. They thought of it as a game!”

Both teachers found that the platform’s leveling of students across language, literacy, and math reflected their own understanding of students levels.

Their evaluations correlated with the other anecdotal assessments received by Kwan who said that one pilot teacher shared that in observing four to six children in math at a time, she sometimes “missed kids.” In comparison, Cognitive ToyBox gives her access to “super individualized” data on how each child is doing. Moreover, several teachers shared that having an additional source of data was incredibly valuable. In one case, a teacher had assumed that a child who was behind in language was also behind in shape recognition. Through the platform, she was surprised to learn that the child had mastered all of her shapes. In another case, the platform provided an additional data point for the instructional team to use to recommend that a child be screened for a language delay.

Cognitive ToyBox Expanding to All Public and Private Davie County Preschools for 2018-19 School Year
Pleased with the overall results of the pilot, Nuckolls is looking forward to introducing the CTB Assess platform to all of the NC Pre-K classrooms, both public and private, across the county this fall. An
$18,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide both the software and the technology needed to support it.

“It is our goal to support and invest in our teachers,” Nuckolls said. “This platform will help them to become better at what they are already doing and more consistent in our assessments across the county. This platform will take out subjectivity and allow for more reliable measurements. The implementation of this project will allow us to walk closer to our goals in DavieLEADS.”    

“It’s been wonderful having Larry (Colbourne) as part of the continuous growth for the LEADS program,” she added.  “As a funder, he isn’t just handing out money, but is invested in the true measurement of what we are trying to build which speaks volumes.”

Although delighted with the response so far, Kwan said Cognitive ToyBox is continuing to refine the technology to ensure that it is the most beneficial assessment platform available. “We aim to show that classrooms that use our platform are better supported through data, leading to improved school readiness and third-grade reading rates.”

A Day in the Life of a Read to Achiever

By Jeanna Baxter White
“Some kids are art smart, or music smart, or book smart, and we don’t get to explore enough of that during a traditional school day,” says Kerry Blackwelder, a veteran Read to Achieve third-grade HillRAP instructor. “I get excited for the kids who are coming to camp because this environment helps build their confidence so much and they blossom! They discover how smart they are and what they can accomplish.”

Read to Achieve Camp is designed to help third-graders meet 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 for reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer.

Davie County’s camp is based on the A+Schools of North Carolina Program which combines interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction to offer children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know.  

This is the fifth year the camp, partially funded by the Mebane Foundation, has employed this holistic approach to reading. The camp’s attendees actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Each week has a different theme with most activities revolving around that topic reinforcing student understanding.

Eager to personally observe the transformation that I have been hearing and writing about for the past three years, as well as curious about the use of the arts to enhance literacy, I spent a day shadowing students from Lori Culler’s third-grade class and participating in their activities.

What a difference eleven days made! Students who were nervous and reluctant to be there when I spoke to them on the first day of camp were now fully engaged and begged to stay a little longer before going home! After enjoying a day of camp, I understood why.

8 a.m.- 8:20 a.m.– Gym
Third-graders begin in the gym with 20 minutes of stretching and exercise which gets the blood moving and the creative juices flowing, according to Camp Director, Jeremy Brooks. “This morning tradition also helps to create a sense of community as we actually become a little family for the summer.”

After completing several child-oriented exercise and music videos that were enough to get the heart pumping and the stomach growling, students went to the cafeteria to pick up breakfast to carry back to homeroom.

8:25 a.m.- 8:50 a.m. — Homeroom
While students ate, Culler read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,(link youtube read aloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl_-0nlfNHA) a fun fantasy about the town of Chewandswallow where food falls from the sky three times a day; for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The story tied into the week’s theme of weather as did yesterday’s story, Thunder Cake,(https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=thunder+cake+read+aloud) in which a grandmother helps her granddaughter get over her fear of thunder by making a cake together. Students excitedly informed me that they would be making thunder cake the following day. (Yes, I was invited, and yes, it was delicious. Thanks, Mrs. Culler, Mrs. Alonso, and students!)

The story was followed by the morning meeting in which students greeted each other through a series of rotations that included a “good morning,” along with a handshake, curtsy or bow, high five, or fist bump.

“We have students from all of the elementary schools in our group of 15,” said Culler. “We wanted to build a feeling of community and belonging.  Students who came in on the first day of camp not knowing anyone suddenly have 14 new friends.”

Homeroom ended with videos about hurricanes and a discussion about tropical storm Chris which had just been upgraded to a hurricane.

8:55 a.m. – 9:40 a.m. — Hill
Arnulfo, Joshua, Sophia and I headed to a Hill Center reading session with Suzie Alonso who has been teaching HillRAP in the classroom for three years and at RtA Camp for the past three summers.

Through HillRAP, specially trained teachers guide groups of up to four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction where it is needed most. Using an iPad, students complete a series of literacy-focused activities. Alonso’s iPad links to each student’s iPad so that she can check their answers as well as go around the table and work with students individually.

“The program helps students understand and practice phonics through learning the syllable types, decoding words, and practicing reading fluency,” Alonso said. “The students then use the words that they have decoded in context by reading passages and answering questions. HillRap is a valuable program in that it meets each child at their level of reading. The program also has the students work towards a goal and work against themselves.”

9:45 a.m – 10:30 a.m. — Art
We headed to Art for more weather-related activities with Amanda Juhasz, Esther LaRoque, and Mindy Ledbetter. Yesterday students drew a picture of a person standing under an umbrella. Today students went outside to splatter paint rain onto their pictures. For the second activity, Juhasz read a weather-related poem entitled Today We Had Some Weather. Students created three-column booklets in which they illustrated three idioms from the poem, “It was raining cats and dogs” was a group favorite.

When viewing artwork, students must learn to look closely in order to comprehend different aspects of the work,” said Juhasz. “In learning to look closely (visual literacy), they also learn how important it is to “look” more closely when reading text. Skills learned when viewing artwork help students with comprehension and support ELA standards.”

“The theme for third grade this particular week was the weather. Students drew rainy-day portraits of people holding umbrellas. Earlier in the week, they watched a video about Jackson Pollock and his interesting splatter painting technique. Students looked closely at some of Pollock’s artwork and then used his technique to splatter paint rain in their pictures.”

“In the art room, the weather poem that was introduced in their homeroom was used to point out idioms,” she added. “Idioms are difficult for some students to understand, but when we illustrate them, the literal meaning becomes clear, and students were encouraged to share with each other the literal meaning in order to decipher the figurative meaning of each.”

When given time to discuss either works of art or their idioms, teachers used guiding questions that led to a deeper understanding of ELA and Art concepts.

10:35 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. — Reading
Culler reviewed the elements of poetry that she had already introduced including rhythm, repetition, alliteration, rhyme, and onomatopoeia. Today she added personification and reinforced the definition of idioms, everyday phrases that don’t make sense, but we know what they mean. Students practiced reading the weather poem from art class using little shakers to help maintain the proper rhythm.

“Reciting poetry with a musical instrument helps to build a reader’s fluency,” said Culler. “Fluent readers are able to focus on the meaning of the text because they are not having to spend time decoding words.”

Students then glued the stanzas of the poem onto the pages of a popsicle book (a small paper booklet with a large popsicle stick as the spine) and illustrated them. According to Culler, this offered students who are art smart a chance to show their understanding of the poem as well as gave students something to take home to show to parents and siblings.

11:25 a.m. – 11:35 — Homeroom
Students are getting tired by this time, so Culler uses short, fun but educational activities to keep them moving. We sang My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and stood or sat whenever we heard the “b” sound.  We also answered the question, “If you could make one rule that the world has to follow, what would be your rule?”  Then it was time for a bathroom break before recess.

11:35 a.m. – 12:05 — Recess
YMCA counselors Olivia Bowman and Jay Davis took the students to the Rich Park playground to work off some of their abundant energy.

“Our partnership with the YMCA allows teachers to have a planning time each day,” said Brooks. “Our entire third-grade team eats lunch together. This working lunch has sparked many great ideas and has been the origin of many of our camp’s traditions.”

12:10 p.m. – 12:35 p.m — Lunch
After working up a thirst and an appetite, students visited together while eating lunch also supervised by Bowman and Davis.

12:35 p.m. – 1:05 p.m. – Computer Lab
Under the supervision of Rachel Morse, students used i-Ready software to practice for next week’s end-of-camp assessment. Students completed exercises that helped them read to understand, read to analyze, and read to write. The i-Ready software package delivers student instruction, performance diagnostics and progress reports based on K-12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Mathematics and Reading. Students took the i-Ready Diagnostic Test and receive differentiated online instruction according to their ability, while camp instructors receive customized reports on student performance and progress throughout camp. The state accepts the i-Ready Assessment as an alternative to the standard end of grade (EOG) test.

“The i-Ready program helps students by giving them a fun way to learn reading skills,” said Morse. “It’s engaging and provides rewards for their hard work. I love that they can have fun and learn at the same time.”

1:10 p.m. – 1:55 p.m. – Music
Rhythm ruled the day in music class. After a discussion of fiction vs. non-fiction, Michael Errickson guided students through reading the words of a song using the proper rhythmic phrasing. Students clapped their hands, tapped their legs, and used musical instruments to reinforce the rhythm. He then divided them into groups with different parts. The lesson culminated with each group doing their part simultaneously.

“The science behind multiple intelligences and their use as teaching tools has grown in acceptance and practice in the classrooms across the globe,” said Errickson. “Music has shown great potential to aid students in the acquisition of skills and concepts in a ‘whole brain’ learning style and has facilitated the expansion of knowledge not only of music’s own content but also that of other academic areas.”

“In this lesson, rhythm was used to reinforce the elements of fiction/non-fiction stories in a fun and engaging way,” he added. “Developing rhythmic accuracy increases the likelihood of success with phonemic awareness and potentially with accuracy and fluency. It also affords students with an opportunity to express themselves and demonstrate their understanding of concepts with or without using language itself.”

2:00 p.m. – 2:40 p.m. – Homeroom
Part of homeroom involved the completion and a review of the day’s events. Culler reviewed the weather poem, and students recited it with shakers again as a whole class.

Students finished the illustrations in their popsicle books while Culler read a Patricia Polacco book entitled Something About Hensley’s.

“I put a lot of focus on Polacco’s books during this week because she was a struggling reader in grade school and had to work hard to overcome that obstacle and now she is a children’s writer!” said Culler. “I want my students to see that being a struggling reader does not prevent you from being successful in life.”

Some students chose to share their drawings with their classmates during the daily “informance,” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals). At 2:35 it was time to line up to go.

At the end of the day, it was easy to see why the camp is such a success.  Passionate, dedicated teachers + a dynamic multi-faceted curriculum = thriving, confident students ready to take on the challenges that a new school year will bring.

Davie County Schools Read to Achieve Camp – Literacy Training that is Changing Lives

By Jeanna B White
How much can 16 days change a child’s life? One hundred twenty-one Davie County students are finding out as they attend this summer’s Read to Achieve Camp at Mocksville Elementary School.

Read to Achieve Camp is designed to help third-graders meet 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. This year’s camp will serve 76 third-graders, 25 second graders, and 20 first graders.

With $99,000 provided by the Mebane Foundation combined with state funds, students attending the 2018 Read to Achieve Camp will actively learn through visual arts, 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 fifth year Davie’s highly successful RtA will use this holistic approach to reading.

Christy Cornatzer, the camp’s curriculum coordinator, loves the camp’s multi-faceted approach. “Students who have had difficulty learning through traditional methods, will be given opportunities to learn in nontraditional ways. We address all of the different intelligences through time outside, time moving their bodies, and time working with visual arts. Whatever their dominant learning style, we will touch on it during some part of the day.”

“We hope to build confidence in the students who are here, and we hope that they will return to their schools as stronger readers that can excel and have a successful year.”

Past results have been inspiring. During last summer’s camp, 24% of the county’s non-proficient third- graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade, and an additional 11% of those students passed the Read to Achieve test in the months following the camp. A remarkable 81% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. Furthermore, 74% of the younger campers demonstrated significant growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations. All of the students achieved a substantial increase in confidence, engagement, and stamina in approaching new learning experiences.

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

“My daughter has been looking forward to the camp, and I think it will be a good opportunity for her,” said the mother of a second-grader.

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.”

“Word is starting to spread through the community about what we do,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “We have parents who ask if their child can come back to camp for another summer even though they came the year before. We continue to add the finest teachers in Davie County, and our staff gets better and better each and every year. This is a “who’s who” of Davie County educators.”

121 Davie County Students “Read to Achieve”
“Many of these students have a low perception of themselves as learners, so we take them through a variety of reading activities in a fun environment,” said Brooks. “We want them to have a good experience and to feel better about themselves as learners and to have a positive experience with reading so that they no longer see it as negative or a disappointment.”

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

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

Each grade level’s lessons have a theme, and those themes are carried over to all aspects of camp. The first graders are learning about families while the second graders are studying communities. The third graders are racing across North Carolina with units about the mountains, piedmont, and coast which will give them advanced preparation for studying these topics in fourth-grade science and social studies.

This year, ‘informances” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals) will allow students to further build confidence as they show their best work and share with each other what they’ve learned.

“Informances will be held a the end of each day to give students the opportunity to showcase something they are proud of,” said Cornatzer. “Although students aren’t required to participate, we will be encouraging everyone to do so. We hope it will help them build pride and confidence in what they are doing while also helping them connect literature and art.”

At the end of the fourth week, third-grade students will be allowed to retake the RtA Reading test, which is a form of the EOG.

Hill RAP Plus A+ Schools Plus Passionate Teachers = 16 Days of Success!
Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum & instruction for Davie County Schools, attributes the continuing success of Davie County’s Read to Achieve summer camp to quality instruction by highly accomplished teachers, small student-teacher ratios, and the integration of the arts with literacy instruction to provide engaging, hands-on lessons.  “Implementation of both the Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) and A+ Schools during camp are extremely beneficial in enhancing reading skills and building confidence in emerging readers.“

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

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

Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly effective teachers. The heart of Davie’s RtA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators. Each has been trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program and has personally completed each and every assignment the students complete. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions have previous  experience teaching Hill reading methodologies.Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing, often for the first time.

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

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

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

The camp builds so much more than academic success. After 16 days, students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities.

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