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.”

 

Hill RAP and A+ Training for Read to Achieve – Preparing Davie Educators to Help Students Discover their Strengths and Improve Literacy Skills!

By Jeanna B. White

The teachers became the students as 28 Davie County educators explored using the arts to teach reading, a skill that is fundamental for success in school as well as in life.

This A+ Schools training was in preparation for Davie’s summer Read to Achieve Camp which is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The camp also includes first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer. This intensive four-week camp began on Monday, June 25th.

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

Read to Achieve Camp – an Awesome Experience!
This is the fifth year Davie County’s highly successful Read to Achieve Camp, partially funded by the Mebane Foundation, will employ this holistic approach to reading. The camp’s attendees will actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center reading sessions and small group literacy circles.

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

Specific activities completed by the teachers included acting out the story of Henny Penny, the chicken who thought the sky was falling; analyzing a Norman Rockwell picture and explaining what was happening in the picture; and creating a personal Van Gogh of themselves. Teachers also compared and contrasted different versions of The Three Little Pigs using map concepts and performed impromptu skits associated with “Race Across North Carolina,” the theme for 3rd graders attending the camp.

“Our Read to Achieve camp is based on the A+ philosophy, so it is good for the staff, particularly the new teachers, to understand what that means and where it came from,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “Every year the training is different, so no matter how many times you have attended, there is always something new that can be taken from it.”

Christy Cornatzer, who serves as the Read to Achieve Camp’s curriculum coordinator added to that sentiment, saying, “It was eye-opening, particularly for the new teachers coming into camp who have never had A+ training in the past. It was exciting to see them experience A+ strategies for the first time and to see veterans from the camp brainstorm with them and plan with them to incorporate new ideas.”

“The beauty of the way A+ training is set up is that you have a breakout session with your grade level and then a little bit of time to come back together with the people you will be working with to talk about how what you’ve just learned will apply to what you are teaching while it is fresh in your mind. I was able to give the A+ trainers the themes we would be using in camp and the main texts we would be using so that they were also able to tie in some of the books our campers will be reading and some of the read-aloud stories that we would be using. Now that we’ve built this relationship with A+ they were  able to make the training individualized for our camp.”

“Personally, I enjoyed the way the trainers showed us how to use movement to get students using all of the parts of their bodies to retell a story and how that can help them with comprehension. I think it’s powerful to have students up out of their desks and using alternative ways to be able to make those connections with a story. So often we have to say ‘read a story and number the paragraphs and you’ll find the answer,’ but some students don’t. They need something extra to help them connect the dots. It was exciting to see a powerful way to do that.”

I thought it was interesting to learn how we can go back into our classrooms and use the A+ training and how integrating the different components works,” said Teresa Carter who is new to the camp this year and will be teaching 3rd-grade HillRAP. “It’s not just knowing that you can use art, it’s knowing that you have to use what they have already learned through the arts to bring out the comprehension.”

Kerry Blackwelder, who has been teaching at Davie’s Read to Achieve Camp since the first year and will be teaching 3rd-grade HillRAP said, “The success of camp is watching these kids be successful in music and art and watching them blossom. The kids don’t realize that you sing in art, you read in art, and you comprehend in art. You sing and do phrasing, and they don’t realize they are actually reading. They come back to us with so much more confidence.”

“We could see more from our kids if we could do more of this in the regular school setting,” she added.

“If we weren’t so pressured for time,” chimed in Carter.

“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,” Blackwelder said. “During camp, we get to see it all come together, and kids really come out of their shells.”

“I get excited for the kids who are coming because this environment helps build their confidence so much and they blossom! They discover how smart they are and what they can accomplish.”

Leigh Anne Davis, literacy teacher, added, “There is just an excitement here, like a new school year with new kids and a new curriculum, and it’s just the teaching, no paperwork.This is why I got into teaching, to work with the kids and to see the growth they can make. Here they are free to take chances and to say things they probably wouldn’t say in a larger setting. Their confidence grows, and we are able to make learning fun.”

The Davie County educators who will be teaching at this year’s Read to Achieve camp include:

  • Jeremy Brooks – Camp Director (North Davie)
  • Christy Cornatzer – Curriculum Coordinator (Cornatzer)
  • Suzie Alonso – Hill Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Kerry Blackwelder – Hill Teacher (Cooleemee)
  • Kim Brooks – Literacy Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Debbie Brown – Teacher Assistant (Mocksville)
  • Mary Lynn Bullins – Literacy Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Teresa Carter – Hill Teacher (Cooleemee)
  • Amy Chappell – Art Teacher (Mocksville/Cornatzer)
  • Kilby Church – Literacy Teacher (Pinebrook)
  • Molly Connell – Literacy Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Lori Culler – Literacy Teacher (South Davie)
  • Leigh Anne Davis – Literacy Teacher (Pinebrook)
  • Shannon Eggleston – Literacy Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Michael Errickson – Music Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Angelina Etter – Hill Teacher (Mocksville)
  • LaToyia Grant – Hill Teacher (Cooleemee)
  • Suzie Hecht – Hill Teacher (Mocksville)
  • Amanda Juhasz – Art Teacher (WRD/Shady Grove)
  • Jennie Kimel – Literacy Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Esther LaRoque – Art Assistant (Central Davie)
  • Mindy Ledbetter – Art Teacher (Davie High)
  • Rachel Morse – Teacher Assistant (Cornatzer)
  • Brenda Mosko – Music Teacher (South Davie/William Ellis)
  • Erin Penley – Music Teacher (Pinebrook)
  • Alma Rosas – Hill Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Amy Spade – Literacy Teacher (County)
  • Katy Wogatzke – Behavior Support Assistant (Cornatzer)

ApSeed and Mebane Foundation Join Forces to Provide 1,000 Mobile Touchscreen Tablet e-Readers FREE to Qualifying Davie County Preschool Children

By Jeanna B. White
The Mebane Foundation and ApSeed Early Childhood Education have joined forces to increase literacy scores among at-risk children in Davie County by providing a free e-Reader preloaded with applications designed to improve literacy and strengthen vocabulary.

Thanks to a $105,000 grant from the Foundation, based in Mocksville, NC, 1,000 custom-built tablets, called Seedlings, will be distributed free of charge to children 0-4 whose families are enrolled in the WIC program through the Davie County Department of Public Health or Parents as Teachers through Smart Start of Davie County.

ApSeed – Closing the Opportunity Gap in Early Literacy
Studies indicate that economically-disadvantaged children hear 30 million fewer words by the age of five than their more affluent peers and that there is a direct link between children’s academic performance in third grade and the number of words spoken in their home from birth to age three.

ApSeed, a non-profit organization based in Rowan County, hopes to close that word gap and better prepare these children for school through a series of colorful, interactive apps designed to engage children from 0 to 4. These apps were vetted and approved to promote kindergarten readiness by Rowan County Schools. From music that will soothe a newborn to games that teach simple spelling and math, the tablet’s carefully selected apps meet the needs of children from birth to kindergarten. Children can complete the activities with the help of a caregiver or independently. The tablet does not have an internet connection so that the activities can be enjoyed anywhere.

ApSeed is the brainchildren of Salisbury businessman, Greg Alcorn, founder of Global Contact Services, who also serves on the N.C. Board of Education.

“The State Board of Education focuses on graduation rates,” Alcorn said. “Back in 2015, we were looking for a way to help increase that rate. My wife, Missie, and I read the Thirty Million Word Gap research and said ‘that’s where and who we can help!  At the very, very beginning of learning.’  If ALL four-year-old children enter kindergarten with enough language, our community will benefit.”

“ApSeed is striving to make a generational change.  We have short, mid and long-range goals. Increase kindergarten readiness scores, then significantly increase the 3rd-grade reading scores and ultimately spur economic growth.  Everyone wants to live in a community with great schools and great students make schools great.”

ApSeed and Mebane Foundation Partnership a Home Run
ApSeed’s goals align well with the goals of DavieLEADS, a  five-year early literacy initiative supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The initiative seeks to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

“By partnering with our friends at the Davie Health Department and Smart Start, we’ll be able to distribute this interactive learning tool at a relatively low cost to the Mebane Foundation,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “In the coming 12-18 months, I’d anticipate that 1,000 or more of the Seedlings will be placed in the hands of young children here in Davie County. We’re always on the lookout for best practices and resources to support our youngest of readers, with this partnership and with the Seedling I believe we’ve hit a home run!”

The Department of Health will be distributing the Seedlings during regularly scheduled nutrition and pediatrician appointments with Mandi Irwin, WIC director, and Dr. Stephanie Pirkle, who have been trained by ApSeed to distribute the tablets.

“We know that children whose parents read to them in the preschool years enter kindergarten with better literacy skills than those whose parents do not,” said Dr. Pirkle. “Exposure to printed material is beneficial, but so is exposure to games and songs which can help kids with grammar, pronunciation, and rhyming. The Seedlings do all of this, as well as introduce these children to aspects of technology (like apps and swiping) that are so prevalent today but that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to learn.”

“As Dr. Seuss so eloquently states in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, a book that I read to my three-year-old, ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’”

Irwin said, “We are excited to promote literacy and school readiness in our community with this partnership.”

Hands-On With ApSeed Readers
She is enthusiastic about the Seedling’s potential, particularly after watching Jared Chegue (3) and his brother Obed (2) play with the tablets. The boys are the sons of Maria Chegue, a processing assistant and interpreter for the health department.

Chegue agreed, saying that although the boys had only had their Seedlings for a couple of days, they had enjoyed playing with them. She has already observed that different apps appeal to each child based on their age. “Jared likes the puzzles and the doctor game and Obed likes the coloring game.”

“We speak Spanish at home, so this will really help Jared prepare for kindergarten, particularly the app that sounds out letters,” she added. “It is also nice for me as a parent that the tablets don’t have internet access so that I don’t have to worry about them playing with it and ending up on a website they shouldn’t go to.”

Jared’s older sister, Grecia, has noticed that he is speaking more English and pronouncing words in English better. “He now knows his colors in both Spanish and English.”

Chegue has distributed several of the first tablets and said the response of children and parents has been positive. She noted that the mother of a child with developmental delays was particularly thrilled because the child immediately engaged with the sounds and colors providing her with another teaching tool.

Gena Taylor, executive director of Smart Start of Davie County, believes the Seedling will allow children not otherwise engaged in age and developmentally appropriate technology to be afforded the opportunity to have this experience. Parent Educators will work with the families to build upon the skills learned through the technology to prepare children for kindergarten.

How to Get an ApSeed e-reader
Smart Start will distribute the Seedlings to families engaged in the Parents as Teachers home visiting program.

The ApSeed model includes three years of measuring results and maintaining the Seedlings. 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. 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?

According to Alcorn, the research from the 1600 Seedlings distributed in Rowan County since 2016 shows “active use of the Seedlings, interest in specific applications by age, and high satisfaction from users.”

Alcorn is enthusiastic about the opportunity to begin distributing Seedlings to children in Davie County. “Over the next three years, you will see a lot of Seedlings in Davie County.  Many thanks to the Mebane Foundation and Davie County early childhood professionals.

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

The Mebane Charitable Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals (public and private), business leaders, elected officials, and the community at large. The Foundation focuses resources on ensuring that all children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential in school, career, and in life.

Davie County Preschoolers Excited about Field Trips to “Big School”

By Jeanna B. White
Carefully, they climbed from the van. Wide-eyed and wiggling with excitement, the twenty rising kindergarteners from Kountry Kids Learning Center & Preschool and Young Children’s Learning Center were ready for their tour of Mocksville Elementary School.

Transitioning from preschool to elementary school can be a scary proposition for many students, particularly if they have never been to an elementary school. To ease the adjustment, the Davie County Schools’ Preschool program created field trips for NC Pre-K students in non-public school preschool settings to visit local elementary schools.

“We hope to help these children get an introduction to elementary school and to reduce their fears and anxieties about going to “big school,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools, who organized the field trips. “For those children who get to visit the school they will attend it should be easier when they come back for kindergarten screening. They will feel more comfortable at the screening if they have some familiarity. Even if they didn’t get to visit their school, we are hoping that the idea that they have been to a big school and had a great experience will help reduce their fear when they go to their respective school for screening. We also believe it will help to see other small children here, and that elementary school is not all big kids.”

The tours were funded through DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation.

Through the initiative, collaborative work with 4 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 trips included a tour of the school conducted by kindergarten teachers and the opportunity to join the school’s NC Pre-K class for a story time in the media center.

“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,” she added. Nelson said. “Most centers don’t own a vehicle to take their children on trips or have the funds to hire YVEDDI to come transport the children.”

Sabrina Lever, an NC Pre-K teacher at Almost Home Child Care, said, “The tour benefited the kids because they were able to see firsthand where they would be going to school and got the feel of walking down the hall, sitting in the media center listening to a story, and meeting teachers and the principal. This helped them to understand what going to kindergarten means, and they now know more of what to expect.”

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.

“These field trips have truly been a unique opportunity,” Nelson said.

The participating NC Pre-K classrooms included Almost Home Child Care, LLC, Kountry Kids Learning Center & Preschool, Mudpies Child Development Center, and Young Children’s Learning Center. The participating elementary schools and public NC Pre-K classrooms included Cooleemee Elementary School and Mocksville Elementary School. Van transportation was provided through YVEDDI.

The students who have completed their field trip have been excited to see their elementary school.  During one recent field trip to Cooleemee Elementary school, a student from Young Children’s Learning Center excitedly told the principal, Cindy Stone, “I’m going to go to college and kindergarten!”

“What is an Elementary School?” – Preparing Preschoolers for the Next Adventure!

Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County School, reads “What is an Elementary School” with Emma Swofford, an NC Pre-K student at Central Davie Preschool.

By Jeanna B. White
For children who don’t have an older sibling or have never been to an elementary school, words like principal, cafeteria, and media center are foreign concepts.

Davie County Preschool is filling those gaps by providing rising kindergarteners with a book containing pictures of the elementary school that they will be attending this fall. There is an individualized booklet for each of Davie County’s six elementary schools created with pictures provided by teachers at the school-based Pre-K programs. Entitled “What is an Elementary School?” the books include photos of the exterior of the school, the principal and assistant principal, media center, cafeteria, gym, a kindergarten classroom, as well as contact information for the elementary schools and information about kindergarten registration.

Like Planning a Vacation
“It may seem like a really simple idea, but if you compare going to elementary school for the first time with the idea of planning a vacation to a place you’ve never been before, it makes so much sense,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools.  “When planning a vacation, we like to see images and learn about unique features of our destination before we go. Giving rising kindergartners and their families a book with pictures and new school vocabulary helps everyone learn about their upcoming adventure and eases fears.”

According to Nelson, the goals of the books are:

  • Introduce rising kindergartners to their elementary school  
  • Teach new vocabulary such as the words “principal” or “cafeteria”
  • Include families in a transition activity as they read the book to their child over the summer
  • Reduce transition fears for both children and parents by helping the school seem inviting
  • increase registration in kindergarten screening with the parent note on the back page of the book

Where to Get Your Books
The books are being distributed in the four private child care based NC Pre-K classrooms.  Each elementary school received copies to share with students and families that attended the Rising Kindergarten Lunch on April 20th, or for other points of contact with rising kindergartners.  

“Introducing kindergarten students to the school they will be attending makes the transition more comfortable and the student more confident,” said Karen Stephens, principal at William R. Davie Elementary School. “It’s a wonderful idea to have children seeing key sight words and familiar faces. I appreciate the Davie County Preschool and the DavieLEADS initiative.”

DavieLEADS – Inspiring Innovation In Early Childhood Literacy
Funding for the booklets was provided through DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, was thrilled with the novel idea and said, “When we set out on these larger, more comprehensive partnerships one of the natural things that happens is high-quality teachers and administrators come up with innovative ideas to address problems, and in turn the result is something like this amazing little book, “What is an Elementary School?” I’m actually surprised a children’s book author and publisher haven’t come up with something like this. Think about it, in North Carolina alone I estimate there are about 125,000 children entering kindergarten every year. What an opportunity to support children and families, and just think of it, one of our own came up with this idea. I love it!”

DavieLEADS – Impacting Early Literacy in Public and Private Preschools throughout Davie County

By Jeanna B. White
Learning to read and write is an ongoing process from infancy. Contrary to popular belief, it does not suddenly begin in kindergarten or first grade.

Children who fall behind in oral language and literacy development in the years before formal schooling are less likely to be successful beginning readers; and their achievement lag is likely to persist throughout the primary grades and beyond.

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

From the earliest years, everything that adults do to support children’s language and literacy is critical. Research shows that when adults create rich language and literacy environments, they can boost that child’s emerging language and literacy development and increase the likelihood of future academic success. And the adults with the greatest potential to help are the most important ones in that child’s life: his parents and caregivers, including child care providers and early childhood educators (ECEs).

“Preschool is the bridge to kindergarten through 3rd grade,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools. The whole initiative is reaching Pre-K through 3rd grade, which aligns with the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds) federal guidelines for birth to 8 years. We are building the foundation for the literacy concept so that when the students reach kindergarten, they are ready to hit the road with a lot of rigorous literacy. Since we are using the same Letterland curriculum, there is a lot of continuity from the start.”

Professional Development Support for Public & Private Preschool Facilities
The preschool portion of the DavieLEADS initiative provides professional development, materials, and specialized support staff to develop and build the professional capacity of 13 preschool classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities.

During this first year, the four NC Pre-K’s in private facilities received the same curriculum and assessment tools used in the public NC Pre-K classrooms including Letterland, Creative Curriculum 5, and GOLD Assessments as well as laptop technology. A collaborative teacher was hired to build relationships with the various child care programs in the county and to provide coaching services and support to the teachers as they learn to use the new curriculum and assessment tools.

“These programs were using state-approved curriculum and assessment tools before the initiative, but the grant has enabled them to get the current and same tools used in the NC Pre-K classrooms in the public school settings,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher. “I have had a standards-based conversation with each program to determine what type of support I might be able to offer them in reaching those standards to improve the quality of learning for the students they care for.”

“I visit weekly to help the teachers set goals for themselves and to provide support such as model teaching or developing resources, and talking through the standards. We discuss What does that standard mean? What does it look like? How do I teach it? How do I know if a student has met the standard? How do I individualize instruction for different students?“

“As I’ve talked with them to learn what their interests and needs may be, I discovered the need for training on social/emotional development and practices in the classroom which also created opportunities for the teachers to connect better with the school system and to see kindergarten classrooms firsthand,” she added.

Support, Modeling and Collaboration
Nuckolls believes the coaching and support provided by Nelson are the keys to the success of the kindergarten readiness portion of the initiative. “Without the support, the modeling, and the checking in to make sure the fidelity is there and continues, the resources mean nothing.”

“It’s hard for administrators to consistently provide coaching and support on new curriculum when they have so many business aspects to take care in running a child care program. It is very important to have a collaborative teacher in the facility working weekly and monthly with those teachers answering questions and helping them fine-tune using those resources throughout their classrooms in all aspects of their schedule.”

Nelson agreed, sharing that she thinks the term collaborative teacher was chosen for her title because she not only collaborates with the teachers receiving new materials but helps to bridge collaboration between the public and private school settings.

“We are also extending beyond just the NC Pre-K classrooms and offering coaching services and curriculum support to half-day preschool programs, Head Start, and to preschool classrooms that do not have NC Pre-K funding. Any childcare facility in the community can tap into curriculum support. I can offer any coaching services to any of the administrators and teachers.”

Nuckolls said another critical piece of the collaboration is creating a common language between the NC Pre-Ks and other licensed and non-licensed facilities.

“We built that common language maybe ten years ago, but things grow, and we end up in our own little world, and there hasn’t been that connection in a while. Creating that common language of what is kindergarten readiness? And having all of these people at the same table talking about kindergarten standards and preschool foundations and understanding how they align is huge! Otherwise, we have people that are so segmented and living in their own little box in their own little world that they don’t understand the larger picture.”

“All of the students in this county in Pre-K will eventually be in Davie County Schools, we hope, so we want to reach out to as many as we can with the understanding that they are all our students,” Nuckolls continued. “At three and four years of age they are still Davie County students, and we care about that relationship and that they are getting the best they can get before they get to us. Kindergarten through 3rd grade is so rigorous at this point that it is essential that they have a high-quality awareness and environment to learn and grow in.”

“For the religious facilities that don’t fall under the same state and federal guidelines, I think that what we are doing is helping them to understand that they are truly part of the bigger picture and that it is helping them set their goals at a different standard,” Nuckolls said. “We have helped them look into Letterland and some of the other curriculum we are using and have offered support and opportunities such as field trips, professional learning communities, and training. We’ve gotten good feedback from these facilities, and some have gone on multiple tours and participated in multiple trainings because they wanted to become enthroned in the common language and environment.”

“We hope they feel valued and know that they matter,” added Nelson.

DIAL Screenings, School Visits & Tours for Preschool Age Children
In addition to offering mentoring and training, Nelson developed a brochure for parents explaining the importance of the DIAL screening for rising kindergarteners, organized field trips for NC Pre-K students and their teachers from private childcare facilities to visit an elementary school, and created a book called “What is an Elementary School” to introduce children to kindergarten.

“Stephanie has gone above and beyond to think of ways to create these transitional pieces to help children get ready for kindergarten,” Nuckolls said. “Having this grant from the Mebane Foundation has given us the ability to focus on the true transitional activities that had been lost. Having someone to be able to focus on that transitional piece has also brought out some valuable experiences this year that we didn’t expect.”

“We really didn’t expect the teachers to embrace this program as much as they have. They have truly opened their doors, they have called and asked questions, and they have been willing to build a relationship. You never know when you do something like this how it is going to be. These teachers have been thirsty for mentoring support, and it has been a wonderful opportunity for Davie County schools to reach out and offer that coaching piece.”

“The teachers have been phenomenal,” added Nelson. “The bottom line is no matter where people in this county are working with children they want to do the best they can for the children. I feel like we’ve put a lot of work this year into building the relationships, but this fall we are going to hit the ground running. I see exciting things on the horizon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letterland – Davie Teachers Receive Hands-on Literacy Training!

By Jeanna B. White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The teachers appreciated the coaching and opportunity to ask questions.  

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

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

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

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

TDR Training Helps Davie Teachers Create Active and Thoughtful Readers

 

By Jeanna B. White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Missionary Takes on a New Mission at Mocksville Elementary School

By Jeanna B. White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jeanna B. White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kindergarten teachers appreciate Brown’s support.

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

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

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

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

EdTalk: Meet Larry Colbourne and the Mebane Foundation

From the Mebane Foundation on its work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving the needle: Investments, not silver bullets

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

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

A big bet, a national model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Process and partners matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance metrics: Q&A with Larry Colbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: For the grantee organization?

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

Q: For students?

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

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

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

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

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