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

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round!

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

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

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

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

The evolution of Davie County’s elementary schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liz Bell/EducationNC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shady Grove Elementary Schools. Liz Bell/EducationNC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on that coming soon.

DavieLEADS gives Cooleemee Elementary a boost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DavieLEADS – Building Momentum on Encouraging First Year Results

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS Teacher Training

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

Letterland Training through DavieLEADS

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

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

DavieLEADS Impacting Private Daycare Learners

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

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

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

Professional Learning Community

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.