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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive ToyBox – Achieving Early Literacy in Davie County

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

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Davie PreSchool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Central Davie preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round!

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

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

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

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

Apseed ~ Supporting our Youngest Readers

Young child using Apseed Seedling

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children using Apseed Seedlingz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apseed Seedling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS strives to improve kindergarten readiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooleemee Elementary pre-K. Liz Bell/EducationNC

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

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

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

Kountry Kids pre-K. Liz Bell/EducationNC

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

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

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

Student at Kountry Kids. Liz Bell/EducationNC

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

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

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

Students at Kountry Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Mebane Foundation leads Davie County schools into the future

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS – Building Momentum on Encouraging First Year Results

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS Teacher Training

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

Letterland Training through DavieLEADS

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

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

DavieLEADS Impacting Private Daycare Learners

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

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

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

Professional Learning Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Baxter 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.”

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

By Jeanna B. White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS Kickoff-int

by Jeanna White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mebane Foundation Sticks with Founder’s Goal

Larry Colbourne Mebane FoundationAllen Mebane IV saw the problem early on in his career.

At his first textile company in Alamance County, he had good people as employees. They were able and ready to work.

But there was one problem.

Many of them couldn’t read.

Mebane didn’t fire them. He started a program to teach them to read.

“He knew if you can’t read, your back is against the wall before you get started,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Charitable Foundation.

Mebane went on to make a fortune in the textile industry, building Unifi into  a worldwide textile powerhouse. But he never forgot about that first plant – and those first workers.

In 1997 he started the foundation with one primary goal – to have children reading at grade level by the third grade. Studies had shown that children behind grade level at that age had trouble catching up.

In 2001, Mebane injected $21 million into the foundation. At his death in 2008, another $20 million was added.

With a few sidesteps here and there, the foundation is still focused on improving the skills of the youngest readers. They do it in private and public schools, in charter schools, wherever the board of directors thinks the programs can do the most good.

They’ve been especially active in Davie County. Mebane lived near Mocksville and opened the foundation here on South Main Street. It’s the building downtown with the well kept landscaping. Mebane wanted it that way, Colbourne said.

And although Mebane has been gone for nearly nine years, Colbourne still feels his presence. And he remains dedicated to the same cause that Mebane championed.

“We know we’re doing good things,” Colbourne said. “We’ve seen growth in reading scores. Ultimately, the goal is to meet the literary needs in a school system or a school.”

The focus is changing somewhat. In the past, much of the foundation’s efforts have been to help struggling readers. The new focus, Colbourne said, is to help all young people as they start their reading journey.

The foundation has partnered with The Hill Center in Durham, which started innovative ways to teach reading. Davie County has been at the forefront of the efforts, training teachers in Hill Center methods.

The foundation has also helped fund new pre-schools in Davie elementary schools. It helped pay for technology upgrades. It helped pay for a place for student teachers to live while teaching here.

The list goes on, and according to Colbourne, it isn’t over. The Mebane Foundation has ideas to help Davie students even more.

“The Davie County School System does a great job, with a great return on money. I’ve been across the state, and Davie County is in a great place now. The only way to go is up. For a return on investments, Davie County is No. 1.”

Colbourne spends his time visiting schools, talking to teachers, administrators and experts, attending conferences and board meetings, always on the lookout for a suitable project for the foundation.

“I network and try to find good partners,” he said. “Once we get a partner … I’m constantly talking to potention grantees or to grantees.

The foundation has focused on programs in North Carolina, but has gone to other states, as well. Ideally, projects the foundation helps to start would become so important, the local schools would keep them going when the foundation goes to another site.

There are 150 kids in a Mebane sponsored preK program in Davie County. Some 90 percent are tested ready for kindergarten. That number drops to 40 percent average in private daycares. Part of the new focus will be ways to help those children.

Schools are important to Colbourne, who moved to Davie County in 1996. He and wife Beverly moved here because of the good reputation of the school system. They raised sons Craig and Darren here. Both are in college.

The road to the Mebane Foundation was a long one for Colbourne, who grew up in New Foundland, Canada. He had graduated high school and had no real plans. He did, like many of his fellow New Foundlanders, enjoy playing baseball. The season there is short, but just about everybody plays.

He was 21 when a friend called him and told him to move to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., because he could get him a job as a valet parking cars.

Colbourne made the move in 1986. He met the baseball coach at Broward Community College, who gave him a scholarship to pitch for the team. Wake Forest University spotted the pitcher from Canada, and offered him a scholarship to go there.

He realizes, and appreciates, how lucky he’s been since moving to Ft. Lauderdale.

He graduated from Wake Forest with a degree in speech communications, and got a job in the credit department at Wachovia Bank. When it was sold, he could either move to Charlotte for a different job with the new bank, or be unemployed.

Since a severence package was offered, he chose the latter. He also took the advice of a friend, who said to volunteer, do something he wanted to do.

He volunteered at the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind. It wasn’t long before that group had him out raising money.

Colbourne came to Mocksville to ask Allen Mebane for a donation.

He didn’t get any money, the foundation’s priority was early reading. But a short time later, Mebane called him in and offered him a job at the foundation. The deal was sealed on the back of a piece of paper.

Eighteen months later, Mebane died.

“I worked with Allen Mebane one-on-one for a year and a half,” Colbourne said. “That was the best position. I was so fortunate. He seemed tough, but his heart was in the right place for the right reason. Everything he did, he did it for the right reason.”

The foundation’s office is filled with photos of children served in the programs. Colbourne can point to them, and say how they’ve done in life. One photo of a dozen or so young struggling readers stands out. All of them went on to some type of education beyond high school, he said.

“I love my job. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

(Original article by Mike Barnhardt, Davie County Enterprise – Reprinted with Permission)