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!”

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)

Literacy Intervention: Past, Present and Future

by Jeanna White

It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems*, and children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 – 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.**

Determined to change these, the Mebane Foundation has invested $5 million in literacy intervention partnerships during the past 12 years. These partnerships have produced exciting results that get to the core of our mission, to ensure that ALL school children are given the opportunity to read and succeed.

Along the way, our partners have included public school systems, traditional public schools, public-charter, and private schools. While some interventions have worked better than others, all have provided us with valuable data, metrics and research results.

One partner has been with us every step of the way; The Hill Center in Durham, North Carolina, a leading expert and resource in the field of learning differences. Over the years, we have worked together to stay true to The Hill Center’s instructional philosophy, based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which focuses on teaching students the structure of language, while incorporating precision teaching techniques including charting and graphing student progress. Using Hill assessments, an individualized instructional plan is created for each student. Progress is continually monitored as students work toward mastery of skills.

We are committed to making this program, as well as Hill’s 4-1 student/teacher methodology, feasible and accessible to ALL students, no matter where they go to school.

This commitment has led us to invest millions of dollars into building a solid foundation for each new step in the partnership. This methodical, well-planned progression of programs has brought us to our most exciting partnership to date; a collaboration between The Hill Center and the Mooresville Graded School District, a school system recognized both nationally and internationally for its student 1-to-1 technology initiative.

These two dynamic organizations are now partnering on a 3-year project that combines their strengths to test and enhance the Hill Learning System ( HLS ), a digital version of the Hill Reading Achievement Program ( HillRap). This new format uses handheld devices rather than the traditional paper-based intervention, allowing teachers more flexibility in interacting with students in the 4-to-1 setting. Mooresville Graded School District tech savvy students and teachers are simultaneously critiquing and benefiting from the new technology, making it a win-win for both parties.

Most importantly, they are producing a product that could change the way we help struggling readers, no matter where they attend school.

Our collaborative efforts with The Hill Center and North Carolina school districts have been ongoing since 2003. The Foundation initially made a significant commitment of almost $750,000 to simultaneously launch two Hill programs in the Davie County school system and at 11 private preschools/daycares around the county. The preschools benefited from intensive Hill Early Literacy Project ( HELP ) professional development for their teachers of three and four year olds. The school system used Hill to train 26 elementary school teachers in the HillRAP I methodologies.

Over the next four years, all partners benefited through impressive gains in student reading ability and teacher professional development. The Foundation received valuable feedback that laid the groundwork for future intensive literacy projects.

In 2007, on the heels of a successful HELP/HillRAP I rollout in Davie County, the Foundation agreed to another four-year $1 million partnership with The Hill Center and Davie County Schools that would launch a HillRAP II partnership.

HillRAP II, designed for middle school teachers and students, combines the proven teaching methods of HillRAP I with a more intensive comprehension component. It was a successful partnership and the results of HillRAP II were very positive.

Since 2011 we have also been partnering on smaller projects in other school systems with the same positive results: struggling readers have made significant gains in reading and have experienced more success and a stronger sense of self-esteem in their classrooms.

The Mebane Foundation plans to stay the course until it gets the best product, with the best delivery method, at a known cost that is affordable to any child, school, or school system that needs it.

References
* US Department of Health and Human Services
** Literacy Statistics Reference Information

Healthy Davie Preschool Project Changing the Lives of 18 Davie County Children

Pre-k Leanring

by Jeanna White

“What letter is this, and do you know what sound  it makes?” the teacher asked as she pulled a lettered popsicle stick from the jar.  One preschooler answered, “That’s “M” for Munching Mike,“ while five others quickly made a “MMMMMM” sound.

“Letter Zoom” is just one of the many ways Pinebrook preschool teacher, Katie Wagstaff, is preparing her class of eighteen four and five-year olds for kindergarten next year.

Studies indicate that the environmental factors that put children at risk and keep them from being successful students can be minimized if quality preschool opportunities are obtained and interventions are made at an early age.  But these eighteen preschoolers would not be receiving the benefits of preschool were it not for a joint grant from the Mebane Foundation, Davie Community Foundation, and the County of Davie.

Last fall, each of these three funders awarded $35,167, one-third of the project cost, to support the Healthy Davie  Preschool Project. The Project paid to create and staff one new preschool class at Pinebrook Elementary School where there was an available classroom. This allowed eighteen at-risk four-year olds to be taken off the Davie County Social Services waiting list for childcare/preschool scholarships and placed in the new classroom organized under the Davie County Schools Preschool Program. At-risk status was based on income, chronic health concerns, special educational needs, or a military status that requires the family to move frequently.

The Healthy Davie Preschool Project is part of the Healthy Davie Initiative launched by the foundations in December 2014 to encourage collaboration and cooperation among Davie County non-profits and agencies in addressing education, health and poverty.

Larry Colbourne, President of Mebane Foundation said, “The fact that three local funders came together to make attending a NC Pre-K program a reality for 18 local children and their families is a powerful statement. It’s a testament to how this community values equal access for all to a strong early childhood development program.”

Recognizing that a quality preschool program can play such a significant role in a child’s development, the foundations looked to Davie County Schools, and its proven track record through the NC Pre-K Program, to provide a program that would help the children reach their full potential.

Davie County Schools reported that 95% of the children attending the Davie County Schools Preschool Program tested as ready for kindergarten based upon Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL) screening scores while 63% of children from other programs tested ready for kindergarten. Of the 30% of 2015-2016 rising kindergarten students identified by the DIAL screening tool as having potential delays or at-risk factors, 46% had had no previous preschool experience.

The DIAL assessment tests a child’s motor skills (skipping, jumping, cutting, writing), conceptual skills (knowledge of colors, counting), and language skills (knowledge of letters and words, ability to solve problems). In addition, the Parent and Teacher Questionnaires measure a child’s self-help skills (dressing, feeding, bathing) and social-emotional skills (getting along with others, staying on task). The skills measured by the DIAL are proven to help predict a child’s success in the classroom.

The DIAL screening test can help parents and teachers decide if a child’s skills are appropriate for his/her age or if further testing or interventions are needed. This information can help with planning the child’s education and, if necessary, can help parents and teachers address any needs the child may have at home or in school.

Wagstaff, a veteran preschool teacher with six years experience in a More at Four program followed by six years in a Pre-K inclusion class for children with developmental delays, is well-prepared to recognize her students’ strengths as well meet their needs. She is assisted by Alisa Allen who has worked in early childhood education for 24 years. This is her 10th year working in the Davie County Preschool Program where she has worked in classrooms with 2’s, 3’s and 4-year olds.

For those having difficulties, Wagstaff  incorporates many of the same strategies she learned in the inclusion class such as lots of repetition, modeling, reminders, and working one on one to accomplish small goals. She tries to provide a balance of structure and love in her classroom and has been pleased with the students’ progress so far.

“These eighteen children are getting something they really need this year to be successful in kindergarten next year,” she said. “We try to work with every child on an individual basis to meet their needs the best we can. Some of the children would have had difficulty functioning behaviorally and academically next year, but I’ve seen a lot of improvement and growth.”

The success of the students will be tracked through third grade and evidence gathered to evaluate the success of the program. So far, parents have been thrilled with their children’s progress.

“My son has learned so much,” said one mother. “He comes home every day and talks about Letterland characters and measurements and how he has made so many friends. He loves his teachers and his classmates and hates missing school when he is sick.”

“He has always been a tenderhearted, emotional child, but he has gained a backbone and has learned to interact with other children. I wasn’t sure how he would like school since he had always been home with me, but he has absolutely loved it,” she added.

The students are not the only ones learning through the Healthy Davie Preschool Program.

Wagstaff offers monthly parent/child activities to teach parents what is expected in kindergarten and has been pleased with almost 100% participation. Past activities have included decorating pumpkins, making pumpkin bracelets, cutting out pumpkins, and making gingerbread houses and gingerbread men and then telling the story of the gingerbread man. Each activity teaches a skill like cutting, sorting, and sequencing.

“A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher. These activities show the parents how their child is progressing and what they can do to help them at home,” she said.

Parents have also attended workshops focused on nutrition, child development, financial management, healthy living, and career planning. This parent education portion of the program has been supported by community partners Just Hope Inc., Davie County Department of Social Services, NC Cooperative Extension Services, Smart Start of Davie, and others.

Colbourne summed it up with “When we can make strides to improve every child’s chance to be kindergarten-ready we’re also increasing their chances of success not only in the later grades, but in life. Now that’s powerful!”

Read to Achieve Creates Engaged Students with Newfound Confidence

05by Jeanna White

Only their huge smiles betray their excitement as 120 students wearing matching red camp t-shirts and Indian headbands enter the gym in quiet, single-file lines. It’s time to celebrate all that they have accomplished during Davie County’s Read to Achieve 2016 summer camp.

The camp is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. This year’s camp also included first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer, as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction.

As in the past two years, this year’s camp was a tremendous success. More than 27% of the county’s non-proficient third-graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade. Additional students are expected to pass the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp. A remarkable 76% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. All will continue on to fourth grade with more skills and as more confident readers.

The third graders were not the only campers to blossom. While assessments for first and second graders were limited to a social maturity inventory, a skill development checklist, and progress checks in HillRap sessions, over 65% of the youngest campers demonstrated strong growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations.

“While a 27% success rate may not seem extraordinary to people not close to education, and more specifically the Read to Achieve program, that rate is far better than those being reported by the majority of school systems in North Carolina,” said Larry Colbourne, President, Mebane Charitable Foundation, which provided a grant of $90,000 to support the 2016 summer camp. Since 2014, the Foundation has invested more than $235,000 in partnering with Davie County Schools to fund the intensive four-week camp.

“Without the consistent support of the Mebane Charitable Foundation, the reality of the DCS Read to Achieve Camp, a “launch pad” for students with potential, would be only an idea and fall short of the impactful program that it has become,” said Noel Grady-Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum and Leadership Development for Davie County Schools. “State funding is not sufficient to produce the model program that we have developed or to support the highly-effective teachers that are employed in Davie County Schools RtA camp.”

She attributes the success of the program to the implementation of both Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) sessions and A+ Schools Instruction during the summer program and subsequent school year which creates a consistent foundation for student achievement. A student teacher ratio of 8/1, working in small groups based on individual needs,  was also extremely beneficial to the struggling readers.

The ongoing goal is to bring these successful, research-based teaching strategies to all six elementary schools during the school year. The teachers who train and practice these approaches during the summer are spread out in schools across the county.

Davie County’s innovative Read to Achieve Camp employs a holistic approach to reading. Attendees actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

“I didn’t use to like to read. I just pretended that I got the words. Now we make things.. Like stories, plays, songs, and drawings that help me understand. So I get it now … for real,” said Ethan, a third grade camper.

A Recipe for Success
Each camper experienced 128 hours of instruction with over 28 hours spent in individualized learning sessions with three to four students in the group.

Students also had computer lab time to work with a new program called myOn, which offers a high-interest reading experience tailored to a student’s level and individual needs. The program allowed them to build vocabulary and score points for the number of books that they read at camp, on a digital device at home, or on a computer at the public library.  Campers read a total of 1,451 books over the course of the camp and into the month of August at home.

Each grade level benefited from a new partnership with the Davie County Public Library through which they enjoyed a weekly story time with Julie Whitaker from the library staff.

Students thrived on outdoor time during their activity/lunch time with their YMCA counselors, who serve as Davie County Schools teachers assistants during the school year.

Informal performances and “sharings” were held routinely throughout the entire camp experience. Students often begged to be able to perform for their peers which was another indication of their growing self-confidence as these performances often involved memorizing lines, playing musical instruments, or presenting a dance that they had choreographed with a small group. These ranked among the highlights of the camp experience.

The camp closed with a large all-camp celebration of the themes of Native American culture which recognized each camper as a valued member of the tribe.  Students sang, played musical instruments, performed traditional ceremonial dances, and shared their art exhibits. This was not a traditional performance, but what A+ Schools refers to as an “informance” that is held without the pressure of adults and families watching, but is solely for students to share their creations with each other.

It was an opportunity to celebrate four weeks of successes. For many, it was their first time to shine in an educational setting.

The final result? 120 excited, engaged students with newfound confidence who are ready to tackle a new school year.