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.”