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.

Make and Take – DavieLEADS Supporting Early Literacy Teachers in Davie County Schools

Katherine Johnson and Pam Cope make sight word games

By Jeanna Baxter White
For two hours on a Monday afternoon, the Central Davie gym resembled a workshop. Seated at long tables, teachers were talking and laughing while cutting word strips, sorting and bagging colored squares, and taping the edges of shower board to create small whiteboards.

The teachers were attending one of three “make and take” sessions organized by Davie County Schools to support its elementary school teachers and to provide them with valuable tools to assist with this year’s DavieLEADS focus on guided reading.

DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) was created in 2017 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.

Isabelle Clark, Sierra Tardell, Landon Murphy, Nathalie Hernadez, Kierra Craig Students in Mrs. Brooks’ 1st grade writing stories using sticker stories

Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction.

During guided reading, the teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can read similar levels of texts. The other students in the class work on literacy activities independently or in pairs while they wait for their turn to work with their teacher. High quality, hands-on activities fuel literacy development while keeping students engaged so that teachers can focus uninterrupted on reading with their small groups.

Susan Shepherd and DavieLEADS consultant Barbie Brown, working on a compound word activity

Grant funds were used to cover the cost of the supplies, and DavieLEADS Consultants Barbie Brown and Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coaches Renee Hennings-Gonzalez and Amy Spade created and assembled six to eight activities specifically for each grade level. There were separate sessions for kindergarten and first grade, and second and third grades were combined.

Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for Davie County Schools, said the idea to host the make and take sessions came from discussions she and Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction, had with teachers about the challenges they were experiencing with guided reading and the resources they needed.

“We wanted teachers to know that they had been heard, and it was important for us to find ways to help meet their needs as we moved forward,” said Haynes. “Make and take sessions are not something districts can normally provide; however, we knew that they would be a practical but POWERFUL way to support and encourage teachers.”

make and take use

“Our consultants and literacy coaches invested a lot of time and effort into putting each of the activities together,” said Lynde. “Teachers didn’t just come and learn something that they had to go back and find the time and supplies to create themselves. They were able to take what they learned and apply it immediately, which has been very beneficial. Another benefit was the opportunity to talk and share ideas while being together during these sessions.”

At each station, teachers were able to make something to use at their guided reading table or something their students could use at their literacy stations.

“For every station we’ve assembled, we’ve tried to find things that would be appropriate for maintaining a level of independence for the kids so that the teacher can focus on what she is doing,”  said Hennings-Gonzalez.

One station had word sheets and cookie sheets that students could use with magnetic letters to practice making words, digraphs, and blends, while others offered phonics activities and games to practice sight words.

Teachers prepped “sticker stories” and “squiggle stories” where students write about the character on the sticker using vocabulary words printed on the card or turn a squiggle into an illustration and write about it.

Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach, with retell hand

A favorite station was the “retell hand” station. Teachers began by stuffing a garden glove and attaching a paint stick to it. Then they hot-glued storytelling clues to each of the fingers — characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, and the heart of the story in the palm. Students can use the hand to help them retell stories.

To maximize the budget as well as the value of the make and take tools, each activity was designed to be used in multiple ways over an extended period of time. The activities are also being uploaded to a website so that teachers can share other ideas they come up with for using the materials.

Sixty-three teachers attended a make and take session and they were glad they did.

“This make and take is really important because it is hard to find hands-on tools and to have the money to go purchase them,” said Sherry Wooten, a 1st-grade teacher at Cornatzer Elementary. “Having something that is already put together and ready for me to use in my classroom the next day means a lot to me.”

Nikki Whiteheart, a 1st-grade teacher at Cooleemee Elementary, said, “This session has been great because it’s provided us so many new ideas we might not have come up with on our own. I can’t wait to watch my kids use these hands-on activities and really engage with learning to read.”

Ismael Barrera, LaFaith Hall, students in Mrs. Boger’s class working on sight words

“I love having resources!” said Cindy Boger, a 1st-grade teacher at Cornatzer. “These tools will be valuable for my different literacy stations because they can be used multiple ways and are differentiated according to skill levels.”

“The 2nd and 3rd-grade session had to be postponed because of weather,” said Lynde  “We actually had additional teachers call or email to sign-up because they saw the tools their kindergarten and 1st-grade colleagues made, and they decided they wanted to attend, as well.”

“Gathering all of the supplies and finding the time to create materials can be so frustrating,” said Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach at Cornatzer Elementary. “Seeing teachers so excited about their new materials and listening to them brainstorm how they are going to use them has been so rewarding. This is such a timesaver for our teachers and I’m glad to see so many of them capitalizing on the opportunity.”

“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of research and a lot of time,” added Hennings-Gonzalez, “so it’s nice to see teachers walking away smiling and feeling supported.”

Pam Cope, a kindergarten teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, summed it up well in a post-event thank you note, “You guys really organized a wonderful make and take. I felt like it was still Christmas. That was one of the most helpful things you could have done for us. I got home feeling VERY supported and encouraged. Thank you for all the work that went into making today’s session great. I was tired when I got home, but it was a GOOD tired.”

Giving the Gift of Reading through HillRAP

Moving counter-clockwise: Luwonna Oakes, Davie HillRAP teacher; Honor Draughn, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Petra Murphy, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Amelia Battle, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Brynlee Logan, a third-grade student at Pinebrook Elementary School

By Jeanna Baxter White
It’s 3:15 in the afternoon. While most of their friends are finished with school for the day, four third-grade girls are bursting through the door of the Mebane Foundation office in downtown Mocksville to take advantage of an amazing opportunity to boost their literacy skills.

The Mebane Foundation is piloting a unique program that utilizes a retired teacher to provide the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) to students who don’t receive the powerful literacy intervention during the school day.

HillRAP is a research-based multisensory structured language approach to teaching reading developed by the Hill Center of Durham. During HillRAP, a specially-trained teacher guides groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has a specialized curriculum to provide individualized instruction where it is needed most.

Because HillRAP is so individualized and requires direct instruction, the program cannot be used for a whole group. Teachers and schools must intentionally schedule the time to implement the program, limiting the number of students able to participate.

Amelia Battle, Mocksville Elementary School student practices reading fluency using HillRAP software on an iPad

“Our number one goal is to help children succeed in reading,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “Secondly, we are trying to assist the Hill Center by testing a tutoring model that makes the Hill methodology accessible to a lot more families and students. The normal cost is $50 per hour per student which isn’t attainable for many of the families who need the program. By using a retired teacher who is at the top of her game when it comes to Hill, we are piloting and subsidizing a program that provides this valuable methodology for only $25 a week per student for three hours of tutoring. It’s been rewarding that we had available space in our office since early literacy is our mission. This program is a win for the child and a win for the retired teacher who is able to increase their income in retirement. We’d love to replicate the program with more retired teachers trained in HillRAP and help more students.”

“Although we are starting small because we don’t know where this will lead, my hope is that the program becomes so attractive to families and teachers that we have difficulty handling the volume,” he said, adding that he hopes to expand the program this summer to help prevent summer reading loss.

HillRAP small group tutoring sessions allow individualized training as students practice skills that are assigned based on each student’s needs

Colbourne selected Luwonna Oakes to serve as the first tutor. She retired from Davie County schools last spring after 21 years as William R. Davie Elementary School’s reading specialist. Coincidentally, she has been involved with the Mebane Foundation’s work since 2002 when she was selected for a committee to explore K-3 best practices in Davie County Schools. She was among the first to receive Hill Center level one certification and level two mentor training through funding from the Foundation and participated in the pilot program to evaluate the digital version of the HillRAP methodology which was released in 2016.

“I’m thankful that Larry reached out to me because I knew I would need to work part-time when I retired and this is the perfect opportunity,” Oakes said. “I’m also grateful to have been involved with the Mebane Foundation since 2002 when Mr. Mebane was still alive and beginning his involvement in Davie County.” She still proudly displays the plaque she received for being one of those early Mebane Scholars. “The funding he has provided to Davie County schools not only allowed me to have HillRAP training but to go back to the Hill Center for continued professional development.”

Whisper phones allow students to quietly read or practice words so that they can hear themselves but others are not disturbed. Reading out loud helps them to correct their own errors as they hear what they are saying

Oakes was tasked with selecting the first group of four as quickly as possible. She found the first, Brynlee Logan from Pinebrook Elementary, after a chance discussion with her mother at a social gathering. She then turned to Suzie Hecht, reading teacher at Mocksville Elementary, the closest school to the Mebane Foundation office, for help identifying three additional students to finish out the group.

“We started with third-graders because of the pressure on them to meet the North Carolina standards and to pass their first EOGs. It puts a lot of stress on the students and their parents,” Oakes said.”We hope to expand the program to include first and second graders this summer.”

“We wanted to find children who needed additional support in literacy and who would benefit from this specific methodology but weren’t already receiving it at school. Using data from school assessments, the reading teachers identified students who needed a little extra help developing reading fluency (reading rate and expression) and accuracy.”

Hecht sent out 10 letters and the first to respond, Amelia Battle, Honor Draughn, and Petra Murphy were selected to participate.  “Our invited students were very close to meeting goals in various reading assessments, indicating they might show proficiency in third grade by the end of the year. However, they were not there yet,” said Hecht. “These students needed an extra intervention to specifically target their needs. Hill RAP was a great fit – I knew they would be in very capable hands with Luwonna. We were so excited to be on the ground floor of this new initiative. We are very appreciative of all the Mebane Foundation has done to impact literacy in Davie County.”

Family members are thrilled with the generous opportunity the girls are receiving.

“There are students who are doing well but could be doing so much better if they had just a little bit more help,” said Lana Weaver, Amelia’s grandmother, who as a teacher for 42 years quickly recognized the value of this program. “Amelia loves to read and is excited about coming.”

Barbara Everhart, Brynlee’s grandmother, and a former teacher said she was “overjoyed because this is something that will make her feel better about her reading ability.”

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Aubrey Draughn, Honor’s mother. “I hope it will give her more confidence in her reading, writing, comprehension, and fluency, and she is excited about it.”

Oakes knows well the value HillRAP can bring to a child’s life. Her first HillRAP students are now seniors in high school and doing well.

“I want all children to have a joy for reading and a love for learning,” she said. “I want to support them crossing the bridge to reading efficiency and experience the fun of reading, where they can visualize, enjoy, and escape through a book. They may never personally visit Africa or the Outback of Australia, but they can go there in a book. It’s the next best thing to being there.”

For a more detailed story on the HillRAP program, please visit HillRAP: Direct, individualized literacy instruction to help struggling students succeed.