Brookstone Graduates “Giving Back” by Returning as Camp Counselors

Former Brookstone student Nataevia Dowling returns to Brookstone as Camp Counselor

Former student Nataevia Dowling returns to Brookstone as Camp Counselor


By Jeanna Baxter White
Ohana is Hawaiian for family, and for camp counselor Nataevia Dowling, that family includes the students and staff at Brookstone Schools in Charlotte, NC.

“What I love about Brookstone is the feeling of being connected to a big family,” said Dowling, who started attending Brookstone in the 4th grade. “Here everyone knows one another. It’s an environment where students care for each other and everyone loves each other.”

That love and sense of belonging are the irresistible forces that have drawn the rising senior at Charlotte Secondary School back to Brookstone for the past four summers to serve as a camp counselor. She began immediately after graduation from the K-8 program in 2016 as an apprentice, followed by two summers as a junior counselor. Now she is a full-fledged counselor, a role she welcomes as it has given her more responsibility. She works alongside the classroom teacher and helps manage a class of twenty 4th graders.

Brookstone Schools, which opened its doors in 2001, is a non-denominational Christian school incorporating a biblical worldview into quality education for under-resourced families in Charlotte. The goal of the school is to equip urban students spiritually, academically, and socially for lives of future leadership and service. The camp will provide six weeks of fun, games, learning, field trips, and continued support during the summer months to 150 children in Uptown Charlotte.

“I think the summer camp is incredibly valuable,” said Suzanne Wilson, M.Ed., Brookstone’s director of advancement. “Research shows that students lose two to three months during the summer, and that learning loss is cumulative over the years they are in school. However, summer camp keeps their minds engaged and keeps them reading.”

The Mebane Foundation’s involvement with Brookstone Schools began in 2012 when the school was awarded a 3-year grant to launch this Summer Learning and Adventure Camp. Since then, the Foundation has invested more than $315,000 in Brookstone. This year the Foundation provided a $25,000 grant for the camp. The funds were used to subsidize the program, as well as to provide technology, materials, and professional development for teachers.

“Our Brookstone relationship has been a long-standing one. As I’ve said to Suzanne on so many occasions, they seem to have the “secret sauce” that ensures families and their children are afforded the opportunity to succeed at Brookstone Schools and then in life,” says Foundation president, Larry Colbourne.

Camp begins each day at 9 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. with before- and after-school care available. Mornings are spent practicing math and reading skills to help students stay on target for the upcoming school year, as well as practice specific skills at a slower pace. Teachers use Summer Success: Reading, a six-week summer school reading program, to provide engaging instruction in reading, vocabulary, and writing.

Afternoons offer enrichment and fun as local churches provide Vacation Bible School and a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, tennis, soccer, kickball, and other outdoor games. Campers enjoy field trips to the Cane Creek Park, Ramsey Creek Park, Niven Park, and Lazy 5 Ranch.

The summer camp is equally beneficial for Brookstone graduates who serve as counselors. Beginning the summer after 8th grade, they can apply to serve as junior counselors, volunteering their time the first summer and getting paid for subsequent ones. Some, like Dowling, have younger siblings attending camp. Others are simply excited about the opportunity to return to the school and serve. This year there are 27 Brookstone graduates involved with camp, sixteen as paid counselors and eleven as volunteers.

The use of these former students as counselors is one of the camp’s most unique features and a win for everyone, according to Steve Hall, Brookstone Schools’ head of school.

“Three or four summers ago, three of our recent graduates were hanging around because they had younger siblings attending camp, so we decided to put them to work as volunteers and it worked out great,” said Hall. “Initially, our policy was to hire only college students as counselors, but it has been so neat to have our former students here. They do a fantastic job! They already understand the Brookstone culture and expectations and their level of leadership and responsibility sets a wonderful example for our campers. Having our graduates serve as counselors also allows us to stay connected to them and to provide a continuum of care beyond 8th grade.”

Wilson agreed, adding, “Our mission statement is to equip urban students spiritually, academically, and socially for lives of future leadership and service, and that includes now.”

Dowling is a perfect example.

“Nataevia has a quiet confidence about her that far surpasses her age,” says Judy Brooks, the classroom teacher she assists. “I was shocked when I found out recently that she is only a senior in high school. The students, understandably, love Ms. Nataevia. She is kind, compassionate, and understanding. She is able to maintain a healthy balance between fun, maintaining order, and keeping the kids on task. She always has the kids’ best interest in mind. This positive young woman is a role model and treats students as the unique individuals they are.”

Dowling says that serving as a counselor has been a way to reconnect and give back to the school that means so much to her.

“I enjoy working with the kids and helping them have the same sense of family and loving care that I always had at Brookstone. Brookstone invested so much in me and made me the person I am today. That’s why I want to give back here.”

She credits the school with giving her the study skills and discipline she needed to succeed. She learned to challenge herself. She has taken AP classes in math, English, Biology and History.

If she maintains her high GPA, Dowling can apply for a college scholarship through the Beta Club. Her life’s ambition is to major in biology and pursue a career in veterinary medicine. “I’ve always loved working with animals – dogs, frogs, fish, and pets of all kinds!”

She also enjoys seeing fellow graduates who serve as counselors because they attend many different high schools and don’t get to see each other regularly.

“Most of my friends come back as counselors, too. For six weeks during the summer, we get to be together and be a part of the Brookstone family once again.”

About Brookstone Schools
Brookstone Schools is a non-profit Christ-centered school serving inner-city children and families since 2001. Brookstone offers an opportunity for parents who want a choice in how they educate their children but are unable to afford a private education. Students learn not only facts, but how to use this knowledge in all aspects of their lives. Brookstone is located in Uptown Charlotte (301 South Davidson St., Charlotte, N.C. 28202). All gifts made to Brookstone Schools are tax deductible. For more information, please visit Or contact Suzanne Wilson, director of advancement, at (704) 392-6330 or

Mebane Foundation Grant Helping Bookmarks Deliver Thousands of New Books to School Libraries

By Jeanna Baxter White

They are piled on tables, stacked in boxes, and filling up the small back room, but the employees at Bookmarks don’t mind because these books will soon provide Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School libraries with hundreds of desperately needed shiny new books through “Book Build.”

Since the winter of 2018, 10,000+ books have been delivered to libraries at 32 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and this latest batch is scheduled for delivery to 16 more before school starts this fall. The school system has 45 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, and 19 high schools, for a system-wide total of 81 schools with two new schools currently being built by 2020. By the time the Book Build project is complete in the fall of 2020, every single school in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system will have more than 300 new books.

Winston Salem City Employees Volunteer for Bookmarks as part of as part of Helping Hands, a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

Winston Salem City Employees Volunteer for Bookmarks as part of as part of Helping Hands, a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

Sponsored by Bookmarks, a literary arts nonprofit organization and independent bookstore in Winston-Salem, NC, “Book Build: Fostering Connections by Building Collections,” is a three-year, $450,000 initiative focused on infusing the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School libraries with current, culturally-relevant books.

Through Book Build, the school system will receive 25,000 new books. Among the most-needed reading materials are culturally relevant titles, books published in the last three to five years, and multiple copies of popular books. In addition, the Bookmarks in Schools program will arrange author visits, volunteer help, and funding for media assistant support to help process the new books during the semester in which they are received.

Ira Citron, Winston Salem Bookmarks volunteer adds bookplates to books before distribution

Ira Citron, Winston Salem Bookmarks volunteer adds bookplates to books before distribution

“Since the only access to books for many students is through their school library, we realized the best way to make an impact is to work with the public school libraries directly,” said Ginger Hendricks, Bookmarks executive director. “Easy access to recently published books and books that reflect the readers’ interests can provide the impetus that leads a reluctant reader to become a lifelong reader.”

The initiative was announced in June 2018 and gained momentum in October when it received a $200,000 grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation of Mocksville, NC. Although the first $50,000 was released immediately, the remaining $150,000 pledge was issued in the form of annual challenge grants.

Volunteers Yvette Myers from Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools and Kay McKnight process books for distribution to local libraries

Volunteers Yvette Myers from Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools and Kay McKnight process books for distribution to local libraries

“The grant was a game-changer for this initiative, and I am grateful that the Mebane Foundation believed in our efforts so strongly,” said Hendricks. “We have an amazing community that I believe will help us raise not only the matching funds but all the funds we need so our students will thrive.”

“We are so grateful to have received a one-year $25,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s Community Progress Fund. We have combined it with funds raised from individuals, family foundations, and sponsors, and our first Book Build Breakfast fundraiser,” Hendricks said. “We reached our goal earlier than we thought, and it helps the momentum keep going as we plan for 2020.”

In addition to the many donors, Hendricks is thankful for the dozens of volunteers who have helped by categorizing the books, applying barcodes and bookplate stickers, taping over the labels on the spines, adding protective book jackets, and packing the books in the boxes going to each school.

“Winston Under 40” through the Chamber of Commerce chose Bookmarks as their non-profit partner for the year

“Winston Under 40” through the Chamber of Commerce chose Bookmarks as their non-profit partner for the year

Grant funding helps media coordinators in that all books are delivered processed into the computer system with individual barcodes, and ready to be checked out by students – a task that can take nearly 100 hours for 315 books.

Volunteers include retired teachers and school librarians, as well as volunteers from BB&T, Novant Health, Truliant Federal Credit Union, and Winston Under 40 through the Chamber of Commerce. Winston Under 40 chose Bookmarks as their nonprofit partner for the year, and BB&T also adopted Bookmarks through its BB&T Lighthouse Project and sent volunteers over the course of three months to help Bookmarks.

Ten City of Winston-Salem employees also helped. Each year, city employees serve the people of Winston-Salem in ways that go beyond their daily responsibilities as part of Helping Hands, a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This year, employees joined Jackie Pierson, the school system’s former director of library media services and others at the school system’s Instructional Resources Center (IRC) to get 2,400 new books ready to be sent to the media centers at a number of elementary schools.

Susan Jameson, media assistant for WSFCS, and Caleb Masters, assistant bookstore manager, load boxes of books to be delivered to the school system's Instructional Resource Center for processing and delivery to a school.

Susan Jameson, media assistant for WSFCS, and Caleb Masters, assistant bookstore manager, load boxes of books to be delivered to the school system’s Instructional Resource Center for processing and delivery to a school.

“As children have checked out the donated books, I am OVERWHELMED with the enormity and quality of this gift. These books have done so much to broaden our collection culturally, inspirationally, and perspectively!!! Thank you for giving us so many quality and high-interest books,” wrote Lissa Carter, media coordinator at Mineral Springs Elementary School. “Thank you also for providing us with an amazing author visit – Gillian McDunn. The 4th graders were THRILLED to have their own book and have told me how much they love the story. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!”

“The donors and volunteers have been great to work with on this initiative, and we oftentimes have waiting lists at the schools before the books even arrive,” said Hendricks. “I am constantly in awe of our community which understands the importance of books and reading. Without this support, we would not be able to fulfill our mission and meet our fundraising goals to make Book Build a reality.”

Fundraising is underway through fall of 2020. One-time donations and multi-year pledges to “Book Build: Fostering Connections by Building Collections” may be made to Bookmarks online or by mail to 634 W. Fourth Street #110, Winston-Salem, NC 27101. Please put “Book Build” in the memo line. To donate online, please visit

About Bookmarks
Bookmarks is a literary arts nonprofit whose mission is to connect readers with authors and books. It produces the Carolinas’ largest annual Festival of Books and Authors, a schools initiative that reached over 12,500 students in 2018 and year-round author and reading events around the Triad community and in its nonprofit independent bookstore at 634 W. Fourth Street in Winston-Salem. Visit

Davie Students Sharpening Literacy Skills at 2019 Read to Achieve Camp

Teachers engage with Read to Achieve Camp students during the combined camp opening session.

Teachers engage with students during the combined camp opening session.

By Jeanna Baxter White
Can 16 days transform a child’s educational experience? One hundred forty-four Davie County students are finding out as they attend this summer’s Read to Achieve camp at Cornatzer Elementary School.

Read to Achieve camp is designed to help third-graders meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The intensive four-week camp also includes first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer. This year’s camp will serve 87 third-graders, 29 second-graders, and 28 first-graders.

Davie County’s camp is based on the A+Schools of North Carolina Program which combines interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction to offer children multiple opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know.  

Teresa Carter teaches a Hill Center reading session at 2019 Davie Read to Achieve Camp

Teresa Carter teaches Hill Center reading session

With $99,000 provided by the Mebane Foundation combined with state funds, students attending the 2019 Read to Achieve Camp will actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, as well as tailored instruction through Hill Center reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Each week has a different theme with most activities revolving around that topic to reinforce student understanding. Campers also learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

This year, in addition to a traditional hands-on art class, third-graders will also benefit from a “maker space-style” STEM-based art class designed to provide hands-on learning for students and enhance their problem-solving skills. For example, during the first day of this new art class students were tasked with creating Goldilocks using various plastic pieces. Once Goldilocks was complete they created a bed from popsicle sticks and tape. The bed had to be strong enough to support Goldilocks.  At the end of the assignment, they wrote out directions explaining how it was done, making it another literacy activity.

“Early introduction to STEM-focused activities and procedures can help them prepare for the rigors and expectations of a 21st-century workforce as well as prepare them for possible high school paths,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director.

Julie Marklin leads a small group literacy session during Davie’s 2019 Read to Achieve Camp

Julie Marklin leads a small group literacy session

Jeremy Brooks says the students love the multiple pathways we offer them throughout the day. “The learning environment is always changing. We keep things interesting and dynamic from arrival to dismissal. All of our different activities have literacy embedded in them. Kids don’t realize that they are actually working on reading and writing because they are having too much fun! From reading scripts in “theater” class to following  a set of written directions in maker-space, they are always sharpening literacy skills.”

Past results have been inspiring. During last summer’s camp, 32% of the county’s non-proficient third-graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade, and an additional 25 the campers passed the Read to Achieve test in the months following the camp. A remarkable 85% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. Furthermore, 85% of the first-graders and 80% of the 2nd-graders demonstrated significant growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations. All of the students achieved a substantial increase in confidence, engagement, and stamina in approaching new learning experiences.

The innovative nature of Davie County’s camp, as well as its high success rate, has garnered notice from the North Carolina Department of Instruction as well as school systems across the state.

Karen Henson guides students through a Hill Center reading session

Karen Henson guides students through a Hill Center reading session

Davie County was one of six districts chosen from across the state to serve as a spotlight district during the Read to Achieve Summit in Greensboro. Jennifer Lynde, DCS chief academic officer, and Christy Cornatzer, camp curriculum coordinator, had the opportunity to share about the different aspects of the camp.

“During the state’s Read to Achieve Summit, we had a wonderful opportunity to share how our district’s RTA summer camp has demonstrated significant gains in student achievement,” said Lynde. “Specifically, we were asked to focus on the hiring and retention of highly qualified reading camp teachers from year to year and practices that we’ve used during our camp that have resulted in positive outcomes.  We were able to provide practical resources for other RTA summer camp leaders and share ideas about what we believe has made our camp successful.”

DCS also hosted the Piedmont-Triad Read to Achieve meeting. “The teachers from our camp were able to lead around 50 district RTA summer camp leaders and representatives from their teams through each of the components of our camp,” explained Cornatzer. “We’ve also had several districts reach out requesting our schedule and asking for suggestions of how they too can integrate the arts.”

Students learn about rhythm and sound in a music and theatre session

Students learn about rhythm and sound in a music and theatre session

What Does a Day at DCS Read to Achieve Camp Look Like?
The structure of the camp creates a lot of excitement. Students aren’t used to singing, dancing, and rapping during a regular school day.

The camp day begins at 8:00 a.m. with a short combined session focused on goal setting for the day. Students are divided into small groups with an average ratio of fourteen students per teacher except when students are in Hill RAP sessions at the four to one ratio. The student’s day is divided between Hill Rap sessions, writing to learn sessions, art and reading sessions, testing stamina sessions, music/theatre, and verbal expression sessions, and diagnostic reading clinic sessions. Each session lasts approximately forty-five minutes. Each day ends at 2:45 p.m

Each grade level’s lessons have a theme, and those themes are carried over to all aspects of camp. The first graders are learning about families while the second graders are studying communities. The third graders are racing across North Carolina with units about the mountains, piedmont, and coast which will give them advanced preparation for studying these topics in fourth-grade science and social studies.

Voluntary “informances” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals) at the end of each day allow students to further build confidence as they show their best work and share with each other what they’ve learned.

At the end of the fourth week, third-grade students will be allowed to retake the RTA Reading test, which is a form of the EOG.

Julie Marklin works with students during an art session at 2019 Read to Achieve Camp

Julie Marklin works with students during an art session

Innovative, Highly Effective Teachers the Key to Success
Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly effective teachers. Jeremy Brooks says the heart of Davie’s RTA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators. Each has been trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program and has personally completed each and every assignment the students complete. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions have previous experience teaching Hill reading methodologies. Most are RTA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing, often for the first time.

“One of the reasons teachers like working here is because we don’t box them in. We go ahead and let them try new things, as long as they match the philosophy of the camp, which is a real selling point for teachers. Sometimes they don’t get to do that during the school year because it is so rigid with what must be taught by a given point.”

Kim Brooks, who teaches first grade at Cornatzer, feels honored to have been a part of the Read to Achieve camp since the beginning. “There are several reasons I keep coming back each summer, but the #1 reason is these kids! It is truly amazing to watch the transformation that takes place within each student in just 16 days. It’s about more than just passing a test. Our Read to Achieve camp (family)  is about raising students’ self-esteem to give them the confidence they need to succeed. We are very fortunate to have the leeway to teach students by integrating the Arts into our daily instruction. This helps them to see the different ways in which they learn. Watching their energy levels change within the classroom to become active learners and leaders is a sight to behold! As an educator, it is what you wish for every student that ever enters a school building!”

Tami Daniel works with students during an art session

Jeremy Brooks is also excited to have six new teachers as part of this year’s staff. “We have great teachers, but it’s always nice to bring in new ideas because we never want the camp to get stagnant. Although we know that we are doing good things we are always looking for ways to do things even better.”

Megan Cooper, who teaches 3rd grade at Shady Grove Elementary, chose to participate in RTA camp for the first because of her love for helping children and the desire to continue to learn and grow as an educator. “I heard such amazing reviews from teachers, parents, and students about camp. I also wanted to participate to learn from amazing veteran teachers across the county and from the A+ fellows that came in to train us. I was told it is an amazing experience and they were right! The staff here is like a family, so welcoming and fun to work with. I have learned so much from the teachers, the students, and the training we received. The camp is not like a job, it is time to help our students and have fun while doing it. I am excited to take what I have learned and implement it into my everyday classroom culture throughout the school year. Camp has been such a refreshing reminder of why I became a teacher. My biggest take away from camp is that it is important to make learning fun while helping my students.”

The Davie County educators who are teaching at this year’s Read to Achieve camp include:

  • Jeremy Brooks – Camp Director (North Davie)
  • Christy Cornatzer – Curriculum Coordinator (Cornatzer)
  • Suzie Alonso – Hill Center (Cornatzer)
  • Kerry Blackwelder – Hill Center (Cooleemee)
  • Kim Brooks – Reading Coach (Cornatzer)
  • Debbie Brown – 1st/2nd Teacher Assistant (Mocksville)
  • Mary Lynn Bullins – Reading Coach (Cornatzer)
  • Teresa Carter – Hill Center (Cooleemee)
  • Amy Chappell – 3rd Grade Art (Mocksville/Cornatzer)
  • Molly Connell – 2nd Grade (William R. Davie)
  • Megan Cooper – Reading Coach (Shady Grove)
  • Lori Culler – Reading Coach (South Davie)
  • Leigh Anne Davis – Reading Coach (Pinebrook)
  • Shannon Eggleston – 1st Grade (William R. Davie)
  • Michael Errickson – 3rd Grade Music (Cornatzer)
  • Angelina Etter – 1st Grade Hill Center (Mocksville)
  • Suzie Hecht – 2nd Grade (Mocksville)
  • Karen Henson – Hill Center (Mocksville)
  • Jennie Kimel – 1st Grade (William R. Davie)
  • Julie Marklin – 3rd Grade Art (Mocksville)
  • Rachel Morse – Teacher Assistant (Cornatzer)
  • Brenda Mosko – Music (South Davie/William Ellis)
  • Anissa Nixon – Teacher Assistant (Mocksville)
  • Erin Penley – 1st and 2nd Grade Music (Pinebrook)
  • Alma Rosas – Hill Center (William R. Davie)
  • Kaitlin Sizemore –Teacher Assistant (Davie High)
  • Amy Spade – 2nd Grade (County)
  • Susan Spear – 3rd Grade Art (Cornatzer)
  • Lori Wyrick – Receptionist (Cornatzer)