Preschool Teachers Are Building a Learning Community

By Jeanna Baxter White

Discussing Music and Movement in the Preschool Classroom

“What types of music and movements help children to calm? What helps them get their energy up?” Stephanie Nelson, Davie County’s preschool collaborative teacher, asked teachers during February’s community preschool professional learning community (PLC) meeting on Monday night.

A lively discussion followed as the preschool teachers shared their favorite songs, props, and techniques for using creative movement and music activities to enrich classroom curriculum. 

From R-L – Sarah Hofer, Young Children’s Learning Center teacher;  leads Sherri Robinson, Hillsdale Baptist Preschool teacher; Sarah Watkins, Hillsdale Baptist Preschool Director; and Stephanie Nelson, Davie County preschool collaborative teacher, through the hand motions of an action song she uses in her classroom. 

Davie County Preschool Teachers Share Ideas and Support Through Community PLC Group 

“The PLC meetings are led by the teachers and provide them an opportunity to offer support to each other and to share ideas to use in the classroom,” said Nelson. “My goal as the preschool collaborative teacher with the LEADS initiative is to support preschool teachers across the county in their understanding of kindergarten readiness based on the NC Foundations for Early Learning and Development.”

The Role of the DavieLEADS Program

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

The community preschool PLC meetings began in May 2019. “The child-care-based NC Pre-K teachers had been getting together for PLC meetings since before the LEADS initiative started but the group wanted to expand and include more preschool teachers for increased diversity of ideas and greater community collaboration,” explained Nelson. “We invited directors, owners, and teachers of 3 and 4-year-old children from all programs in Davie County; including licensed, unlicensed, faith-based, family child care homes, and public school sites.”

“As we were discussing logistics of where to meet, the idea of meeting in each other’s classrooms each time came up. The group immediately liked the idea.  It gives them an opportunity to see each other’s classrooms and gather ideas. Additionally, we rotate meeting locations, for the convenience of attendees and to cut down on driving distances.”

From L-R – Holly Sinopoli, First United Methodist Preschool teacher; Judy Mayfield, Young Children’s Learning Center teacher; Stephanie Nelson, Davie County preschool collaborative teacher; and Sarah Watkins, Hillsdale Baptist Preschool director, share ideas during the Davie County Community Preschool PLC meeting. 

Sharing Ideas and Support

Monday night’s meeting was hosted at Mudpies Child Development Center in Mocksville in the classroom of Pat Doby, a veteran NC Pre-K teacher with 22 years of experience. Doby’s teaching day started at 6:30 a.m. – her willingness to stay on-site and to host the monthly meeting at 6:15 p.m. demonstrates the value that she and the other teachers find in the group. 

Sherri Robinson (r) demonstrates an activity she uses in her classroom at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool while Sarah Watkins looks on. 

“I initially went to get guidance on using Letterland but now I enjoy gaining ideas to use in my own classroom. I like to hear what works for other teachers,” said Holly Sinopoli who teaches 3-year-olds at First United Methodist Church.”

“It’s nice to know that we are a community and that we are all in this together,” said Sarah Watkins, the director of Hillsdale Baptist Church Preschool. 

“I appreciate the connectivity,” said Sherri Robinson who teaches four-year-olds at Hillsdale. “We talk to kids all day long, so it’s nice to speak to other adults who share our same struggles and triumphs.” 

Previous meeting topics have included:

  • How Do You Keep Preschoolers Engaged in Group Time at the End of the Year?
  • Building Classroom Community, Teaching Routines & Expectations
  • Social Skill Development & Transitions
  • Social Skill Development, Transitions, & How Do You Get Student Focus Back When You have Lost Their Attention? 
  • Nifty, Thrifty Cheap Ideas – Join us and share ideas for inexpensive teacher tools, student games or classroom resources.  

Attendance is voluntary. Seven teachers from four different preschool programs were at Monday night’s meeting, but Nelson said there have been as many as 15 teachers present.  

“We discussed at the beginning of the year that many of us wear multiple hats and will have conflicts with meeting dates at times,” explained Nelson. “We’ve purposely designed the meetings so that participants feel comfortable attending some months and missing others as conflicts arise.” 

She also found a way to use technology to provide information and resources to teachers unable to attend the meetings. “John Marshall (digital teaching and learning coordinator with Davie County Schools) taught me how to set up a Canvas digital platform which is typically used for online classes. Through Canvas, I can send messages, reminders, upload notes and share resources.  I include links to internet sites or videos that relate to our PLC discussions. We also have an open discussion board if participants want to share ideas or ask questions between meetings.”

From L-R — Pat Doby, Mudpies Childs Development Center teacher, explains one of her classroom learning centers to First United Methodist Preschool teachers Sherri Hendrix and Holly Sinopoli.

Inspiration, Education and Support for Preschool Teachers

“Participating in the community preschool PLC group has been an inspiring, educational, and supportive process. Seeing preschool teachers and directors from many diverse programs come together to support each other, on their own time, shows their dedication to the profession and passion for offering children high-quality preschool experiences. These ladies teach me something new each month and inspire me to do my job better. I hope we can grow and include more teachers and directors as the community preschool PLC group continues,” Nelson concluded with a smile. 

Book Harvest’s Dream Big Book Drive

By Jeanna Baxter White

“Everyone needs to become a good reader so that when they are an adult they will have a better life,” said six-year-old Jade Vaughan-Bey during Book Harvest’s Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration held on MLK Day at Rhythms Live Music Hall in downtown Durham.  

Hearing such wisdom from a young child brought a huge smile to the face of Book Harvest Founder Ginger Young who exclaimed enthusiastically, “Jade gets it – that’s what this program is all about!” 

Jade Vaughan-Bey reads to her mother, Taquoia Street.

Getting Books to Every Preschooler

“The benefits of a book-rich home environment begin accruing at birth. If we wait until a child starts school, we’ve waited too long,” she explained. “The consequences of raising a child in a bookless home are direct, severe, and lifelong. And there are a lot of kids in our midst who don’t own books.”

Fulfilling the Dream

To combat the problem, and to fulfill her dream that “every child in our community should grow up in the presence of books, and plenty of them,” Young began collecting donated books in her garage. Soon she and a team of volunteers were supplying donated books to children and programs across Durham and Orange counties and Book Harvest was born.  As her dream grew, so did the need to collect more books. 

“Dream Big began as an experiment to see if we could collect book donations on MLK Day 2012; in our first year, we had several new bookshelves throughout the community that needed books every week, and we were working hard to bring in the donations to keep those shelves of free books for kids stocked. That first event brought in 10,122 books – and we were off to the races!”

Inspired by the Vision of Dr. King

“Today, Book Harvest’s annual Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration remains deeply connected to MLK Day, the day on which it has been held for nine years; we are inspired by Dr. King’s vision of a world in which every child has the chance to realize his or her full potential. This annual event is part book drive, part volunteer opportunity, part activity fair, and part fundraiser. But the main goal for the day is to bring the entire community together in celebration of the organization’s big dream: that all kids can grow up in a world in which reading, learning, and access to information are considered rights and not privileges so that all children can thrive.

Over 1,000 people showed up for Book Harvest’s annual Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration. This annual event is part book drive, part volunteer opportunity, part activity fair, and part fundraiser.

Harvesting All Year Long

“Book Harvest is here 365 days a year because books are an evergreen need. We come together once a year for this glorious celebration and hope people will remember us all year long. This is the one day when all of our communities are in the same space: families who are enrolled in Book Babies, families who harvest books from the laundromats and health centers where we stock shelves, families who’ve done book drives for us, local business leaders, elected officials, foundation staffs, and those who care about literacy. Everyone is out here.”

Building Home Libraries

This year’s Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebrations was another amazing success. A total of 42,183 new and gently used books were collected during the event and throughout the month of January! 

“Imagine ALL of the home libraries those books will fill, the bedtime stories they will provide, the pride their new owners will feel when they put them on their bookshelves or bedside tables!” said Book Harvest Communications and Events Manager Daniele Berman. “But that’s not the only inspiring number I’m marveling at today:”

  • 1,113 people packed Rhythms Live Music Hall to volunteer and celebrate with us at Dream Big on MLK Day! (The largest number ever)
  • 74  neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and organizations ran book drives and collected new and gently used books to donate! (See the huge list here!)
  • Sponsors donated $116,100 to make Dream Big and Book Harvest‘s work happen year-round! (Check out all our sponsors here — including our first-ever Dream Sponsor, Hendrick Subaru Southpoint!  Special thanks to our other top sponsors: Duke University Libraries, Scholastic, Wells Fargo, Mebane Foundation, Written Word Media, and United Way of the Greater Triangle.) 

Rock Star Volunteers Support Literacy

An event of this magnitude requires an army of volunteers. Young is forever grateful for the passion and commitment of the volunteers who continue to show up, many of them year after year. This year, the first 200 volunteer slots posted were filled within 43 minutes! 

“In addition to being a great big celebration of literacy and books for all kids,” explains Berman, “Dream Big also represents a unique volunteer opportunity. Each year, the event provides a space where parents can volunteer with young children, coworkers can volunteer as a team, service groups can dedicate their efforts, and anyone who wants to is able to find a way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and engage in a meaningful way with our mission.”

Book Harvest’s Legacy is Empowerment

Jade and her mom, Taquoia Street, are two of those passionate volunteers. Young calls them “rockstars of promoting the cause.” 

Their involvement with Book Harvest began when Jade was a newborn. “A nurse came to my home and told me about Book Babies. She explained that once every six months, from birth until age five, a Book Harvest representative would deliver age-appropriate books to our house and would share tips about what my daughter should be able to do at each stage of development. As a first-time mom, I didn’t really know, so it sounded wonderful.” 

Street soon began attending Book Harvest events and got involved with collecting books for other children. Empowered by the effect the books have had on Jade, who was part of the first graduating class of Book Babies and is now an avid reader,  Street has begun sponsoring a summer reading comprehension camp for neighborhood children. “Who knew that getting free books for my child would develop into a passion of my own!”  

“It’s been an amazing experience. Now everywhere I go I’m screaming Book Harvest,” she said with a smile. “I’ve adopted their mission of making sure that children of all economic levels have the same opportunities and access to books.”  

These Volunteers Share a Passion for Educating Youth

She’s not the only volunteer who feels that way. “I think every kid should grow up in a home with books,” said long-time volunteer Holly Brown who has worked with Book Harvest for the past nine years, including serving as vice-chair of the board, as well as on several committees. “Without books, children can’t reach their full potential. We don’t know who might be the next Marie Curie, or the next Thurgood Marshall, Ida B. Wells, or Albert Einstein.” 

Members of the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc. have been faithful volunteers for Dream Big since the first year.

Other dedicated volunteers included members of the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc., a  service organization committed to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the cultural and economic survival of African-Americans and other persons of African ancestry; this group has been volunteering and providing financial support to Dream Big since year one. 

Dozens of volunteers help sort and pack books. at Book Harvest 2020

Dozens of volunteers help sort and pack books. 

The group’s philanthropic endeavors are divided into five facets, one of which is Service to Youth. This facet focuses on helping youth of African ancestry discover and reach their full potential, explained  Bernadine Cobb, Service to Youth co-chair. “We believe in the importance of educating our youth, and Dream Big falls right in line with that. This has been my first year to volunteer and I didn’t know what to expect, but when I walked in I thought ‘Wow! I won’t miss another year!’ ”

The event was equally exciting for first-timer Beatriz Morales who volunteered through her employer, Crescom Bank. She brought along her daughters, Hannah Morales and Valerie Aquirre, to help sort books because she thought Big Dream would be a great opportunity for the family to be involved in the community together.

All agreed they would definitely be back. While sorting, teenaged Hannah was amazed to find a copy of her favorite book while growing up and was thrilled that she would be allowed to keep it, demonstrating the power of a book.  

Working Towards the Goal

“Too many kids lack access to books. Yet this is a problem we can fix. And Book Harvest is doing just that,” said Young. “We are fixing it with grit and intentionality, laying a pipeline of books that starts at birth and will, when we realize our big dreams, continue all the way to age 10 and beyond. And we are accompanying parents on their journey, providing them with books, literacy support, and information on brain development so that they can continue to nourish their children’s vast potential. What a joy and a privilege this work is for us!”

Check Out the Fun at the 2020 Dream Big Book Drive!

You Can Help

Book Harvest provides an abundance of books and ongoing literacy support to families and their children from birth and serves as a model for communities committed to ensuring that children are lifelong readers and learners. Their vision is of a world in which reading, learning, and access to information are considered rights, not privileges so that all children thrive. Since its founding in 2011, Book Harvest has provided more than 1.2 million books to children in North Carolina. Learn more by visiting their website.