Congratulations First-Year Teacher Grant Recipients!

By Jeanna Baxter White

Rebecca Boyles likes to say she was born to be a teacher because her birthday typically falls on the first day of school.

Kelly Mathewson reads with her student, Jazlynn Griffin.
Kelly Mathewson reads with her student, Jazlynn Griffin.

“I became a teacher because I believe that every child deserves an adult that will never give up on them and understands the power of connection between a teacher and student. I knew that I could be the caring adult that never gave up on students in my classroom, while also teaching them to have a lifelong love of learning.”

Kelly Mathewson has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.

“I remember teaching my stuffed animals on my bed, doing worksheets and math problems, and making my big sister sit down to learn math and literacy. There have been a lot of teachers in my life that made a great impact on me, that I still keep in touch with to this day; and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”

Supporting Young Teachers

To support passionate young teachers like these, the Mebane Foundation offered $50,000 in classroom grants for the 2020-21 school year to first-year teachers in North Carolina teaching kindergarten through 3rd grade. Boyles, Mathewson, and 22 other teachers received a one-time grant of up to $1500 to furnish their classrooms with reading/literacy support materials or to receive literacy-related professional development.

“Setting up a classroom is expensive, and young teachers straight out of college entering their first classroom have to purchase their own supplies, everything from books to learning stations to visual aids for the walls — before receiving their first paycheck,” said Foundation President Larry Colbourne.

“We hope that these $1500 grants will give enthusiastic young educators the opportunity to practice innovative approaches to literacy they may have learned in school or to explore their own ideas without struggling to pay for the supplies. It was inspiring to read their thoughts and ideas in their applications. Who knows what exciting new techniques may be born!”

Building a Classroom Library

“When I applied for the grant, I made a long list of items that I thought would be nice to purchase for my classroom, and ultimately decided that I would use the grant to expand my classroom library,”  said Boyles, who teaches 2nd grade at Park View Elementary School in Mooresville where she did her student teaching and worked at the literacy camp for three summers. “Now more than ever, kids need a real book in their hands. They need the chance to look at the pictures in front of them and turn the pages on their own, rather than having a computer do it for them. My students have been attending school in a virtual format since March 2020. I knew that having more books in my classroom library would be beneficial to my students this year, and my students in years to come,” explained Boyles. “I decided to purchase book packs from Scholastic so I could have a variety of books in my library. My college reading courses at Appalachian taught me that students need to have books that they can see themselves represented in.”

“Books act as mirrors, showing the child a character that they can relate to in a book, and books act as doors that allow children to see others that are not like them. Of the ten book packs that I purchased, the diversity book pack helps meet my goal of making sure that all students can see themselves represented in my classroom library.”

New Teacher, Rebecca Boyles

“I would not have been able to purchase these items on my own. I knew that a large classroom library was out of reach on a first-year teacher budget while I was still paying off my college student loans.

Before receiving the grant, I had a small classroom library started. Throughout college, I constantly went to book sales and collected old books from family members, friends, and neighbors. When holidays and special occasions came around, I asked family members to purchase books for my classroom library.”

“My first few days of teaching have been exhausting but very rewarding. If you would have told me that I would start my teaching career as a virtual teacher, I would have called you crazy. But, it is a great learning experience.”

“I believe that before any learning can happen, a relationship must be established. I will always remember my favorite teachers throughout my K-12 schooling who never gave up on me and understood the power of connection. It has been difficult building relationships with my students virtually because we are not having the in-person, hands-on experiences that we would typically have the first week of school, however, my district has an amazing technology department that provides each student with a device to use for virtual learning. I have tried to build relationships the “old school” way by sending my students postcards and birthday cards in the mail to let them know that I am still thinking of them.”

Idris Solano Del Rio

“My favorite part of my first week has been taking my students on a tour of their classroom and showing them their classroom library. I love watching their eyes light up and their smiles get bigger as they see all of the books that they have to look forward to when we return to school. We have started reading a few of the books in the library, but, I don’t want to ruin the surprises that await my students in our classroom library.”

Creating a Welcoming Environment

Mathewson, who teaches 1st grade at Fred L. Wilson Elementary in Kannapolis, where she also did her student teaching, learned about the grant through an email from her advisor at UNC-Charlotte and thought, why not? 

“When I found out I had been selected I was really, really excited. I didn’t realize just how much it would cost to set up my classroom until I started purchasing the items I needed with the money I received. I could not have done it by myself and I am so thankful for the Mebane Foundation grant.”

Although the school provided math manipulatives and things needed for basic literacy like anchor chart paper and writing paper, and a few books for her classroom library, there were still many things she needed to make her classroom a warm and welcoming environment for her students. But the most important thing on her list — books. 

In her application, Mathewson wrote, “The students in my future classroom would benefit from a vast amount of books that are fit for their individual reading level as well as a whole group reading time. I would love to purchase books for all parts of the day to get my students excited about being a reader including books for shared reading, guided reading, and read-aloud. . . With this grant, I would be able to expand the classroom library which allows my students to have a great choice into what books they are reading and what interests them. In turn, this would lead to better engagement and success in literacy amongst my first graders. As research shows, the amount of time students spend reading a book that interests them greatly improves their overall knowledge and academic skills.”

“I would also love to purchase books for myself to read and learn from as a literacy teacher to expand my knowledge of literacy techniques to also help with my students’ academic growth. I would be able to share this knowledge with my grade level team as well as the instructional coach and teachers in other grades, impacting the whole schools’ improvement with literacy teaching.”

Riley Thompson

She started at Goodwill and thrift stores to make the most of her money. In addition to books, Mathewson purchased lap desks and floor cushions for flexible seating, fidget bands for chairs, and classroom supplies and decorations.

“I also purchased Velcroed “sit spots” that you stick to the carpet so that students know where they sit, which has ended up being especially useful this year because I have been able to put them six feet apart.”

Mathewson has two cohorts of students for at least the first nine weeks of school; nine students that she has in class on Mondays and Tuesdays and teaches virtually on Wednesdays through Fridays, and six students who receive virtual instruction all five days.

Although the coronavirus has made the start of the school year challenging, Mathewson said the first couple of days in class went smoothly. “They are adjusting to mask-wearing and staying far apart but it is going to take a lot of practice particularly since they are only in the classroom two days a week.”

“I could not have done this year without this scholarship. My principal actually let me come into the building all summer to prepare my classroom. Being in the classroom and thinking of the things I needed and knowing that I had the money to buy them was crazy helpful and I am so grateful for that opportunity.”

Grant Recipient, Kelly Mathewson

2020-2021 First-year Teacher Grant Recipients

Rebecca BoylesPark ViewMooresville
Stephanie BrooksFred L. WilsonKannapolis
Sydnie CannadaUnion Preparatory AcademyIndian Trail
Kayla CarterEnochvilleChina Grove
Sarah CavanaghSugg BundyFarmville
Hannah ChampionWinecoffConcord
Heather DaywaltCornatzerMocksville
Abigail DoyleWM IrvinConcord
Jessica FosterSouthMooresville
Emily HiettGuilford Preparatory AcademyGreensboro
Summer HulsSummersillJacksonville
Julieta IsolerGovernors Village STEM AcademyCharlotte
Megan LawsParkway SchoolBoone
Kelly MathewsonFred L WilsonKannapolis
Hillary PruetteHickory RidgeHarrisburg
Chressy RayfieldSouth NewtonNewton
Rebecca RiggsThomasville PrimaryThomasville
Belle RoseLaurel ParkApex
Libby RoseCove CreekVilas
Tequila ThompsonPearceGreensboro
Chandler WhittenEasternGreenville
Brittni WillisSouthwestJacksonville
Sarah WomackUnity Classical CharterCharlotte
Jana YountValle Crucis SchoolSugar Grove
Rebecca Boyles with some of the 300 new books she was able to purchase with her Mebane Foundation first-year teacher grant.
Rebecca Boyles with some of the 300 new books she was able to purchase with her Mebane Foundation first-year teacher grant.

Davie County Students Enjoy Summer Enrichment Camps Thanks to Mebane Foundation

By Jeanna Baxter White

Madison Sandy builds a lego car during the robotics on-site field trip by Bricked. 

Sitting cross-legged on the library floor, Madison Sandy carefully examined the blueprint on the iPad in front of her before selecting the corresponding legos to add to her remote control car. Soon the rising 5th-grader was gleefully maneuvering it in a circle in front of her, experiencing that math and science are fun. 

Flexible Funding Means the Learning Doesn’t End

School may have been out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean that learning in Davie County ended. More than 180 rising kindergarteners through 5th-graders attended summer programs funded by a $122,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation located in Mocksville.   

“Students missed months of face-to-face instruction this spring due to coronavirus restrictions and are heading into an uncertain school year this fall,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation. “It was important to the Foundation to support enrichment opportunities to help reduce learning loss. Normally those funds supplement state funding for Davie’s summer Read to Achieve Camp; but since the Department of Instruction canceled that requirement for this summer, the money was available to fund other programs.”

Overcoming Limitations to Provide Engaging Summer Enrichment Camps

Davie County Schools (DCS) reallocated the funds towards five-week summer enrichment camps for rising 1st through 5th graders at Cooleemee and Cornatzer, since they were the sites of the summer feeding program,  and kinder camps for rising kindergarteners at all six elementary schools. 

Jennifer Lynde, DCS chief academic officer, appreciated the Foundation’s flexibility. “We are in very difficult times that require us to adapt and make decisions, unlike any in the past. The support of the Mebane Foundation allows us to make decisions better aligned with the needs of children and not strictly funding.”

“Between North Carolina’s Covid-19 guidelines and minimal time to plan, we didn’t think we would be able to have any kind of in-person camp this year. Most districts around us were only able to offer virtual camps.”

Colbourne put her in touch with Imprints Cares in Winston Salem, which offers kindergarten readiness programs for children ages birth to five and expanded learning programs, including summer enrichment day camps, for elementary school students. Since Imprints Cares already had a curriculum in place for its summer camps in Forsyth County as well as social distancing and cleaning protocols developed through offering crisis childcare, he thought they would be the perfect partner to operate an enrichment camp in Davie County.  

After meeting with Claudia Barrett, executive director, and Betty West, director of expanded learning services, DCS officials hired Imprints Cares to provide all logistics including hiring, curriculum, before and after camp care, and day-to-day management.  

With only three weeks to prepare, DCS instructional coaches quickly assembled lists of students they felt would benefit from the camp. Then it was opened up to all rising third and fourth graders. 

Neither camp ended up filled to capacity. Lynde attributed it to the camp being optional, the school system not being able to provide transportation due to coronavirus restrictions at the time, the short notice and parents already making other arrangements, as well as some parental concerns about face-to-face interactions. 

Partnership Allows Teachers to Focus on Students

Imprints Cares handled the hiring, offering the positions first to RtA Camp staffers and then to other interested  DCS staff. Twenty-five DCS employees worked at least one week of camp. Imprints Cares staff members Brigett Quillen and Kelly Hudnall served as site supervisors to handle daily operations so that the teachers could focus on the students and academics.   

No one entered the building without first being pre-screened and having their temperature checked. All adults wore masks, although students were not required to do so based on the state’s childcare and summer camp guidelines. A strict hand washing policy was enforced and areas were deep-cleaned after each group of students rotated through. Everyday items like hula hoops and pool noodles were used to demonstrate safe distancing. 

“We had a lot of great lessons on how to integrate children back into the classroom safely,” Shannon Heck, Imprints Cares director of development and marketing said.

Half of the day was devoted to academics – math, writing, reading, and phonics using Heggerty, a phonemic-awareness program that aligns with the science of reading.  Each week had a different theme: The Not So Secret Life of Pets, Full STEAM Ahead, Where the Wild Things Are, Goin’ to Carolina in My Mind, and Survivor. 

The other half focused on STEAM-based enrichment activities incorporating math, science, reasoning, and logic, which were aligned with the week’s topic such as an egg drop design contest during Full STEAM Ahead.  

Additionally, campers were treated to three onsite field trips: Birds of Prey from Allison Outdoor Wilderness Center, a robotics camp by Bricked where students assembled and maneuvered Lego-based remote-controlled cars, and an outdoor fun day complete with a drenching courtesy of the Cooleemee and Cornatzer fire departments. 

“We wanted there to be good social-emotional interaction, the academic piece, and just some good old-fashioned summer camp fun,” Heck explained.  

Crystal Phillips, a 1st/2nd grade teacher’s assistant at Pinebrook Elementary, taught math at Cornatzer. She considered the camp to be extremely valuable for the students who participated. “We all know that children tend to backslide in the summer months from one grade to the next.  I feel these kids and most of the others at home may experience more learning loss this year than prior summers because of the last quarter being taught remotely.  I’m not sure I’ve taught anything new but I do hope I have rekindled the information they already know and made it fun for them in class. Imprints Cares was wonderful. We all have our individual responsibilities but we all filled in where we are needed any given day.  As they say, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work.’”  

Lynde echoed her sentiments. “Imprints Cares was wonderful to work with. They were very professional and responsive and open to working with us on the curriculum. I was particularly impressed with the way they handled Covid guidelines to ensure the safety of both students and staff.” 

Acclimating Little Learners With Kinder Camp

While the enrichment camps sought to decrease summer learning loss, the kinder camps had a different set of goals — teaching rising kindergarteners how to social distance, wash their hands, treat others the way they would want to be treated, and most importantly become comfortable with the school setting. 

Colbourne and I stopped by Pinebrook Elementary to observe.  As we entered the building, kindergarten teacher Julie Holt was teaching an important life lesson. “Are things always going to be our way?” she asked. The nine little campers responded with a resounding “No!” Holt went on to explain the Golden Rule saying, “You have to treat other people the way you want to be treated.” 

“The purpose of kinder camp is to get the children acclimated to school,” Holt explained. “They get the chance to learn to get along and to socialize which benefits them a lot. They also learn how to get around the school so that they aren’t scared. We talk a lot about what the first day will be like so that they will be more comfortable with it. If they are more comfortable with it their parents are going to be more comfortable with it.” 

“Although I do at least one academic activity each day, I focus more on getting them socially ready to enter the kindergarten world. If you can get them socially and behaviorally ready, the academic piece will come.”

As we followed the children to the classroom, Holt had them swing their arms back and forth. “If you can touch your neighbor you are too close,” she admonished. 

Back in the classroom, Holt told the students that each of them was special and unique and had their own name which was made up of letters. Pointing to a white bearing each name, she helped them count the letters. Then they traced their names on paper using bingo daubers.  

“Kinder camp gives us the opportunity to bond with our students and to instill in them the love of learning and a love for school. I think it is a fabulous thing that we can offer this camp and we appreciate it,” she told Colbourne with a smile.