Empowering Young Minds: Mebane Foundation Supports STEAM Storytime at Cognition

By Meredith Ratledge

Becca White, educational center manager at Cognition, leads a STEAM Storytime session.

Cognition Davie Children’s Museum is dedicated to promoting educational outcomes and exploration. While the nonprofit provides opportunities for people of all ages to play, learn, and grow, one program in particular consistently shines bright. In partnership with the Mebane Foundation, an innovative program called STEAM Storytime is making significant strides in early childhood literacy.

STEAM Storytime: Igniting a Passion for Reading

STEAM Storytime integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math activities with engaging storytelling for young children. Cognition’s program comprises a reading session followed by a related STEAM activity or craft, concluding with playtime in the museum’s main exhibit area. 

Tailored to children aged three to five, each storytime event accommodates up to twelve children and their families. At the end of each event, children receive a copy of the book read that day to take home with them. 

While the museum’s play area encourages an enthusiasm for STEAM concepts, Cognition staff also emphasize the importance of integrating STEAM within the context of reading. During these STEAM activities, the process itself is more important than the final product of the activity or craft. Hands-on play allows children to exercise creative thinking skills and encounter new ideas.

Jessica White, site coordinator, and Becca White, educational center manager, were eager to share their thoughts. 

“Being exposed to science themes and vocabulary at a young age correlates with later success in those fields. Do three-year-olds understand the concept of a phase change and the complexity of what’s actually happening? No, but if you put it out there, it will be more familiar when they start studying it in school and easier for them to grasp,” Jessica explained.

STEAM Storytime themes have ranged from dinosaur bones to Thanksgiving turkeys. At one session, a bilingual Spanish book, “Paletero Man,” followed the story of a man and his popsicle stand. Children made their own popsicles and explored the concept of phase changes. At the end of playtime at the museum, the popsicles were frozen and ready to enjoy. 

Another favorite was “Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones,” where attendees dug for plastic dinosaurs amid an excavator site – a small sand-filled kiddie pool. Most recently, kids created a “turkey bomb” by mixing vinegar, baking soda, and food coloring in a small plastic bag. This exposure to chemical reactions accompanied the Thanksgiving book “Turkey Trouble.”

A Key Partnership

The STEAM Storytime program wouldn’t be possible without financial support from the Mebane Foundation.

Jessica shared, “We tried to introduce similar programming in the fall of 2021 when we reopened after COVID. It was originally called ‘Little Cogs Read,’ but it got too pricey, and we couldn’t sustain it with the books we were giving out at each event.”

A grant from the Mebane Foundation enabled the museum to relaunch the program a full year later, in October of 2022. 

“The Mebane Foundation has made this possible. They’ve allowed this to be free, so we don’t have to charge families for the event, enabling us to reach more people and ensuring we can give books out to every family,” Becca elaborated.

Taking home copies of “There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow.”

Preparing Children For Life Through Literacy 

The Mebane Foundation’s mission is to prepare children for life through literacy, ensuring that children read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. This made funding STEAM Storytime a natural fit for the organization. Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, noted their commitment to the museum.

“Cognition does really good work around here. So ever since they opened their doors, we’ve been engaged with them on some level,” Colbourne shared.

“It’s a place for community and families to come together. What brings people together is their children, young children. Not only is Cognition educational, it’s a good social outlet,” commented Colbourne.

Young ears listen in as Cognition Site Coordinator Jessica White reads “How to Catch a Mermaid.”

Cognition approached the Mebane Foundation in 2022 with a grant proposal for STEAM Storytime. Since the foundation’s primary focus is funding literacy initiatives for pre-K to fifth graders, this program hit its “sweet spot.” 

“STEAM Storytime brings young families together and brings books to life. Some kids thrive on that multi-sensory engagement. The opportunity to engage with both the child and the parent is pretty cool. Any opportunity to make a kid excited about reading is important. This program fits in well with what we do and what we’re after,” he said.

Colbourne also elaborated on why programming like this is so critical in this age group. 

“If you can’t read at a third-grade level by third grade, you’ll probably struggle in life. It’s going to be very difficult. But if you make reading fun for a young child, that will stick with them. And when that sticks with them, it achieves what this foundation is trying to do: enable young kids to read at a good level and, in this case, make it even more fun,” he said.

Immersive learning at work – digging for seashells after reading “What Lives in a Shell.”

An Interactive, Hands-On Approach

Cognition has been thrilled by the community’s engagement with this program, as well as how they have been able to develop and perfect it over time.

 “We have really hit our stride with the programming. There was a learning curve regarding what the kids like to do, what they’re able to do, and what the parents can help with. We initially started with a smaller group, but within the last two months, we expanded the number of tickets we have for each event, and we’re still filling up. So just being able to grow with this is exciting,” Jessica shared.

“The best feedback we could possibly get is that so many of those kids continue to come back every week. You know you’re doing something right when you have regulars, but you’re also still appealing to newbies”.

Looking Ahead

Both Cognition and the Mebane Foundation look forward to opportunities to continue working together on programs like STEAM Storytime. 

“We value our relationship with the Mebane Foundation. We appreciate their support and look forward to possibilities of future partnerships,“ Jessica stated.

“We’re so excited to continue this program in the future, and we have some other ideas that we think align with both our mission and the Mebane Foundation’s that we look forward to sharing with them,” she elaborated.

The STEAM Storytime program is a testament to the power of community collaboration within early childhood education. As the program continues to thrive, it serves as a model for how targeted literacy initiatives can kindle a love of reading in young minds, laying the foundation for a brighter future for the next generation.

Attendees join for a story about New Year’s Eve during the holiday season.

Revolutionizing Education: The Mebane Masters Program’s 15-Year Impact on Davie County Schools

By Jeanna Baxter White

Initiated through a  $750,000 challenge grant and a vision for enhanced learning through far more effective use of technology, the Mebane Foundation collaborated with Davie County Schools and Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education to create a first-of-its-kind academic degree for 15 Davie County teachers and a profoundly innovative and extravagantly successful program of interactive technology they helped implement in 100 percent of the school system’s classrooms.

Launched in 2008, the Mebane Masters program changed the face of education in Davie County. Providing a holistic method of teaching to technology-savvy students, Mebane Masters quickly earned overwhelmingly positive responses from students, teachers, administrators, and the community.

The core of the program was a 30-month partnership between Davie County Schools and the ASU Reich College of Education. The 15 teachers in the program remained in their Davie County classrooms while pursuing their Master of Arts Degrees in Instructional Technology. They acted as the school’s primary resource for their peers when it came to questions about the best and most pragmatic ways to maximize technology’s benefit in the classroom. It was our first look at real-time, teacher-driven, in-house professional development.

The student-teacher component became another crucial piece of the Mebane Masters Program. Over five semesters in 2½ years, 60 Appalachian student teachers were housed in Davie County, spending their 15-week semester paired with one of the 15 Mebane Master teachers.  Many of the student teachers who rotated through the program ultimately decided to teach in the Davie County Schools. 

The technology-rich environment, laced with a palpable innovative spirit, created an intensive learning environment for Davie students, student teachers, and Master teachers.

The Mebane Masters: Where They Are Today

Fifteen years later,  eleven of the fifteen teachers remain with Davie County Schools and enthusiastically embrace their professional roles. They shared how the Mebane Masters program continues to influence their teaching careers and impact the lives of their students. 

Donna Dunn

STEM English Teacher, Davie County High School 

Donna Dunn is in her 38th year of teaching and says she still finds the work quite rewarding. She has taught 9th grade for many years and loves to watch students grow and figure out high school and get excited about what they are learning.

“Being allowed to be a Mebane Master was such an honor to me.  When I was accepted, I marveled at how deeply my system (Davie County Public Schools ) and the Mebane Foundation were willing to invest in me and the others.

The coursework during Mebane Masters encouraged us to try lots of new things.  I think my biggest takeaway was to remember that today’s technology will be outdated quite quickly and that learners (both adults and teenagers!) need to embrace the rapid pace of change.” 

Angelina Etter

Media Specialist, Cornazter Elementary

Angelina Etter taught kindergarten, first, and second grade at Mocksville Elementary for 20 years. This is her third year as the media specialist at Cornatzer.

“The program has helped me be a better-equipped teacher and now a media specialist. Technology is always changing. My Master’s degree in Instructional Technology has opened many doors for me as an educator.” 

Diane Ireland

5th Grade Teacher, William R. Davie Elementary

Diane Ireland is in her 26th year teaching. This is her 23rd year at William R. Davie, where she has taught second, fourth, and fifth grade and coordinated many of the summer programs over the years, including Summer of Fun Learning Academy and Kinder Camp.

“This program provided me with knowledge to expand and implement engaging lessons and activities with my students. 

At the same time, I was able to collaborate with other teachers in our district, sharing technology resources. This experience allowed me to be a mentor and cooperative teacher to several student teachers.”  

Her experiences with the Foundation have continued. “In 2012, the Mebane Foundation provided a grant allowing me to be one of the first groups of educators from Davie County to become a Kenan Fellow. During this fellowship, I was able to learn firsthand how logistics is part of the global economic supply chain. This allowed students for several years to learn about logistics through interactive lessons that I created relating to this endeavor. “The variety of partnerships that the Mebane Charitable Foundation has personally provided my students and myself have impacted the children and me to continue to grow as learners. Just this past summer,  I coordinated and taught at William R. Davie’s  Kinder Camp.  This camp has been funded by Mebane for several years and helps with the transition between home and school for rising kindergarteners.”

“Mebane’s generosity and stewardship to our community is enabling educators and students to have learning experiences that are leading to success. I am truly grateful for the Foundation’s partnership with Davie County Schools and look forward to ways to enhance learning for all children in the future.”

Brooke Jennings

2nd Grade Teacher, Pinebrook Elementary

Brooke Jennings has been teaching in Davie County Schools for 20 years. She taught kindergarten for 12 years and spent 7 years teaching third grade.  This year, she joined the Pinebrook Trojan Team as a second-grade teacher. 

“In 2013 – 2014, I was selected as Cornatzer Elementary School Teacher of the Year and went on to win Davie County Teacher of the Year.  I feel strongly that having my degree in Instructional Technology helped me to grow and become more effective in my teaching career. This degree equipped me with a solid foundation in kindergarten and third grade while also helping me confidently incorporate and integrate technology into all content areas.” 

“To this day, the Mebane Masters program is still one of the biggest blessings to happen within my teaching career.” 

Brooke Jennings teaches 2nd grade at Pinebrook Elementary.

John Marshall

Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist for Davie County Schools

John Marshall (center in red) is the Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist for Davie County Schools.

John Marshall has held many roles since graduating from the Mebane Masters program. He started as the SAVE program teacher at North Davie Middle School but left the classroom to work with the STEM initiative. Two years later, he transferred to the central office to support the curriculum department. Today, he serves as the Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist and Arts Coordinator. 

“The Mebane Masters program through the Mebane Foundation was the springboard to my career with Davie County Schools as an instructional technology support person for all teachers in the district. 

It provided me with experiences and skills that were essential in moving Davie County into a one-to-one district for grades 6-12, transitioning to remote learning during the pandemic, and transitioning back to the classroom following the pandemic with blended learning.  The Mebane Masters Program also provided me with a support system of professionals that I still lean on today when I need support or someone to bounce an idea off of. Davie County is blessed to have the ongoing support of the Mebane Foundation as it continues to support the students and teachers of Davie County.”

Laura Martin

AIG Specialist

After the end of the 2023-24 school year, AIG Specialist Laura Martin will have had the opportunity to serve children at all six elementary schools in Davie County. 

“I have taken on the role of lead AIG Specialist for the county since getting my degree. I feel that this degree has allowed me to build relationships with teachers at all of the schools in the county and that those relationships have improved my teaching and theirs!  We already have a trust that, even years later, allows us to plan and work closely together as needed to better the education of students in Davie County. “  

Kelly Myers 

Instructional Coach, Cooleemee Elementary 

(L to R) Staci Tatum and Kelly Myers

Kelly Myers has been an instructional coach at Cooleemee Elementary since graduating from the Mebane Master program.  Over time, that role has changed to include supporting K-5 math at other schools, including Shady Grove Elementary.  “The relationships built with colleagues during the Mebane Master program have been an incredible blessing. While technology programs and resources are ever-changing, having opportunities to collaborate alongside my fellow Mebane Master cohort members has a huge impact on my growth as an educator. With student learning as our focus, we continue to research and implement strategies to help our students set and achieve their goals.”

Heather Ratledge

Davie County Schools K-8 Blended Learning Lead 

As the K-8 Blended Learning Lead for the County, Heather Ratledge works with teachers to provide training and support in incorporating blended learning in their classrooms.  

“Our focus is on using station rotations, playlists, choice boards, and video teaching to provide students with more choices in their learning. Using these tools and strategies also provides an easier, less obvious way to differentiate learning for all students.  Being a part of the Mebane Masters program has truly gotten me to this place!  I use a lot of things I learned during that program every single day!”  

(L to R)Laura Loman, and Heather Ratledge

Yvette Shore

Math Department Chair, Davie County High School

Yvette Shore is in her 21st year of teaching. She serves as the math department chair and currently teaches NC Math 3 and AP AB Calculus classes at Davie High. 

“The Mebane Masters program impacts every student that enters my classroom. I strive to provide my students with hands-on learning activities and real-world applications to help them make connections in their learning. It is important to me that students take ownership of their learning and that they can share their learning.” 

“I share learning strategies and technologies with colleagues, and I have presented for years at North Carolina Teachers of Mathematics conferences. I enjoy opportunities to collaborate and network with teachers from across our state. It is especially rewarding to hear from former students about things they learned and recalled from our classes with regard to content and technology resources.” 

Staci Tatum, 4th Grade Math and Science at Cooleemee Elementary School, and Elizabeth Hill, 6th Grade ELA at William Ellis Middle School, also continue to teach in Davie County Schools after completing the Mebane Masters program. 

In summary, the Mebane Masters Program…

  • Substantially improved education for students in every classroom at every grade level throughout Davie County Schools;
  • Created a powerful, new model for teacher education and professional development;
  • Made it much easier for Davie County Schools to recruit and retain the best teachers;
  • Laid the groundwork for STEM Infusion.