New Education Center Dedicated in Honor of Allen Mebane’s Commitment to Education in Davie County 

By Meredith Ratledge

Davie County Schools has named its new central administration building the Mebane Education Center in honor of the transformative gifts the Mebane Foundation has given to the school system in support of early literacy.

Over the past 25 years, the Mebane Foundation has gifted nearly $8 million to educational initiatives in Davie County, including DavieLEADS,  Mebane Master’s, Hill Center reading programs, the Mebane Technology Challenge, and the construction of preschool buildings at each elementary school in Davie. Given the Foundation’s long-standing commitment to the school system, a citizen recommended naming the facilities after Allen Mebane.

The community gathered to celebrate the opening of the Mebane Education Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 28th.

The ceremony marked a significant milestone for the school system and the larger community, fulfilling a plan set out with the bond referendum passed back in 2014 to build the new high school. Included in the passage of the referendum vote was a plan to convert the original high school building into central school administration offices.

Celebrating a Milestone

Davie County Schools Superintendent, Jeff Wallace shared opening remarks during the ceremony.

“Today, we’re here to celebrate the opening of the Davie County Schools Mebane Education Center, but we’re also here to actualize an idea and to fulfill a pledge we made to the citizens of Davie County in 2014. We said that we would renovate and occupy this facility with the same purpose of serving children. And that’s what we’re here to celebrate today,” Wallace stated.

“This renovation brings together many departments under one roof, allowing an environment of improved communication and collaboration to ultimately better serve the children of Davie County.”

He thanked the Mebane Foundation, Board of Education, Board of Commissioners, and Davie Construction for their contributions and support throughout the process.

“Many of you have poured into what’s happening today, and you’ve poured into students. That encourages us and helps us stay focused.”

“What you’re doing is truly working for those kids. Let’s not forget that,” he said.

Honoring a Legacy

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, smiled as he welcomed those present at the ceremony.

“On behalf of my board, and Marianne Mebane especially, thank you for naming this building after the Mebane Foundation. It’s a real honor,” he stated.

“This is actually bittersweet. Davie County Schools meant a lot to Mr. Mebane. For years, Allen tried to get a new high school built, but he never got to see that come to fruition.

“If Allen were here today, he’d be so happy and so proud to have his name on this building.  He’d be proud of the school system, the county, and everybody. He’d be proud of the new high school. But he’d be even more proud of what you’ve done with this facility, that you took this building and made something of it,” he continued.

Colbourne continued to touch on the collective efforts that culminated in the facility’s reopening. 

“When I think about philanthropy, I think about the three T’s – your time, your talent, and your treasure. Everybody gave one of those T’s; in some cases, some of you gave all three. As we go forward together as a community, let’s continue to do that. That’s what Allen would want. 

“At the end of the day, for Allen Mebane, it was about community and bringing people together. He was a catalyst for much of this; it was all about the kids. That’s what mattered to Allen.” 

The conference room at the Mebane Education Center will facilitate Board of Education meetings and large trainings held by Davie County Schools

A New Face to Davie County Schools

The original building opened in 1994 and closed in 2017 when Davie County High School moved to its current location on Farmington Road. The $6 million in renovations to the new Education Center were completed by Davie Construction, who began working on the facility in June of 2022. In just one year, staff began moving into the new building, which occurred in phases as the space was readied and finalized. 

The opening of the Education Center means that district-level leadership formerly at Central Davie and Cherry Street are now housed in one facility. The offices on Cherry Street previously encompassed finance, human resources, curriculum, and superintendent staff, while those at Central Davie included accounting, student services, nurses, and student workers.

The new facilities are located in the former “K-building” and library of the old Davie County High School, which is now adjacent to Davie County Community Park. In addition to staff offices, the building houses the virtual school, computer lab, and several conference and training rooms. There are conference rooms for life skills and workshops and kitchen facilities. The largest conference room facilitates teacher training and monthly Board of Education meetings.

Staff members were eager to express their excitement for the new space. Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent, shared, “This allows everyone to come together. It’s unbelievably helpful for us all to be all in one building. To have the people you need right across the hall is tremendous.”

The staff on-site includes the administrative departments, student and social services, literacy specialists, as well as nurses, psychologists, and physical therapists. It serves as the home base to around sixty employees, about forty of whom are based there daily. The remainder are often out in the county, moving between the different schools and students they serve.

Wendy Horne, the Davie County Board of Education chair, noted her admiration for the foundation as she ended the ceremony.

“I can’t think of anyone better than the Mebane Foundation for this facility to be named after. Their mission statement is ‘preparing children for life through literacy.’ One thing I’ve always admired about the Foundation is that that’s always been 100% evident in everything they do. Their mission has always been front and center. And I applaud you all for that.” she remarked.

“Thank you all for everything you’ve done, and thank you all for coming out. It really is a beautiful facility and something we should all be proud of.”

The Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, staff members, and Davie Construction were invited to participate in the ribbon cutting. A tour of the facilities followed, where attendees saw firsthand how the former high school was transformed.

The Mebane Foundation, Davie County Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, Davie Construction Co. and Davie County Schools staff celebrate after the ribbon cutting

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.

“The Mebane Technology Challenge: 20 Years of Transforming Education in Davie County Schools”

By Jeanna Baxter White 

Launched in 2004, the Mebane Technology Challenge not only delivered cutting-edge technology to every classroom in Davie County Schools, but it also brought the community together to achieve a vitally important common goal – improving education for thousands of children throughout the county while at the same time ensuring the effort would be sustained through ongoing support.  As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we decided this pivotal initiative for both Davie County Schools and the Foundation deserved an update. We talked with Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist John Marshall to see how technology in Davie County Schools has evolved over the last 20 years.  

Revolutionizing Education in 2004: A Community’s Bold Vision

In 2004, the Mebane Foundation issued a challenge: If the county could raise $1.5 million from individuals, companies, and civic groups, then the Foundation would contribute $750,000 over three years to add the best educational technology to classrooms in every school across the county.

By the fall of 2007, without any government/taxpayer funding, the community had raised more than $1.5 million, and the Mebane Foundation had completed its match. Those funds provided SMART Boards, projectors, and laptop computers for all but 80 of the school system’s 500 classrooms, plus pre-K classrooms in five of the six elementary schools.

Seeing the excitement among students and teachers as well as the enhanced educational environments created by the technology, Davie County Commissioners voted unanimously to spend $1 million to pay for the remaining SMART Boards, six new audio-visual (distant learning) classrooms, a technology-rich professional-development hub for training teachers and the last of the six pre-K, technology-enhanced classrooms.

By then, technology was transforming education for students in every classroom in every school. Perhaps the most significant result of the across-the-board SMART Board infusion was the well-documented interactive learning that had taken root across Davie County – and the elimination of virtually all disciplinary problems in classrooms. The children were visually stimulated and engaged in learning as never before.

Another positive result was that teachers, many of whom had resisted integrating computers into their lessons, were becoming eager to learn more computer/SMART Board applications.

Technology in Davie County Schools Today

While technology is commonplace in classrooms today,  Marshall pointed out that it was a novel concept back in 2004.  Placing Smart Boards in every classroom across the district was groundbreaking, a vision brought to life by the forward-thinking Allen Mebane.

“We were one of the only districts in North Carolina, or maybe anywhere at that time, to have a Smart Board in every classroom. That was a huge step and the result of Allen Mebane’s vision.”  

Fast forward to 2023, and technology is not only in the hands of Davie County teachers but also in the grasp of every student. The impact of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has equipped all students from 6th to 12th grade with Chromebooks. Additionally, students in grades 2nd to 5th have access to Chromebook carts as needed, while kindergarten and first-grade classrooms have ten iPads each. Teachers, too, have been empowered with laptops, docking stations, and an additional monitor, enhancing their ability to work without exposing their screens to students.

Technology Evolution: From Smart Boards to Promethean Panels and Beyond

Davie County Schools (DCS) remains committed to staying at the forefront of technology. The original SMART Boards have evolved into Promethean Panels in pre-k through 8th-grade classrooms and Clear Touch Boards at the high school and early college levels. The new interactive touchscreen boards resemble a large television and no longer require an overhead projector or connected computer.  Marshall likened them to a giant cell phone on the wall, equipped with the same advanced capabilities. 

In addition to the ability to write directly on the board, teachers and students can project images from a laptop, tablet, or external camera. “This newer technology gives teachers the freedom to walk around their classrooms to help students while simultaneously using a tablet or other device to teach a lesson on the board. Students can also project their Chromebook screens onto the board.  Students can also project their Chromebook screens directly onto the board, eliminating the need for the teacher to share and display content on their behalf.”

Empowering Teachers and Students in the Digital Age

“While the teacher is still the most essential factor in a student’s educational success, technology is a powerful tool in a teacher’s arsenal. I remember when we used to talk about wishing we could clone ourselves. Now, thanks to video technology, teachers can make a video with instructions that one group of students can watch to get started on a project while they work with another group.” 

Davie County’s Virtual School operates predominantly through technology, with virtual school teachers equipped with the necessary tools to engage with their students online. Even post-pandemic, DCS continues to harness the potential of Canvas, a comprehensive course management system. Canvas facilitates online learning and teaching by enabling teachers to post information, assignments, and grades online. This platform, currently utilized in grades 6-12, ensures a seamless transition to remote learning if required. Marshall proudly cites a recent instance when Davie High’s air conditioning malfunctioned, but students faced no instructional disruptions, as all teachers had their course materials accessible via Canvas.

In recent years, the media centers have also received technology upgrades thanks to grant funding.

Looking Ahead with Pride

Marshall takes pride in Davie County Schools’ journey from its pioneering days to the present. He credits Butch Rooney, DCS Chief Technology Officer, and all those involved in the Mebane Challenge for laying the foundation of their technological success. “I don’t think we’d have the vision of where we are now without the lessons learned from the Mebane Technology Challenge.  We learned a lot through that process. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘You never lose. You either win or learn.’”

As DCS continues to push boundaries and provide students with the best personalized educational experiences, the lessons learned from their technological evolution remain invaluable.

Having technology – and enthusiasm for it – in all classrooms laid the foundation for the innovative professional development models to come through Foundation initiatives: Mebane Masters and STEM Infusion. We will explore these initiatives in future articles. 

Davie County Kinder Camp: Preparing Little Learners for Kindergarten Success

(L to R) Standing: John Michael, Alli Carter, Kade, Sawyer, Ayvah, Hadley, Cylee, John Wesley, Evelyn, Helen, Tara Patterson, Rylee, Paisley
Kneeling: Audrey, Austin, Evelyn, Rhyatt, Jayse

By Jeanna Baxter White

At Cornatzer Elementary’s Kinder Camp, sixteen rising kindergarteners squeal with excitement as they pass a ball around in a circle. Little do they know that amidst the fun, they are also honing essential motor skills, learning to follow directions, and adapting to the kindergarten environment.

Principal Raymonda Shelton describes Kinder Camp as a sneak peek into the world of kindergarten, offering invaluable preparation to eager students. 

Thanks to a generous $25,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation, this enriching program is available at all six Davie County Elementary Schools, with approximately 150 students participating this summer.

Acclimating Little Learners

Cornatzer Elementary offered three weeks of Kinder Camp this year, and Shelton is delighted that two-thirds of the school’s 72 incoming kindergarteners took advantage of this opportunity. Initially designed for students without preschool or daycare experience, Kinder Camp helps children acclimate to group settings, classroom routines, and essential social skills. Today, the camp welcomes all parents to sign up their children, offering a comprehensive orientation to the school environment, including the classroom, centers, cafeteria, and playground.

Tara Patterson, a veteran kindergarten teacher, and the camp’s leader, explains that Kinder Camp is instrumental in easing the transition to kindergarten. It allows students to familiarize themselves with the school building, meet potential classmates, and practice daily routines like lining up and quietly walking down the hall. Even simple tasks like learning how to open a milk carton become significant milestones in kindergarten. “Kinder Camp just eases their transition and makes them more comfortable on their first day of school. It helps the parents too because they know their child has been here before.”  

Connecting Students and Teachers

Kinder Camp isn’t just beneficial for the students; it also plays a crucial role in familiarizing teachers with their incoming pupils. The entire team of teachers enthusiastically participates in the camp, recognizing its immense value in fostering teamwork and staff development. As Cornatzer Elementary plans to add a fourth kindergarten class this fall, teachers have appreciated the opportunity to collaborate, bond, and understand each other’s teaching styles through their involvement in the camp.

Patterson loves Kinder Camp. In fact, she plans her summer vacation around it. Her daughter, Lauren, who is in college, has volunteered with Cornatzer’s Kinder Camp since middle school. Initially, it was a way to earn her volunteer hours for school clubs. Now she volunteers because she loves it.  

Alli Carter, who was hired to teach kindergarten during Kinder Camp last summer, found visiting camp for a couple of days and meeting some of the students in her class invaluable. “It gave me a better understanding of what to expect for the coming year.” 

Kinder Camp also assists in optimizing classroom placement by allowing teachers to assess students’ personalities and academic skills during the four-day program.

“One of the things I like to find out during camp is whether they can write their name and cut with scissors. During the first week of school, these are big activities that we work on, so the ones who can’t do it will be spread out across the classrooms,” explained Patterson. She extends her support to parents by providing practice sheets for children to work on at home before school starts, enhancing their confidence and readiness.

Combining Learning and Play

While Kinder Camp involves daily academic activities like writing their names, cutting with scissors, learning their basic shapes, and listening to read-a-louds, it also provides ample time for play. Patterson explains that a joint training with preschool and kindergarten teachers revealed a disconnect between the two grade levels. To address this, Kinder Camp incorporates more play-based centers to maintain a balance between academics and free-choice time. Playing with other students in centers and on the playground is equally important since students who are socially and behaviorally ready for school quickly pick up the academics.

A Precious Gift 

Kinder Camp is truly an awesome opportunity for students, families, and teachers. The Mebane Foundation’s generous funding has made a significant impact on preparing young learners for success in kindergarten and beyond. Shelton and the entire school community express profound appreciation for the Mebane Foundation’s unwavering support, acknowledging Kinder Camp as a precious gift that lays a strong foundation for the students’ educational journey. “Kinder Camp is a huge gift for our students and teachers, and we don’t take it for granted.”  

The Results Are In! Davie County Schools Completes Five-Year DavieLEADS Initiative 

By Jeanna Baxter White

In 2017, The Mebane Charitable Foundation and Davie County Schools embarked on a five-year initiative to “move the needle” in early childhood education. Supported by almost $2.5 million from the Foundation, DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) was designed to improve kindergarten readiness to 90% and increase reading proficiency in 3rd grade to 80% by 2022.  In September, representatives from Davie County Schools summarized the results for the Foundation’s Board of Directors. 

Foundation President Larry Colbourne expressed his gratitude for the hard work of every person involved with the DavieLEADS initiative. “Any large five-year, multi-year financial commitment to a school system can be challenging for both the funder and the grantee. However, the strength of the Foundation’s relationship with the Davie County School leadership team and the hundreds of employees in this county has made this initiative a success, even in the face of what many would consider insurmountable odds.

Although our ambitious goals weren’t quite met, with COVID hitting in 2020, combined with all the other changes and variables thrown its’ way since 2017, the Foundation couldn’t be more proud of what was accomplished and all the hard work put forth by DCS leadership. Even more impressive has been the resilience of our great teachers! We look forward to seeing Davie County Schools continue to succeed and be a leader in our state.”

Davie County Schools’ final report can be found here: 

An in-depth look at various aspects of the initiative over the past five years can be found on our website’s news page HERE.

Davie County Schools One of Three Districts Selected to Living LETRS Panel

Megan Cooper spends a couple hours each week working on LETRS assignments.
Megan Cooper spends a couple hours each week working on LETRS assignments.

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County Schools was one of only three districts selected to a panel for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training in NC. The Office of Early Learning (NCDPI) and three school districts came together virtually to present experiences with LETRS. Other districts on the panel included Columbus County and Union County. 

As part of this panel, teachers Megan Cooper and Leigh Ann Davis, and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, an instructional coach for the district, shared best practices and successes of LETRS training for DCS teachers and staff. At one point, nearly 600 people had joined the virtual session. LETRS, which is being used statewide, takes research on how children learn to read and creates teaching strategies for elementary educators. 

LETRS is a component of legislation passed in April 2021 mandating that literacy instruction be based on a body of research called the science of reading. The goal is to ensure that children develop the skills and techniques needed to become successful readers through proven, evidence-based practices.

Decades of research on literacy instruction have revealed how the brain learns to read and the instructional methods that support this process. Learning to read is incredibly complex, so teaching reading requires a deep understanding of the science behind how we learn to read, why we spell the way we do, and how phonemic awareness and phonics lead to comprehension.

LETRS® Training, developed by Dr. Louisa Moats and Dr. Carol Tolman, was designed to strengthen teachers’ knowledge of language structure, the development of the reading brain, and how to nurture the development of foundational literacy skills such as decoding and language comprehension.

It’s an intensive program involving 160 hours over two years of learning about the brain and the building blocks of language. And it was rolled out while teachers were already focused on balancing the demands of catching children up academically following remote learning, navigating shifting COVID protocols, tracking missing students, and paying close attention to the kids’ mental state, while also finding time to wipe down surfaces and help with mask fitting.

Davie County Schools began LETRS last August as part of the second cohort. (Full statewide implementation isn’t expected until the 2024-2025 school year.) 

Strong support from the district and prior training about the Science of Reading through DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) paved the way for Davie County’s successful implementation of LETRS training. Implemented during 2017-2018, DavieLEADS is an early learning and literacy initiative funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to increase kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade through building capacity in staff, strengthening instructional strategies, and updating materials aligned with state standards K-3. 

Hennings-Gonzalez explained that over the course of the DavieLEADS grant, teachers have received training, resources, coaching, and support in concepts based on the Science of Reading research. Components of programs and instruction such as Heggerty, Letterland, and decodable small flexible group reading lessons have addressed Science of Reading research.  

Teachers Megan Cooper (first grade) and Leigh Ann Davis (fourth grade), and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, an instructional coach for the district, shared best practices and successes of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training for DCS teachers and staff during a virtual state-wide LETRS training.
Teachers Megan Cooper (first grade) and Leigh Ann Davis (fourth grade), and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, an instructional coach for the district, shared best practices and successes of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training for DCS teachers and staff during a virtual state-wide LETRS training.

“The training we received through DavieLEADS has definitely been helpful and opened the door to the LETRS training,” agreed Cooper, a first-grade teacher at Shady Grove Elementary. She shared that teachers received both Reading Research to Classroom Practice and decodable lesson plan training before the LETRS training mandate. “I feel that DavieLEADS, along with our curriculum department, have prepared Davie County teachers and helped us keep up with the ever-changing requirements for the research behind reading.” 

During the panel, Cooper and Davis offered encouragement and tips on carving out time to complete the lessons.  

Cooper detailed how she sets time aside each week to work on the different assignments. Preferring to work in smaller sessions rather than sitting down and doing it all on workdays, she takes 30-45 minutes twice a week after school to work on lessons and utilizes her duty-free lunch period and some of her planning time to work on LETRS. “I know teachers don’t want to give up their planning time but once they realize that they can use this program within their lessons and to benefit their interventional instruction, it becomes a natural process to reference the LETRS program when looking at what students need.” 

She schedules check-in meetings with her instructional coach and each grade level discusses LETRS once a month during PLCs. As an added help, the district curriculum department created a pacing guide for the units to help teachers ensure they have them completed, and the district provided optional workdays and a half-day with a paid sub for teachers to work on LETRS. “Davie County has truly supported its teachers and given us the time to work on this crucial program.”

Davis, a 4th-grade teacher at Pinebrook Elementary,  agreed that while time-consuming, the training is worth it. “The information I have learned through LETRS has been interesting and has given me insight into the reasons why students can struggle in reading.  There are many different components of the reading process and the students’ needs are diverse.”

“It has been helpful to recognize some of the reasons why some kids struggle with reading.  By the time students reach 4th grade, it often appears that reading trouble is in comprehension.  LETRS has reiterated to me that what may appear to be a comprehension difficulty might truly be a phonemic or phonological awareness issue. LETRS has made me more confident in our school’s decision to include programs to support these areas of weakness in the upper elementary grades. We noticed that some students needed more instruction in these two areas, and included intervention programs such as Letterland, HillRAP, and Sonday.  It has been encouraging to see students grow in their reading because of the interventions we have put in place.”

Hennings-Gonzalez summed it up this way, “Moving ahead, LETRS will help deepen teachers’ understanding of best practices to support students’ reading, spelling, writing, and comprehension needs. DavieLEADS provided teachers with the resources needed to reach students as readers, while LETRS will continue to build teachers’ knowledge base on the “why” and research behind the use of programs, curriculum, and best practices in reading instruction.”

Moving the Needle: Davie County Schools Recognizes Mebane Foundation for Contributions in Early Literacy through DavieLEADS 

By Jeanna Baxter White

(L to R) Nancy Scoggin, Barbie Brown, Amy Spade, Jennifer Lynde,  Larry Colbourne, Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, Jeanna White, Stephanie Nelson, Susan Domanski, and Peggy Nuckolls. 

The Mebane Foundation was honored to be recognized at the Davie County Board of Education meeting on March 1st for its role in supporting early childhood education in Davie County, as DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) comes to an end. The early learning and literacy initiative was funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Foundation. Established during the 2017-2018 school year, DavieLEADS has had two primary goals. The first is to increase kindergarten readiness to 90 percent by reaching and fostering the development of children at an early age (birth to kindergarten) through consistent curriculum, instruction, and experiences in preschool programs. The second goal is to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade to 80 percent by building capacity in staff, strengthening instructional strategies, and updating materials aligned with state standards K-3. Following are a few of the remarks and a thank you video created by Davie County Schools staff. 

A little over five years ago, Larry Colbourne and the Mebane Board challenged Davie County Schools to figure out what would move the needle in early literacy in Davie County Schools. Assistant Superintendent Jinda Haynes organized a series of round-table discussions between community leaders and educators who spent many hours discussing, looking at data, and collaborating about what would truly make a difference. The answer? Investing in people. 

(L to R) Jennifer Lynde, Jinda Haynes, and Peggy Nuckolls were recognized by Davie County Schools for leading the DavieLEADS initiative. 

“What it came down to was that there was no silver bullet, no magical quick fix of a program that we could buy or any piece of technology that would make a big difference,” said Jennifer Lynde, chief academic officer for DCS, during the presentation. “Instead we needed to invest in our people, our school administrators, our teachers, and our assistants, to build their capacity to teach literacy and build a strong reading foundation for our Pre-K through third-grade students. No matter what programs we were using, and no matter what state initiative we had at the time or the required assessments, we found the absolute value of coaching, not just providing professional development one-shot deals, but the importance of the follow-up conversations with support, resources, and modeling with individual staff members,  . . . and small groups. We now have more consistency than ever in our literacy practices across our Pre-K programs and our elementary schools that allows for ongoing professional development, PLC conversations, collaboration within and outside of individual schools, across grade levels, and across school buildings including private Pre-K sites and our Davie County public Pre-K sites.” 

Most importantly, the work we have done over the past five years is sustainable. . .  What makes DavieLEADS different is the majority of the funds invested were invested in people. Yes, we were able to purchase and build fidelity with programs like Letterland, HillRAP, and Heggerty, which are amazing, and build our students’ learning, But as we all know, programs change, they come and they go. It’s our teachers’ ability to teach the foundational components that we built upon no matter the program that is in place, that will be sustained.  We truly believe that the work we built through DavieLEADS will continue for many years to come. 

Lastly, there is trust. We have to emphasize this word because the partnership we have with the Mebane Foundation is built on trust. It is a very unique partnership. Sometimes we receive grants, and it honestly can be about the agenda of those providing the grant. Instead, these entire five years have been about kids, and what is best for kids. 

Larry and the Mebane Board have challenged us, they’ve asked us great questions to make us think forward and to reflect, but most importantly, they have trusted us to make the decisions we needed to make to do our work.

They have understood our world when we faced COVID, remote learning, and state assessments that changed at least three times, things not in our control. Always they have supported us, always they have trusted us, so the video you are about to watch speaks volumes.”

During the presentation, Peggy Nuckolls, director of title 1 and preschool services, recognized many who played a role in driving the DavieLEADS initiative forward, beginning with the Foundation. “Without their vision, guidance, challenge, and financial support to push us further, we could not have implemented this critical step in our school system.” 

“The Mebane Foundation staff, President Larry Colbourne, and Susan Domanski, office administrator, helped us to achieve collaboration and cooperation with the board and to stay on track with our purpose for this initiative. Jeanna White, writer and owner of Word Master Media Group, helped us to step to the next level by publicizing our work, which is when we became a leader among other counties searching for something to make a difference in their education community.” 

She thanked the Mebane Board for “being not only visionaries but compassionate with a clear perception,” and said, “Their challenging questions were always leading us and pushing us to become better and to think outside of the box and to explore the opportunities in front of us.”  

Nuckolls remarked that the Board had stressed the importance of finding the right people to support this important work and to build the right kind of relationships. “As we moved through Year 1 we knew we had done just that with coaches Stephanie Nelson, Amy Spade, and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez who brought our vision to life.” She ended by thanking DavieLEADS consultants Barbie Brown and Nancy Scoggin for “constructing a way to build positive relationships and for sharing their knowledge.” 

In the Face of COVID, Hill Learning Center Invests in Making Reading Intervention More Accessible to Teachers and Students Across NC

By Jeanna Baxter White

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, and in-person learning came to a screeching halt, Hill Learning Center in Durham rose to the challenge and, in only three weeks, developed and released a version of its Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) that could be delivered remotely as long as the teacher and students had iPads and an internet connection. By summer, the HillRAP team had transformed its training model, which had required at least two days of in-person training, into a fully virtual professional learning experience. Previously, these efforts would have required many months, if not years, of planning, budgeting, testing, and refinement. But the need was urgent and real, and the experience inspired Hill to think and act more boldly than ever before. 

“There is little doubt or dispute that the inability to read can have devastating effects on life outcomes for students, or that as a nation, we are not fulfilling our moral and societal obligation to teach all students to read. Unfortunately, these realities have all been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Beth Anderson, executive director of Hill Learning Center. “To accelerate the reading development of students who have fallen even further behind due to COVID, quality, science-based core reading instruction must be supplemented by targeted, small-group intervention that can accurately identify and address foundational gaps.”

HillRAP leverages technology and quality professional development to deliver teacher-led, individualized, small-group instruction to students with persistent reading difficulties, including those with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning differences. Decades of research have shown that explicit phonics instruction benefits all early readers, particularly those who struggle to read. Hill’s instruction philosophy is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which focuses on teaching students the structure of language while incorporating precision teaching techniques including charting and graphing student progress. Using Hill assessments, an individualized instructional plan is created for each student. Progress is continually monitored as students work toward mastery of skills. (Watch this video to learn more.)

HillRAP Delivery Model Evolves to Increase Accessibility

Last year, even in the face of the pandemic, 555 educators were using HillRAP to serve nearly 5,600 students across North Carolina and beyond; 375 of those teachers and 3,500 of those students were in NC public and private schools outside of Hill School. However, many previous HillRAP users were unable to implement due to pandemic barriers related to technology, training, and time. Others wanted to adopt the program but simply didn’t have the iPads needed to do so. “We saw the need for HillRAP increasing and knew we had a tool and program that could seamlessly support both remote and in-person intervention, but we also knew we had to more radically evolve our delivery model to make it more accessible to any teacher serving any student, anywhere,” explained Anderson.

Thus, Hill set an ambitious goal to dramatically expand HillRAP’s reach to serve 26,000 students and 2,100 educators annually by 2024-25. To do so, they knew they would have to make significant additional investments in software development and improvements to online professional learning, data and analytics, and strategy, systems, and operations. First and foremost, as schools and districts everywhere expanded their investments in technology, and especially Chromebooks, Hill needed to migrate the HillRAP app from Apple iOS to a web-based platform that would be easy for teachers and students to use on any device.

The Mebane Foundation Supports Expansion

Such an ambitious undertaking carries a hefty price tag, so Anderson turned to supporters like the Mebane Foundation for financial assistance. Recognizing the value of the endeavor, the Foundation, a staunch supporter of Hill Learning Center for almost 20 years, made a $25,000 donation to help fund the development, joining other philanthropic funders who have collectively committed nearly $500,000 to this initiative.  

“In my opinion, Hill Learning Center has been the strongest organizational grantee we’ve supported since the Foundation began in 2003. However, while we have always recognized the extreme value Hill has to offer struggling readers and their families, the lack of access for those who couldn’t afford it has also been a sticking point for us,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “With this investment, we are thrilled to support Hill’s efforts to expand the accessibility of HillRAP for both students and teachers. I believe exciting times are ahead for not just the organization, but for a much larger population of young struggling readers.”   

Photos courtesy of Hill Learning Center
Using her iPad, the HillRAP instructor is able to monitor each student’s progress.

The Time is Now

Hill and the Mebane Foundation have been partnering to help NC children succeed in reading since 2003 when the Foundation made a significant commitment to simultaneously launch two Hill programs in the Davie County school system and at 11 private preschools/daycares around the county. Over the years, the Foundation has made numerous contributions, including a transformative investment in 2015 toward the early development and deployment of the Hill Learning System (HLS), which has evolved into the HillRAP app. These investments, and those of many other donors, districts, and schools, have supported the expansion of HillRAP across NC and beyond – today, HillRAP is in use in 42 NC counties, 15 states, and 5 countries.

Nearly two decades into this work, Anderson sees the current landscape in NC as especially ripe for strategic growth with a web-based HillRAP. She reflects, “First of all, in the face of the pandemic, and despite all the challenges they were facing, we saw administrators and teachers with whom we already had a relationship turning to HillRAP as they developed plans for supporting students after the devastating disruptions of the 2020-21 school year.”

The most significant of these was KIPP North Carolina Public Schools, which had new leadership and was overhauling their approach to developing successful readers. According to Executive Director Tim Saintsing, “We are making a major investment in ensuring that every KIPP NC teacher is a reading teacher informed by the science of reading. When ESSER funds became available, we decided to bolster this effort by making a significant investment to hire and train a dedicated HillRAP interventionist in all 8 of our schools to expand consistent, quality intervention as much as possible to accelerate closing foundational reading gaps that had only been exacerbated by COVID.”

Web-Based HillRAP App Allows for Flexible Learning

Ashe County Literacy Specialist Lindsey Hagel has been happily using HillRAP since being certified in 2016, but it’s taken on even more importance since the pandemic. “I am thankful for HillRAP and the ability to use this program now more than ever. Teachers have done a fantastic job in navigating instruction throughout the pandemic, and being able to use this intensive intervention makes me feel like I am doing my part. I know I am giving my students the best instruction I can to help make up for COVID disruptions in their education. At a time when teachers are feeling especially challenged, overwhelmed, and weary, providing them with the training and tools they need to feel successful is more important than ever.”

KIPP was fortunate to already have iPads at each school that they could use for HillRAP, as were HillRAP teachers in Ashe and Edgecombe counties, thanks to the generosity of donors. Yet they struggle to use HillRAP with students who don’t have iPads at home, something KIPP is wrestling with right now as they shifted to remote learning for a few weeks in the face of the COVID omicron surge.

Hagel noted, “The web-based app is going to be a very valuable tool if our school system has to go to remote learning again. We will be able to continue with our routine and not lose as much instructional time.”

Longtime Edgecombe County Public Schools HillRAP teacher and mentor Lisa Oakley expressed a similar sentiment, “This investment affords the teachers and students an opportunity to use Chromebooks that are issued to each scholar countywide. We are no longer restricted by the limited number of iPads within each school!  Having a web-based version also allows us to move more seamlessly into remote learning when needed.”

Carteret County Public Schools reading specialist Jodi Allen has five iPads that were issued by her school district for the implementation of HillRAP. She pointed out that when these iPads become outdated, there is no guarantee that they will be replaced. “The web-based version of the program will allow students to access the lesson on their school-issued device whether it is an iPad or a Chromebook. It will also save time and keep students safe because multiple students are not sharing the same device, which limits the spread of germs and eliminates the time a teacher needs to sanitize devices between lessons.”

More critically, many NC school districts do not have iPads or support Apple products. Anderson explained that school systems in places like Randolph County and Davidson County have continued to train teachers in HillRAP, using the original paper-based intervention, but are eager to migrate to the web-based app and train even more teachers as soon as possible. Once the web-based app is available, they will be able to make the switch, offering their teachers greater efficiency with the most up-to-date content, data, and resources at their fingertips, while administrators will have greater insight into implementation fidelity and growth of students and the impact of their investment.

HillRAP Partners With Districts to Ensure Reading Success

Beyond those teachers, schools, and districts already using HillRAP, Anderson sees new opportunities for a more accessible HillRAP to play a critical role in the statewide movement towards aligning instruction and teacher knowledge with the science of reading. “The NC legislature and NC DPI are to be lauded for their efforts in amending Read to Achieve last year and seeking to train teachers and establish the foundation for strong core reading instruction that should meet the needs of most elementary students. However, these efforts will not address the instructional needs of students with persistent reading difficulties, including those in older grades with foundational gaps. For those students, more intensive, targeted intervention is required to close deficits, learn to mastery, and develop the reading confidence and success that can be life-changing.”

KIPP’s Saintsing refers to their HillRAP partnership with Hill as “AWESOME” and “IMPORTANT.” He hopes that when the ESSER funding expires in three years, they will have closed many gaps for individual students, reduced the need for intensive intervention across their schools, and built the capacity for long-term sustainability that the web-based app and investments in teacher training and support should help facilitate. “While it’s too early to evaluate success, the teachers and students are engaged and learning and the support from Hill has been phenomenal.”

Anderson sums up what motivates Hill to keep seeking to grow its place in the NC educational ecosystem: “As the state invests millions of dollars in improving teacher knowledge and core reading instruction, we must continue to invest, innovate, and expand HillRAP to help ensure the most marginalized, struggling students in North Carolina schools – large and small; rural and urban; virtual and in-person; district, charter, private, and home – do not fail to reach their potential because they cannot read. Thanks to the investments of the Mebane Foundation and many others, Hill is moving aggressively to release the web-based HillRAP app with enhanced training, resources, data, and supports in July 2022, moving us one giant step closer to our goal of helping thousands more teachers and students who are struggling to experience reading success.”

Cognitive ToyBox: Building a Culture of Data-Informed Instruction in Davie County Preschools

Central Davie Preschool student works on Cognitive ToyBox

By Jeanna Baxter White

Despite a challenging 2020-2021 school year due to complications around COVID-19, Davie County preschools continue to help children get a strong start towards kindergarten readiness. One beneficial tool that preschool teachers continued to utilize was Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform.

Davie County Schools (DCS) has now used Cognitive ToyBox for four years to help teachers reach their kindergarten readiness goals as part of DavieLEADS, the school system’s five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade, which is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation.

During the first three years, DCS focused on data collection: ensuring that teachers could collect assessment data on an ongoing basis with fidelity. With that achieved, this year’s goal was focused on action: ensuring that teachers could use the data to individualize and improve instruction. 

Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher, kicked off the school year with group trainings on how teachers can use Cognitive ToyBox reports for both whole group and small group instruction.

Nelson heard from teachers that data accessibility is extremely important. For reports to be useful for teachers, “they must be easily accessible through a computer,” and they must be displayed in a context that is applicable for their classroom routines. The Cognitive ToyBox team gathered additional feedback from teacher surveys to better understand how to adapt reports to the classroom context. They learned that teachers wanted “at a quick glance” reports that provide guidance on their progress to date, and what to do next in moving children towards school readiness.

“Cognitive ToyBox is continuing to refine the technology to ensure that it is the most beneficial assessment platform available,” said Tammy Kwan, co-founder and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox. “We aim to show that classrooms that use our platform are better supported through data, leading to improved school readiness and third-grade reading rates.”

The Cognitive ToyBox team built a new teacher web portal to access reports through the computer. Here, teachers also have access to a dashboard that enables an at-a-glance understanding of how their class is progressing towards school readiness (see Progress Report by Domain), as well as what to do next in moving their class forward (see Small Group Report by Objective).

Progress Report by Domain

The Cognitive ToyBox Progress Report by Developmental Domain: Teachers can track their class progress over the school year broken down by domain, e.g. Language and Literacy, as well as specific objectives within that domain, e.g. Alliteration and Alphabet.

Small Group Report by Objective

The Cognitive ToyBox Small Group Report (with fictional data): children play a specific game, e.g. the lowercase alphabet assessment game, and teachers review the data and use it to inform instruction. For example, during whole group instruction, teachers may focus their instruction on the letters that were identified as Least Recognized. During small group instruction, teachers can use the data to inform instructional adjustments for each group.

Mebane Foundation Will Fund Use Again For 2021-2022

The feedback on the web portal has been positive, with one teacher sharing that they like to “access the reports for more student-specific information on what to do.” Another teacher shared that they use the web portal “after each skill is assessed to see who needs more instruction.” A third teacher shared that the Cognitive ToyBox reports gave them “another piece of data to inform findings for possible learning delays.”

Davie PreK teachers review and discuss next steps based on Cognitive ToyBox child assessment data. (Courtesy of Davie County Schools)

The teachers got together in the Spring of 2021 to discuss how they used the reports and data to adjust instruction in their respective classrooms. Nelson commented, “Through our professional learning communities, it’s exciting to see our teachers share best practices and build a culture of data-informed instruction. The teacher-friendly Cognitive ToyBox reports have been instrumental in helping teachers get comfortable with using data on a weekly basis.”

Pleased with the feedback that DCS has given about Cognitive ToyBox, the Mebane Foundation has agreed to fund the use of the program for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

“Tammy’s organization, Cognitive ToyBox, has proven it can deliver the goods when it comes to providing a high-quality, data-driven assessment tool that is geared toward making teachers’ jobs easier,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “More impressive to me is that over the last four years she and her staff have worked hand-in-hand with our teachers in Davie County to improve their end product. Many organizations tell us they want to “partner,” but that is often not really the case. However, Tammy’s group has truly listened to suggestions and made the product more user-friendly. At the end of the day teachers’ jobs are made easier, and most importantly, young students are benefitting tremendously from this cutting edge technology.”

ABOUT COGNITIVE TOYBOX

Cognitive ToyBox makes child assessment easy and actionable for early childhood educators through its combination of research-backed observation and game-based assessment tools.

The platform returns 100 hours of instructional time to teachers in a given school year while also reducing the feedback time between assessment and instructional adjustment.

Cognitive ToyBox works with Head Start and Pre-K programs across 15 states, reaching 150,000 children from birth to five years of age.  For more information visit cognitivetoybox.com or contact Dr. Tammy at tammy@cognitivetoybox.com

Davie County Schools Implement Heggerty to Support Phonemic Awareness

By Jeanna Baxter White

Susan Shepherd guides her first-graders at Cornatzer Elementary identify initial sounds in words.

“Deep,” says Susan Shepherd to her first-graders.

“Deep,” they repeat. 

“Replace the /p/ with /l/,” she says.

“Deal,” shouts her students. 

Shepherd is guiding her students through their daily Heggerty Phonemic Awareness lesson. Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand that spoken words are made up of individual sounds called phonemes, and it’s one of the best early predictors for reading success.

Recognizing the importance of phonemic awareness as a foundational reading skill, Davie County Schools (DCS) in Mocksville, North Carolina, adopted the curriculum this year as part of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), its five-year early literacy initiative funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and increase third-grade reading proficiency.

Phonemic awareness builds what DavieLEADS Literacy Coach Amy Spade calls “the parking place for phonics.”

If a child cannot hear that “man” and “moon” begin with the same sound or cannot blend the sounds /s/ /u/ /n/ into the word “sun,” he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols and the ability to decode words. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.

Engaging in phonemic awareness instruction develops students’ understanding of sounds, which also directly impacts their reading, spelling, and writing.

Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills include

  • Blending: What word am I trying to say? Mmmmm…aaaaaaaa…n.
  • Segmentation (first sound isolation): What is the first sound in man? /m/
  • Segmentation (last sound isolation): What is the last sound in man? /n/
  • Segmenting Phonemes: What are all the sounds you hear in man? /m/ /a/ /n/

“As the LEADS team worked with curriculum leaders in the county looking at DCS K-1 students’ data, the team saw a need to increase core instruction in phonemic awareness. After attending training, doing research, and talking with literacy leaders from around the state, we chose Heggerty because it is really intentional, but also easy to implement. Thanks to its explicit and systematic approach, teachers are able to complete the lessons in just 10-12 minutes a day. Everything we’ve heard so far has been positive and teachers are saying they are already seeing a difference,” said Spade.

“The preschool component of Davie LEADS collaborates with the elementary component to ensure vertical alignment of curriculum from preschool to kindergarten,” explained Stephanie Nelson, LEADS preschool collaborative teacher. “After Amy Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalaz (LEADS literacy coaches) shared their kindergarten data and the idea of using Heggerty, we were interested immediately. Preschool data from the Cognitive ToyBox assessment games showed that preschool students needed more instruction in rhyme, which is one component of Heggerty.  Even though we didn’t have data to support other phonemic areas, we saw that the curriculum could support teachers in creating explicit, multisensory, and systematic phonemic awareness instruction.”

Each level of the Heggerty program provides 35 weeks of daily lessons, focusing on eight phonological awareness skills, along with two additional activities to develop letter and sound recognition, and language awareness.

Daily lessons teach early, basic, and advanced phonemic awareness skills such as:

  • Rhyming
  • Onset fluency
  • Isolating final or medial sounds
  • Blending and segmenting compound words, syllables, and phonemes
  • Adding, deleting, and substituting compound words, syllables, and  phonemes

The program is now used in more than 7,250 school districts across the country.

DCS introduced the curriculum at the end of the 2019-2020 school year as a pilot program in four pre-K and five kindergarten classes two weeks before schools closed and remote instruction began in March. Despite the pilot program’s short duration, the response was so positive that Heggerty was introduced into all kindergarten and first-grade classes in August, all NC pre-K classes in December, and was added to select second-grade classrooms based on student need.

Carrie Carter and her assistant Alisa Allen guide students through Heggerty at William R. Davie Preschool.

Phonemic Awareness Benefits Reading, Writing, and Spelling

“As teachers, we like that it is written in an easy-to-use format and we aren’t having to come up with these activities on our own,” said Shepherd, who teaches first-grade at Cornatzer Elementary School. “I would tell other schools looking at the program that it is easy to implement and not a lot of extra work on the teacher, but it is a really effective program.” 

Based on the benefits she saw while piloting the program, Shepherd even recorded Heggerty videos at least twice a week during remote learning so that families would have the option to continue using the program if they wanted to.

“In the past, we’ve done phonemic awareness activities but not to the level that this program offers. I have been doing a lot of research about reading and how children learn to read and it appears phonemic awareness is one of the missing pieces for struggling readers. If you think about the building blocks of reading, it’s the first step they need to learn before they move on to other reading skills. I think this program will provide the solid foundation our children need from the beginning.”

Josey Redinger and students at Central Davie Preschool delete phonemes during a Heggerty lesson.

She commented that many struggling readers have difficulty spelling which also translates into their writing. Heggerty is helping to resolve those issues as well. “If you can’t hear every sound in a word you aren’t going to be able to spell and write as well. There are eight skills we do every day. Sometimes we are segmenting words and then we are blending them back together and then we are taking off sounds and then adding sounds and switching sounds in words. This also helps them in reading.”

Jill O’Toole, a pre-K teacher at Pinebrook Elementary School who also piloted the program, said, “It has given me a quick way to incorporate several key phonemic awareness activities into one short lesson that keeps the children engaged. I see that the repetition gives them confidence in what they are doing and gives them many chances to succeed.”

Josey Redinger, who teaches pre-K at Central Davie, has seen significant improvement in the area of rhyming, specifically,  when comparing data from last school year to the current school year.  “I understand that this greatly benefits my students in the future when they are beginning reading in kindergarten!”

As a 28-year teaching veteran, Shady Grove Elementary Kindergarten Teacher Traci Richardson has seen programs come and go, but says Heggerty is proving to be worth keeping.

“I like the way it provides a quick and easy way to teach phonemic awareness skills to my students each day. It has also helped me to detect early on if my students are struggling in the different reading areas and allows me to address those weaknesses when I break my students up into small groups.”

She is impressed by the way her students have connected with the program. “Heggerty uses hand motions for many of the different areas like making a roller coaster motion with their hand to isolate the medial sound in a word. As my students are learning to read this year, I’ve noticed many of them applying the strategies they’ve learned and using the hand motions to help them sound out or blend a word.”

“Children in kindergarten learn through structure and repetition and Heggerty provides that in each lesson. My students know every day what to expect and they are used to the routine. Repetition is key for foundational reading skills for 5 and 6-year-old kids and these oral and auditory word games are laying that foundation.”

Nikki Whiteheart and first-graders at Cooleemee Elementary School.

Combating and Preventing Learning Gaps

Carrie Carter and students at William R Davie Preschool demonstrate the hand motions that go along with deleting sounds as part of a Heggerty exercise.

After training and implementation occurred in the fall of 2020, the teachers noted that they love the way the program is combating learning gaps caused by the sudden transition to remote learning and hopefully preventing new ones.

“I really, really like this program,” said Nikki Whiteheart who teaches first grade at Cooleemee Elementary. “It has helped fill in a lot of gaps we’ve noticed that kids are having with being able to identify sounds and manipulate the sounds in words. Because they are now used to hearing the sounds in words and are better able to sound them out, they are better at reading and writing as well.”

“Even if last year and this year had been typical school years I think Heggerty would have helped fill in gaps but with these students having to suddenly transition to virtual kindergarten it has been doubly helpful. Heggerty has been great all around.  I am very grateful to our school system for seeing our childrens’ needs and finding a program that will meet them.”

Tina Dyson, who teaches kindergarten at William R. Davie Elementary, is equally impressed with the curriculum. “To see these kids and where they started kindergarten and where they are now has been amazing, and it is all because of the Heggerty program!”  

“I started the year with 21 students and maybe four of them could say the alphabet. I had to take a step back. Many of my students didn’t get to finish preschool. They were just getting into the meat of Letterland and alphabet recognition when we transitioned to remote learning.”

“Thanks to a combination of Heggerty and Letterland, all of my students can now say the alphabet, recognize the letters, and blend and segment sounds. This week they wrote sentences. I don’t think they could have done that without the Heggerty lessons and that background. We started with little chunks and now we’ve really built something here in March. If a five or six-year-old can do this, imagine what would happen if the program was carried over across the grades?”

Students Find Heggerty Fun and Engaging

Beyond the academic benefits, all of the teachers interviewed said their students find Heggerty fun and engaging and look forward to their daily lesson.

“We start our day with breakfast and morning meeting and then my students are so excited because it is Heggerty time,” said Dyson. “I’ve heard them say ‘This is my Show What I Know Time!!’ They watch as I turn the pages of the manual and when I reach the third page they are asking me ‘are we on the last part already?’ Through the daily repetition, they’ve come to know the program so well that if I forget to do a hand motion, they are quick to point it out to me.”

She teaches her lessons on Google Meet so that children who are out for the day have the option to participate in both Heggerty and Letterland. “They never want to miss Heggerty or Letterland!” she said with a laugh. Parents who have observed a Google Meet lesson have been equally enthusiastic. “I’ve had parents stick their head in the screen and make comments like they can’t believe what they are seeing and hearing!”

I had the pleasure of observing one of the lessons on Google Meet and had to agree. I watched the students wiggle in their seats as they eagerly waited for the start of the lesson and then was amazed by their enthusiasm and focus as they mimicked the hand motions and completed each word exercise.

Dyson added, “I wish there had been a way to document where we started with Heggerty from day one until now, but what I do see is their happy eyes.”

Traci Richardson and kindergarteners at Shady Grove Elementary School are punching out final sounds.

Community Support and Spirit Are Alive and Well

Davie County COVID-19 Response Fund to Support Non-Profits on the Front Lines

Nate Hampton (Junior at Davie High) picking up food from Second Harvest Food bank
Nate Hampton (Junior at Davie High) picking up food from Second Harvest Food Bank

Ten days ago, Davie High Hunger Fighters served students at the high school. Now the group is packing food boxes for almost 700 children and their families in Davie County Schools on a weekly basis.

During a crisis, non-profit organizations like DHHF are on the front lines and expected to do much more, typically with fewer resources. The coronavirus (COVID-19) is having a profound effect on our community. These organizations need our help and support to be able to serve our children, families, and the community in these extraordinary times. 

In response, the Davie Community Foundation and the Mebane Charitable Foundation have each contributed $50,000 to establish the Davie County COVID-19 Response Fund with $100,000 to support local non-profit organizations and agencies that are meeting the immediate needs created by the coronavirus. 

“We have no idea what all the needs are right now, or what they might look like a week, a month, three months or a year from now, but this fund is being set up with one main goal, and that is to be there for our community and non-profits, as new needs arise in the coming days and months,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. 

Davie County non-profit organizations and agencies providing a “safety net” for families during this difficult economic situation may submit a short application for grants of up to $5,000. The application can be found on the Davie Community Foundation’s website under the grants tab. These funds may be used for organizational capacity or direct services to/for the children and families they serve.

The Davie Community Foundation will administer the fund and oversee the application process. A community committee of representatives from both foundations, Davie County Schools, and the non-profit sector will make grant decisions to ensure a quick response.

There are many organizations that will soon be serving more members of our community as K-12 schools remain closed, local businesses close, and we all work to avoid groups of ten or more.

Lori Smith, Jimmie Welch (EC Teacher at Davie High) Nate Hampton at Second Harvest Food Bank
Lori Smith, Jimmie Welch (EC Teacher at Davie High) Nate Hampton at Second Harvest Food Bank

Other community organizations currently serving on the front lines include:

Just Hope which has stepped up to deliver the meals the school system is preparing to more than 27 children who have no way to pick them up. The round trip takes more than 4 hours each day as they travel all around the county and they fully expect those numbers to increase. Their office and thrift store are currently closed which means their donations and funding are on hold.

A Storehouse for Jesus which is offering curbside pickup for client prescription refills. They also have drive around service to pick up food bags based upon family size. Current clients are tracked through their ID#. Approximately 20 new clients were added during the first week of the schools closing as other food pantries were depleted. They expect this number to continue to rise. All other ministries have been temporarily discontinued.

Family Promise of Davie County which has been told to “shelter in place” with the families they are serving. Because of the limited space in the Day Center home and their inability to use their church partners, two families are staying in a local motel at the expense of Family Promise.

The need is great and growing! All aspects of our community will be impacted, from young children to seniors, before we see significant improvement.

“We know that $100,000 will not be enough, so we are looking for other partners to join with us,” said Jane Simpson, president & CEO of the Davie Community Foundation. “We all need to give where we live! Please consider a gift of any size as we work together to be as our Chamber of Commerce puts it, “Davie Strong”!”

How You Can Give

Credit Card: Give online HERE

Check: Payable to Davie Community Foundation should be mailed to the Foundation at PO Box 546, Mocksville, NC 27028 & marked COVID-19 in the memo section

DCF donor-advised fundholders: Request a grant through the DCF website using your pin # or reach out to Melissa O’Connor at the Foundation Office; moconnor@daviefoundation.org 

Every dollar contributed goes to support the community! No administrative fees will be applied. 

Taylor Smith (8th grade Ellis) Kadence Boggard (8th grade North Davie)

Different But Not Different

During the spring of 2019, the Mebane Foundation began piloting a unique tutoring 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.

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

“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.” 

Note: This article by Mike Barnhardt was originally published in the Davie County Enterprise-Record and is republished here with permission.

We’re all different, but not different.

Even as a fourth-grader at Mocksville Elementary, Honor Draughn knows that. And she knows that the message would be great for her peers.

Luwonna Oakes, a tutor at the Mebane Foundation in Mocksville, helped children last spring to write, edit and publish their own books.

“All of the students did a superb job on their books and they were each special,” she said. “I had them decide on a targeted audience they were writing for – their author’s purpose.

A Message With An Impact

Honor Draughn wrote an endearing book about showing kindness to those who are ‘Different, but not Different,’ the title of her book.”

She donated a book to each elementary school guidance counselor in Davie County. And according to at least one of those counselors, the book is working.

“Honor is a young child making a difference in Davie Schools, impacting peers with a book on such a needed topic is so special,” Oakes said.

The book, Honor said, is dedicated to everybody who may feel different.

“Do you know some people are different, but not different? Some people do not get it, but it’s true. People think that some children are different, but inside they are not so different.

Honor Draughn author of Different but not Different a book making a difference for students in Davie County schools

“Take the time to get to know them,” she wrote. “Some people that seem different have been through a lot. Difficult things have happened to some children and other people make fun of them and judge them from the outside because of the way they act.”

The children, she wrote, may have lost a parent. Some parents who make bad choices have children who are confused, upset or angry.

Don’t Judge

“Some people do not give these children a chance to prove what is on the inside, behind the way they act.”

Some of the children may be less fortunate. She urges her peers not to brag about expensive toys or lavish vacations. “I do not want to make them feel like they don’t get to do fun things in life.

“If you see someone that is being judged or if you are being judged, remember, I am unique for who I am. This makes me who I am. You do not have to change to fit in. I want you to remember this, you are you, you are who you are, and do not let anybody stand in your way of you being you.”

She urges her peers to be kind to one another, “even if someone is mean to you.”

Tell an Adult

If hit or kicked, tell an adult. “This is not being a tattletale, but dealing with a problem in the right way.

“Be a good friend. Do not judge people by the way they act. You can be a good influence and be there for others.”

Helping Others Helps Us Too

Helping a child with a problem can help you and the child, she said.

“We all are different. No one is perfect,” she wrote, encouraging peers to look for ways people are like you, not different.

“I want you to remember this. Everybody is different. We all are really different and that’s what makes us unique. It makes me be me and you be you.”

Project Sunburn Sparks Excitement at Davie County High School

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County High School has embarked upon a cross-curricular project never before attempted at the North Carolina high school level. Through Project Sunburn, Davie hopes to be the first high school program in North Carolina to design,  build, and ultimately to compete with a solar-powered vehicle. 

While the short-term goal is to successfully race a solar-powered vehicle, the long-term goal is to position Davie County High School as the home track for the first high school-sanctioned race in North Carolina. The project culminates a year of teacher-led research and is backed by collegiate level programs at Cape Fear Community College and Appalachian State University which want to grow their solar programs into the secondary education level.

Members of the "Zip Ties" engineering group take measurements of the kart to be transferred to a digital model so that soft changes can be made before physical ones. This is in the CTE Building at DCHS.
Members of the “Zip Ties” engineering group take measurements of the kart to be transferred to a digital model so that soft changes can be made before physical ones. This is in the CTE Building at DCHS.

Project-Based Learning at Its Best

What began as a lunchtime conversation that resonated with multiple teachers has become a partnership between Davie High Career and Technical Education and Davie High STEM Center to keep the War Eagles at the forefront of what education has the capacity to do.

“Adults often complain that students don’t understand the real world,” said Collin Ferebee, Earth and Environmental Science teacher and project advisor. “This project will help the students see what the real world is like. When you give students a reason for the things they are doing in the classroom, even the tedious things, they develop a totally different level of motivation.” 

Through the War Eagle Motorsports Club, students are responsible for the vehicle’s marketing, social media, fabrication, engineering, design, and electronics with facilitation from instructors.  

“The sole focus of the project is concurrent learning with both teacher and student involved together in the process. We welcome failures and the learning that directly proceeds from them,” said advisor, Will Marrs, who teaches drafting and engineering. “Students are at the forefront of deciding the direction of the War Eagle Motorsports club, creating something that they are proud of being a part of.” 

War Eagles Motorsports Club is Student-Led and Collaborative

Allie Williams, club secretary and project lead in marketing and social media said, “I’m excited for the finished product of the car, but I’m most excited about the teamwork and the collaborative work that’s going into it.”

Ferebee stated, “We are homegrown.  Part of our leadership team behind this project is Mr. Will Marrs, Mr. Seth James, Mrs. Karla Freeman and myself.  We are all DCHS alumni and proud of the program that raised us. One of our major pushes in doing this is to give students opportunities in their education that we wish we had in our academic careers as War Eagles. We want to redefine the idea of authentic learning that can happen within the classroom.”  

Marrs shared an example. “When we met with the solar race team at Appalachian we had the opportunity to tour their shop. A Hispanic female student who graduated from Davie two years ago ran up to Mr. Robinson (Lester) and asked what he was doing there. She explained that she is now a mechanical engineering student but didn’t even know she was interested in engineering as a student at Davie. We don’t know how many students may be under-served.”  

Jackson Clark, a War Eagle Motorsports member and leader of the “Zip-Ties” engineering group, works on a digital model of the vehicle.

Authentic Learning is the Program’s Goal

Currently, the project is in the building proof of concept phase, with over 30 group members of War Eagle Motorsports spanning freshman through senior, male and female, banding together to tackle their chosen niche of the project. “ We love giving students the chance to get their hands dirty whether it be in fabrication, turning a wrench or just getting some grease on their hands while achieving real-world learning that they will hopefully remember past graduation,” said Seth James, automotive instructor at DCHS and advisor.

“When you think motorsports you typically think white males, but we want everyone included,” Ferebee said. 

Excitement remains high in the student groups as each sector in charge of specific tasks have classified themselves with codenames such as “The Zipties” (the engineering group), or “S.P.F. 100” (Sole Provider of Funds) who are in charge of marketing. Students are currently using technologies such as 3D Modeling software to construct a digital model of a purchased go-kart chassis that will serve as the bones of the vehicle. Team members are meeting once or more per week with their instructor as students officers and representatives decide and operate meeting schedules.  

Jackson Clark, a member of the engineering group, referenced the community that the project has created. “The coolest thing about Project Sunburn is that you have lots of different people, each with unique talents, working together to build a car. Some people are gifted in engineering, others in fabrication, and others in marketing, but we are all working TOGETHER towards a goal.”

War Eagle Motorsports Needs Your Help!

To complete their goal, War Eagle Motorsports needs YOUR help. “The project is motivated by the opportunities to create cross-curricular and community partnerships,” said Marrs. “We greatly appreciate the support we’ve received from the Mebane Foundation as well as an anonymous donor, and we welcome any feedback and additional resources.”

Ways the Community Can Help 

  1. Monetary Donations – These would be given to War Eagle Motorsports at DCHS and be used directly toward the project and to help students in the club and program. Our next big purchase will be a trailer for War Eagle Motorsports to transport the solar car as well as other projects that we have planned. This would be in the neighborhood of $10,000 – $15,000 dollars.
  2. Physical Resources – “This may be anything from automotive tools, fabrication tools, solar panels and parts, electronics, fabrication materials such as metals and different things, marketing materials, parts, etc.  This may also be something in the form of giving a student time in a machine shop, or fabrication, or time at a marketing firm. This is a large category, so we would be more than happy to talk to anyone interested in helping in this area.”
  3. Involvement – “We want the community to be a part of this project. Our ultimate goal is to have a high-school level race sanctioned at DCHS and to be the first high school in North Carolina to do it.  We need individuals who would like to be part of a committee and involved in the planning, marketing, and undertaking of the event. We have several teachers but we would like this to be community-centered.  Involvement also comes in the form of just wanting to help out. Someone may want to help students wire things, or fabricate, or provide tips on marketing.  Involvement could also mean helping our students with apprenticeship opportunities, shadowing opportunities, or internship opportunities. We would love to have this as well.”
  4. Sponsorship – “If someone would like to sponsor us at a level, we would love to discuss that opportunity, as well. This would be an excellent chance for someone to market themselves in a new undertaking in Davie County Schools’ education.”
  5. Advocacy – “Positive encouragement, positive exposure, following us on social media, spreading the word.  Any kind of marketing or spreading of our mission would be awesome.  Communication and asking us how you can be a part of things is awesome, we will find a way for someone to be involved if they would like to be.”
  6. Advocacy for SkillsUSA – “SkillsUSA is a club at Davie County High School that allows students to compete against other high schools in the state, and nation, in numerous areas of Career and Technical Education.  However, the mission of SkillsUSA first and foremost is the development of work-ready skills within high school students no matter if they are seeking the workforce, university, or technical school after graduation. I mention this because someone may not be able to help, or may not want to help with War Eagle Motorsports, but still want to help in building our Career and Technical Education program at Davie.  This is an excellent way to do it.  Our country is in dire need of the skilled worker and this organization champions the development of work-ready skills for any path after graduation. The SkillsUSA website is here if you would like more information on it.  There is also a website for the SkillsUSA NC organization located here.”  
  7. Advocacy and Involvement in DCHS STEM Center – “Davie County High School is a STEM accredited high school. Our goal as instructors is to involve and immerse students in STEM experiences (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) that give them the chance to spark interests that may influence their life decisions past the graduation stage. Our country is in great need of the STEM-minded individual and Davie County Schools is incredibly proud to be at the forefront of developing this type of education. We would love to work with any individual or organization that would like to contribute time to speak or demonstrate to students or provide resources or monetary contributions. Everything goes straight to work for our students.”
Automotive Instructor Seth James overseas War Eagle Motorsports member Laura Newsom in removing excess parts of the frame during early fabrication.

You can follow Project Sunburn’s journey on Instagram and Facebook, or reach out to the team by email here .

Kindergarten Readiness Showing Promising Gains in Davie County

By Jeanna Baxter White

Kindergarten readiness in Davie County has already shown tremendous gains in just the first two years of DavieLEADS, according to a report by Davie County Schools.

DIAL-4 Kindergarten Readiness Data — Davie County, North Carolina

Funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) is an early learning and literacy initiative with two major goals. The first is to increase kindergarten readiness to 90 percent by reaching and fostering the development of children at an early age (birth to kindergarten) through consistent curriculum, instruction, and experiences in preschool programs. The second goal is to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade to 80 percent by building capacity in staff, strengthening instructional strategies, and updating materials aligned with state standards K-3.

Davie County Schools measures kindergarten readiness with the Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning-Fourth Edition (DIAL-4), an individually administered, nationally-normed, developmentally appropriate screening tool designed to identify young children who are at-risk and need help with academic skills. The DIAL-4 tests a child’s motor skills (skipping, jumping, cutting, writing), conceptual skills (knowledge of colors, counting), and language skills (knowledge of letters and words, and ability to solve problems). The skills measured by the DIAL-4 are proven to help predict a child’s readiness and future success in the classroom.

DIAL screening is completed as part of the kindergarten registration process, which begins in the spring prior to enrollment. The table below shows a comparison of DIAL data from 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. While reaching and assessing more students each year (1 percent more in 2018-19, but 9 percent more since initial implementation), there has also been an increase in the percentage demonstrating readiness for kindergarten. There was a 6 percent increase in kindergarten readiness in the second year of DavieLEADS implementation, which represents an overall increase of 15 percent in readiness since the initiative began.

Table – DIAL-4 Kindergarten Readiness Data

% of Kindergarten Students Screened % of Screened Students “Kindergarten Ready”
2016-17 75% 71%
2017-18 83% 80%
2018-19 84% 86%
Change Year 1 to Year 2 +1% +6%
Change Since Implementation +9% +15%

 

“Continuing to see growth as our efforts increase to support and provide resources from the public schools speak volumes to our collaboration with the private providers in early education and interventions,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services for Davie County.  “We would not see this type of climb without this grant from the Mebane Foundation which allows the early childhood community to teach the same curriculum and use the same assessments that guide our practices daily.”

Nuckolls and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County, shared the strategies they believe account for this growth.

First and foremost has been the sharing of a county-wide common language about what kindergarten readiness means.

“What we mean by common language about kindergarten readiness is that all of the people supporting preschool students have a common understanding of precisely what skills students need instruction on in preschool to help them have a successful introduction to kindergarten,” said Nelson. “Having a common kindergarten readiness language based on the NC Foundations for Early Learning and Development helps keep the focus on developmental facts rather than feeling like anyone’s personal knowledge of young children is being challenged.”

Another strategy through DavieLEADS has been to support more consistency in curriculum and instruction across all preschool programs, public school-based, private, and faith-based.

“Coordinating the curriculum between private and public preschools ensures the same high-quality instruction no matter the preschool setting,” said Nelson.

Letterland, a phonics-based program that teaches students how to read, write, and spell, has become one such program. Letterland is a well-established program for students from preschool to 2nd grade, with a carefully constructed curriculum for children at each grade level. The program has friendly ‘pictogram’ characters based on different letters that live together in Letterland. Stories featuring the letter characters explain phonics to children in a way that’s more entertaining than your typical lesson and thus sticks in the minds of students.

From 2016-2018, the Mebane Foundation provided Letterland materials, software, and professional development for NC Pre-K to 2nd-grade classrooms in Davie County. Faith-based programs received the materials, software, and training during the 2018-2019 school year.

Additionally, using Letterland across the board provides all of the preschool students with the same frame of reference and eases their transition into kindergarten because they are already familiar with the Letterland characters.

“Thanks to Mebane grant funds, we have also been able to provide Teaching Strategies GOLD® as a unified tool to measure student progress in NC Pre-K preschool programs that did not have prior access,” said Nuckolls.

The Teaching Strategies GOLD® provides a continuum for student learning and is aligned with North Carolina’s Early Learning Standards. GOLD is an ongoing observational system that allows preschool staff to assess students’ growth. This system also helps teachers increase the effectiveness of their lessons as they identify children’s developmental levels and describe their knowledge, skills, and behaviors.

The table below shows the six areas that are assessed and percentages of students meeting/exceeding growth expectations in public versus private preschools in years 1 and 2 of implementation. This provides yet another data source that can be studied in subsequent years of the DavieLEADS initiative.

Table – PreK GOLD Assessments

 

Domains Assessed

Meeting/Exceeding
Private Public
17-18 18-19   17-18 18-19
Social 72% 78% 97% 95%
Physical 79% 82% 97% 100%
Language 77% 81% 90% 100%
Cognitive 81% 84% 84% 89%
Literacy 79% 88% 96% 100%
Mathematics 81% 88% 93% 95%

As an additional assessment tool, Nuckolls and Nelson chose to pilot Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform to measure school readiness. Their goal was to increase the reliability of student assessments across the county.

Cognitive ToyBox enables a direct assessment of early language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs.

“Through Cognitive ToyBox, we have an unprecedented level of individualized data across language and literacy, math and social-emotional development that we can use to improve instruction and individualization on an ongoing basis,” said Nuckolls.

Sherri Robinson, Pre-K teacher at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool watches as Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher in Peter Puppy Letterland costume engages students

However, both Nuckolls and Nelson believe that intensive coaching and consistent support have produced the greatest impact on scores, and Nelson’s services have provided the secret sauce.

She was hired through grant funds to build relationships with the various child care programs in the county and to provide coaching services and support to the teachers as they learn to use the new curriculum and assessment tools provided by the grant.

“For teachers, knowing that someone is coming in on a consistent basis and caring about what you do makes a huge difference in how you plan and prepare,” said Nuckolls. “Without the support, the modeling, and the checking in to make sure the fidelity is there and continues, the resources mean nothing.”

“It’s hard for administrators to consistently provide coaching and support for new curriculum when they have so many business aspects to take care of in the running of a child care program. It is very important to have a collaborative teacher in the facility working weekly and monthly with those teachers answering questions and helping them fine-tune the use of resources throughout their classrooms in all aspects of their schedule.”

During Year 2, Nelson worked with 12 licensed and unlicensed pre-K childcare centers, including seven faith-based programs, one Head Start, and four private child care programs, and provided:

  • 100 coaching visits with private NC pre-K programs that fostered consistent and aligned curriculum.
  • 28 coaching visits for Letterland implementation and literacy awareness of state standards for 3 & 4-year-olds in faith-based programs to build common K readiness language across the community.
  • 2 collaborative trainings with Smart Start (30 participants)
  • 14 leadership trainings for licensed and non-licensed directors
  • 4 collaborative PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) with public and private teachers to encourage professional dialogue and sharing of preschool information and to support teachers by creating a community of adult learners.
  • 1 Cognitive Toy Box training and monthly support
  • 6 adult learning tours for preschool teachers and directors
  • 10 student and teacher field trips for all rising kindergarten children

Nelson said her efforts have been well-received. “There has been great buy-in. Both the teachers and directors have been invested collaborators. They’ve wanted this support. When I work with teachers, I make sure my coaching is individualized to their needs and I use their strengths to support an area they want to improve upon.”

Nelson has also provided teachers with training and support on how to nurture a student’s social-emotional education. “We know that part of preparing children for kindergarten is helping them to improve their self-regulation, their attention to tasks, and their ability to participate in a group setting. All are key factors to their success in kindergarten.”

“This year we are also focusing on supporting directors in becoming curriculum leaders so that they can maintain the momentum post-grant,” Nelson continued. “I’m meeting with them monthly and helping them learn how to access the new data, dig deeper into the data, and utilize that data to make a plan for supporting their teachers.”

“Our child care providers have always done a good job at meeting regulatory standards. We’ve focused on creating that common language of how we can meet child care regulations yet still add some structure and some meat to the curriculum so that students are ready for the structure that they’re going to be hit with in kindergarten.”

Adult learning tours for preschool teachers and directors to visit kindergarten classrooms and talk to kindergarten teachers have been eye-opening. “Kindergarten expectations have changed so much in the past 5 to 10 years. I think one of the best things that have come out of the tours was for the preschool teachers to hear the kindergarten teachers say ‘you’re doing a great job. The children we get from your program are coming in and have a lot of the skills we need them to have.’”

“When you are teaching by yourself because your child care center only has one four-year-old class you’re kind of working in a vacuum and hoping you’re making good choices, but you don’t have anybody to validate that or to make recommendations.”

To reinforce the teachers’ new-found confidence and to expand dialogue across the county, Nelson established a county-wide PLC group last May. This year the group hit the ground running.

“We have invited any teacher anywhere in the community that teaches three or four-year-olds to get involved because we want to encourage that professional conversation. So many of our classrooms in the county are blended, so including our three-year-old teachers facilitates talks about vertical alignment of curriculum.”

“We’ve got faith-based and private child care and public school teachers involved and it’s been a great success so far with about 15 people attending each meeting. We’ve also created an online platform that any teacher can access where we’ve uploaded the PLC agenda, the PLC minutes, and any other information or helpful hints or ideas that teachers share with each other.”

“For example, one month we had a whole conversation about how to creatively engage students and group time activities to keep their bodies and brains moving. We had teachers share different songs and different activities that they like to do and so we uploaded samples of that to this platform. Even if you can’t attend, you can still go on to the platform and be connected.”

“Meetings are hosted by a different childcare center or teacher each month. That was an idea that the teachers came up with. This is teacher-led and they are in charge of it. They came up with the idea as a way to see what others are doing in their classrooms and why. It’s been exciting to see them take ownership of their professional development.” Nelson added.

Nuckolls and Nelson are pleased that the momentum is continuing to grow.

“I had two teachers from two totally different programs get together and do some planning and some ideas sharing on a teacher workday,” Nelson shared with a smile. “To me, that was a huge sign of success.”

Smart Start of Davie County – Prepare Your Children for Success!

Emily MacCaull and her son Tommy explore free Smart Start Toy Kits

Emily MacCaull and her son Tommy explore free Smart Start Toy Kits

By Jeanna Baxter White

Four-year-old Tommy carefully considers the boxes of toys lining the Smart Start bookshelves before selecting a kit labeled “Sand and Water Play.” His mom, Emily MacCaull, waits patiently, allowing him to choose for himself.

These toy kits are just one of the many resources Smart Start of Davie County offers residents and early childhood educators as it seeks to ensure quality childcare, education, health, and family support programs for all Davie County children birth to five.

Smart Start is North Carolina’s nationally recognized and award-winning early childhood initiative designed to ensure that young children enter school healthy and ready to succeed in school and beyond. Studies clearly show that the foundation for lifelong success in school and work is laid during these vital years.

MacCaull first learned about Smart Start and the toy-lending program from the daughter of a Smart Start employee when her older son Robbie, who is now a first-grader at William R. Davie Elementary School, was a baby. Since then, her sons have checked out every kit offered at least once. “I don’t know why we even buy toys because the boys love to check these out,” MacCaull said with a laugh. “It’s been so nice to borrow a kit for a week or two and not have to own so many toys at home.”

In fact, when the boys outgrow or get tired of their toys, the MacCaull family donates them to Smart Start to help create additional kits. “Checking out the kits has also broadened the boys’ horizons because they’ve selected things I wouldn’t have thought they would have been interested in.”

Imagination Library 
Tommy is enrolled in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program which provides any child living in Davie County one free, age-appropriate book per month from birth through their fifth birthday. The books are mailed to their home and addressed to the child. Provided in conjunction with the Dollywood Foundation, this program encourages literacy, parent/child interaction, and ultimately a successful start as the child enters school. Register for free at Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Group Connections Strengthen Community
The MacCaulls have also enjoyed the group connections activities which are hosted by the Parents as Teachers educators and open to all families with young children. These are held throughout the year with the focus of making social connections among parents and children. BlockFest, one of the more popular group connections, is a research-based exhibit that helps raise awareness of early math and science learning by offering hands-on block play experiences to families with young children. Other activities this summer included making ice cream, tie-dying, an outdoor story walk, and a cooking class.

Barrett Achor enjoys participating in the Blockfest group connection activities

Barrett Achor enjoys participating in the Blockfest group connection activities

The next group connection, Roll and Read!, will be held on September 20, in conjunction with Davie Recreation and Parks. Register by calling 336.753.8326.

Smart Start – Enrichment for all Young Families in Davie County
Smart Start Director Gena Taylor would love to have every family in Davie County with young children take advantage of these programs as well as the many others.

“I want our community to know that we are a non-profit that is here to create a Smart Start for children ages birth to five. Many people confuse us with Head Start or believe that we are a childcare center where children are kept during the day,” said Taylor. “Instead, our mission is to give families what they need to help raise and nurture their children to be successful in kindergarten. These services include programs to assist with health, early care and education, family support, literacy, and more.”

Daijah Emwanta participates in tie-dying Group Connections activity

Daijah Emwanta participates in tie-dying Group Connections activity

Smart Start of Davie – A One-Stop Shop of Free Resources
“We are a one-stop-shop where parents can find referrals to resources in our community, lists of childcare centers, and more,” said Taylor. “We work with our childcare centers to ensure high quality and offer training for teachers. We provide many programs for parents to be successful in the home with their children such as parenting classes, educational toys, and having quality books to create a love of reading prior to kindergarten.”

Programs funded by Smart Start of Davie County this year include:
● Child Care Health Consultant, a free health consulting service for legally operating childcare facilities
● Childcare Subsidy, a childcare scholarship program for families
● Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an early literacy program for children
● Parents as Teachers, an intensive, in-home, parent/child education program
● Nurturing Parenting Program, a ten-week parenting class
● Strengthening the Foundations of Quality, a technical assistance program for childcare providers
● Early Childhood Resource Center, a free toy and resource lending library for parents and childcare providers
● Reach Out and Read, an early literacy program championed by local pediatricians
● WAGE$, an educational incentive program for childcare providers

Smart Start of Davie County also offers a wealth of trainings throughout the year that all early childhood educators, parents, and community members are invited to join. These trainings are free of charge to Davie County residents, unless otherwise noted.  Register at Davie Smart Start Training Programs.

Smart Start Early Childhood Education Specialist and Literacy Coordinator Katie Speer helps Tommy MacCaull check out his toy kit

Smart Start Early Childhood Education Specialist and Literacy Coordinator Katie Speer helps Tommy MacCaull check out his toy kit

Parents as Teachers
One noteworthy initiative is Parents as Teachers (PAT), a comprehensive home-visiting, parent education program. This free service is available to all families from prenatal to five years of age or kindergarten start. Smart Start of Davie County is a Blue-Ribbon Affiliate, meaning the program follows the essential requirements of the model, which provide minimum expectations for program design, infrastructure, and service delivery.

“Sometimes it would be nice if a baby, toddler or preschooler came with a manual,” said Susan McBride, family support coordinator & parent educator. “Welcoming a newborn into the world is an overwhelming and cherished experience. After being discharged from the hospital the feeling of “now what” sets in quickly for many new parents. The Parents as Teachers program can help ease that transition.”

The PAT program allows trained Parent Educators to build relationships with families and offer invaluable tools to ready children for school starting as early as prenatal visits.

Parent Educators check baby milestones, bring developmental activities for parents to learn and get ideas from, and answer any questions and concerns. During the bi-weekly visits, Parent Educators reflect, engage and connect with families on topics that are at the center of the family. These topics could be nutrition, safe sleep, language development, parenting values, postpartum depression, or transitions to just name a few. The personal visits the family receive are customized for the needs of each family.

A new enhancement to the PAT program is LENA technology. The technology is an innovative standard for measuring talk with children, which is a critical factor in early brain development. LENA uses a small wearable device — often referred to as a “talk pedometer” — combined with cloud-based software to deliver detailed feedback that helps adults make proven, sustainable increases in interactive talk with children. Parent Educators introduced LENA to families in the spring of 2019 and there are currently 14 children participating.

“Our goal is to build strong protective factors to keep families healthy, strong and resilient while preparing children for success,” McBride said.

To learn more about the programs offered by Smart Start of Davie County visit, www.daviesmartstart.org or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. Smart Start is located at 1278 Yadkinville Road, Mocksville, NC 27028. Phone: (336) 751-2113.