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.”


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 or contact Dr. Tammy at

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; 

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

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, or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. Smart Start is located at 1278 Yadkinville Road, Mocksville, NC 27028. Phone: (336) 751-2113.

Davie Students Sharpening Literacy Skills at 2019 Read to Achieve Camp

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

Teachers engage with students during the combined camp opening session.

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

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

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

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

Teresa Carter teaches Hill Center reading session

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

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

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

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

Julie Marklin leads a small group literacy session

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

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

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

Karen Henson guides students through a Hill Center reading session

Karen Henson guides students through a Hill Center reading session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Marklin works with students during an art session

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

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

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

Tami Daniel works with students during an art session

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS Brings Letterland to Faith-Based Pre-K Classrooms Across Davie County

Deitre Junker, preschool teacher at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland Parade

Deitre Junker, preschool teacher at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland Parade

By Jeanna Baxter White
As the opening notes of the Letterland theme song began to play, fifty excited preschoolers dressed as their favorite Letterland character began to march in a slow circle around the churchyard. Annie Apple led the parade followed by Bouncy Ben, Clever Cat, and all of their fellow Letterland characters.

The students in Mocksville’s First United Methodist Church’s half-day preschool program were celebrating Letterland Day and the completion of the entire Letterland program, from Annie Apple to ZigZag Zebra.

“We went through a different letter each week and ended last week so today’s parade commemorated their experience,” said Allison Gupton, the preschool’s director. “Letterland has really helped a lot of them. We’ve seen so much growth and development, often from knowing nothing to knowing the characters, the songs, the sounds the letters make, and recognizing the letters. It’s been really neat to watch them evolve from thinking this is a character, like in a TV show, to knowing that it means something.”

Allison Gupton, preschool teacher at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland parade

Allison Gupton, preschool director at First United Methodist Church in Mocksville leads students in Letterland parade

Letterland is a phonics-based program that teaches students how to read, write, and spell. It 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.

Davie County Schools (DCS) began using this innovative literacy program for kindergarten through 2nd grade in 2004, and in preschool around 2007; but over time, materials wore out or were lost and newer teachers were not trained in the methodology.

Sherri Robinson, Pre-K teacher at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool watches as Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher, talks to students in “Peter Puppy” letterland costume.

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

When Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, and representatives from Davie County Schools began holding roundtable discussions to determine ways to move the needle in early childhood literacy, they quickly recognized the value of Letterland and decided to revitalize its usage.

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

From 2016-2018, the Mebane Foundation provided Letterland materials, software, and professional development for NC Pre-K to 2nd-grade classrooms in Davie County. This year, the program was expanded to include half-day faith-based programs, as well. Six preschool programs from the following churches participated: Bethlehem United Methodist Church, Center United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church of Mocksville, First United Methodist Church, Hillsdale Baptist Church, and Hillsdale Methodist Church.  Each received a Letterland for the Early Years curriculum kit, literacy training for their staff, and onsite coaching to support their literacy curriculum.

“One of the things we realized was that we had to create a continuum of educational interventions that started early and extended through the third grade,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation. “That’s the big difference with the DavieLEADS grant. We went down into the pre-k world. Normally, we would get the kids in kindergarten and then try to get them reading by the third grade. We decided to go deeper, and that’s a huge part of this project.”

Preschool teahers Donna Koontz (left) and Deitre Junker (right) with their class of 4-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville

Preschool teachers Donna Koontz (left) and Deitre Junker (right) with their class of 4-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

The approach has been successful. At the end of DavieLEADS’  first year, kindergarten readiness in Davie County has improved from 71 percent to 80 percent based on the Dial-4 screening assessment.

“It’s a fabulous idea to introduce Letterland at this level so that when the children get to kindergarten they don’t have to learn an entirely different concept,” said Sarah Watkins, preschool director at Hillsdale Baptist Church. “They were already learning the alphabet here in our program, but it’s even better if the program we are teaching is consistent with what is used in the elementary schools.”

“One of the coolest things has been when I’m talking to a child outside of class and they reference Peter Puppy or another character and some of the things they have learned. That is a highlight, it’s just wonderful!”

Preschool teachers Sherri Hendrix (left) and Susan Myers (right) with their class of 3 and 4-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

“As a private non-profit, Letterland is not something we could afford. Having the Mebane Foundation provide this training and the curriculum packet has been invaluable,” she added.  She hopes to find the money to purchase additional materials so that Letterland can be introduced to the younger classes next year.

First United Methodist was able to purchase a second Early Years curriculum kit which is being shared by the younger classes. “The children will be getting the foundation in the twos, we will build on it through the fours and then the possibilities are endless as they enter elementary school,” said Gupton.

“The children have been so excited and we’ve been pleased with their progress and what they’ve learned thanks to this partnership with the Mebane Foundation. It’s been a true blessing to be able to do this. The kids, the grownups, everyone enjoys Letterland, but most importantly, the kids are learning.”

Preschool teachers Susan Wall (left) and Holly Sinopoli (right) with their class of 3-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

Preschool teachers Susan Wall (left) and Holly Sinopoli (right) with their class of 3-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

In fact, many of Gupton’s students love the program so much that they asked for it for Christmas. “I was texting parents where we ordered our stuff from and it became a Christmas list item.”

Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher, said that coordinating the curriculum between private and public preschools ensures the same high-quality instruction no matter the preschool setting.

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.

“When they see Letterland again in kindergarten it makes them feel good by building familiarity when everything else is so new and gives them just a little boost,” said Nelson. “It’s a fabulous program, very multi-sensory, very appropriate for young children. Letters are so abstract, but when you link them to a character and a story, they become easier to understand.”

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

“When most people think about children identifying letters, they think about identifying the shape and saying the name of it,” Nelson explained. “But really the most important part of this for preschoolers is to identify the sound, whether or not they can attach it to a letter.  We teach children to train their ear to hear things in a different way which helps build phonological awareness.”

For Sherri Robinson, who teaches the pre-k class at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool, the transition to Letterland has been easy. She had already been teaching a similar program and all three of her children used Letterland in elementary school so she was already familiar with it.

“I love the program. I think it’s fabulous for the kids,” said Robinson, who has also taught kindergarten. “They love the characters which provides so much more meaning for them. Letterland is very engaging and keeps their interest. The materials are great! I like the big letter cards and the way that they can trace them with their finger. The program has songs to make it more playful. I also love the kinesthetic aspect of having a hand motion with each letter that allows children who can’t sit still to move. Letterland is the total package.”

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

Preschool teachers Susan Domanski (left) and Amanda Harris (right) with their class of 2-year-olds at FUMC preschool in Mocksville wearing Letterland character costumes

“I love early literacy, I think it is very, very important for a child’s development. They are like little sponges, the more you can engage them the more they just soak it up.”

Letterland has been a huge help,” said Deitre Junker, who has been teaching preschool at First United Methodist for 19 years. “I’ve been using something similar but this incorporates more of what they need in kindergarten. The kids have taken to it so well and love it. Every time we start playing the song or doing the motions they love it. All of the children know the characters and know the letters and will be able to transition easily into using the same program in kindergarten.”

Lucas Crotts, a student in Ms. Junker’s class at First United Methodist Church Preschool wearing a “Zig-Zag Zebra” Letterland character costume

Lucas Crotts was happy to demonstrate.“I love Clever Cat and ZigZag Zebra, they are my favorite Letterland characters. I learned them from Mrs. Deitre.” He quickly went on to name every character and letter in the alphabet and made its sound and showed each hand motion.  

His favorite thing about Letterland? “I like to learn about all of the characters and I love to get my coloring books and draw them.”

Junker believes kindergarten won’t be such a shock to them and they will be ready and ahead of the game. “I also think it could help them academically in the long run.”

“Parents love it! Some of the children have siblings already in school doing Letterland and the parents love that we are starting it here, too. The siblings are having conversations about Letterland. It’s a win-win for everyone!”

Cognitive ToyBox – Achieving Early Literacy in Davie County

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Colt Sexton completes an assessment with Cognitive ToyBox

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County Schools is continuing to make strides in addressing key challenges to kindergarten readiness. Through DavieLEADS, a partnership with the Mebane Foundation, Davie County Schools has had the unique opportunity to pilot solutions that can move the needle in early childhood education.

From the outset, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher, identified the need for better assessment tools. In seeking an assessment tool that was less subjective and more objective, they 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.  Now in their second year of using the tool, both administrators and teachers have found it to be effective in addressing their assessment needs.

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

“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.

Cognitive ToyBox enables 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. For the 2018-2019 school year, the goal was to familiarize teachers with the data-driven instructional planning opportunities available through using this assessment data.

Central Davie PreSchool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Central Davie preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Key to this model was the strong collaboration between Nelson and the school system’s NC Pre-K teachers. Nelson also coached a subset of NC Pre-K teachers located in childcare programs. They discussed how to review and use their assessment data to differentiate learning opportunities based on children’s progress.

“Throughout the course of the year, teachers became more comfortable with using the reports on their own to make decisions on small group instruction on a weekly basis,” shared Nelson.

“I really enjoy using Cognitive ToyBox in my classroom with my students,” said Felicia McClamrock, who teaches NC Pre-K at Central Davie and was one of the three DCS teachers who piloted the program last year. “It is a great program for our children, and they enjoy using it. It is also easy for them to use. The program helps me know what level my students are on, what they know, and what they need to work on. It helps me to know who needs more individual attention in certain areas, and I learned that some of the students that I thought had mastered certain skills were the ones that needed the extra help.”

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

“I like that it is aligned with what I am teaching and it helps me spend less time doing assessments, and I can use the data from the assessments and get exactly what I need for meetings, report cards and teaching in the classroom,” McClamrock added.

The time-savings stems from a reduction in typing and paperwork. Traditionally, teachers would need to write notes on each child and then type them into a digital system after class. Cognitive ToyBox’s game-based assessments automate that process by automatically collecting the data and organizing it into reports and recommendations for teachers.

In addition to the time she saves using the assessments, Josey Redinger, who teaches at Central Davie and was part of the pilot program, also appreciates the teacher-led portion of the platform. “It allows me to reinforce concepts again and again.”

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as pre-k student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as preschool student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Meredith Koeval, NC Pre-K teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, agrees that Cognitive ToyBox has the potential to be a good tool for assessments and said she appreciates that it keeps data all in one place and tends to be faster than her own teacher-created assessments. “This tool helps me keep more data on students throughout the year so I can track their progress better. Sometimes, though, I can tell children are just randomly guessing when they complete the independent portion of the game, which does not lead to an accurate assessment. When I am working hands on doing the teacher-led portion, I do not have that issue.”

Administrators also found value from the platform. “We have had some differentiation of instruction challenges in the past year, and the Cognitive ToyBox reports helped us to keep abreast of progress towards our school readiness goals,” said Nuckolls.

The data has also enabled the DCS team to improve their instruction at the program level. “The data has been valuable in conversations with teachers about student growth, state standards, and assessment practices,” said Nelson.

In preparation for Year 3 of DavieLEADS, district leaders are looking into ways to ease the transition for students between preschool and kindergarten. Cognitive ToyBox data is being incorporated into other student assessment data that will be shared with kindergarten teachers over the summer. Kindergarten teachers can then use the reports and recommendations to get a head start in planning for the upcoming year.

“We could not have asked for a better partner than DCS,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox. “Thanks to their ongoing feedback over the past two years, Cognitive ToyBox has been considerably improved, not only for NC Pre-K providers but for all early childhood education providers.”

Kids Visit Davie Elementary Schools During Pre-K Transition Field Trips – DavieLEADS

By Jeanna Baxter White

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round” …. Just ask the NC Pre-K students from Almost Home Child Care who recently rode a school bus to William R. Davie Elementary School for a tour as they prepare to enter kindergarten this fall.  For many, it was the first time on a bus and the first time in an elementary school.

“The transition from preschool to kindergarten can be one of the most significant events a young child experiences,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools, who organized the field trips.  “Many emotions characterize this moment; excitement, fear, happiness, anxiety, surprise and a sense of being overwhelmed are a few of the emotions children and families might feel. However, with careful advance preparation and planning, this transition can be a successful milestone for the child. DavieLEADS is giving thoughtful and deliberate attention to this process in many ways.  One way is by creating these transition field trips for students attending NC Pre-K classrooms that are located in child care settings.”

DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), is a five-year early literacy initiative created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading proficiency.

Through the initiative, collaborative work with NC Pre-K classrooms located in private child care settings has been progressing with the goal of creating educational opportunities equitable to the educational opportunities the students in public school NC Pre-K classrooms receive. While all NC Pre-K classrooms, regardless of location, meet the same state guidelines and provide the same curriculum, students attending NC Pre-K in public school settings get an opportunity to gain familiarity and comfort in the elementary school setting before attending kindergarten.

The field trip included a tour of the school conducted by William R. Davie NC Pre-K teachers, Margaret Steele and Alisa Allen, and the opportunity to join their class for a story and a Letterland activity in the gym.

“We hope that when the students come back next year and see a familiar face within the staff, it will really help,” Nelson said. “The teachers and kids have loved it, and the administrators of the child care centers have been very thankful for this opportunity through the grant from the Mebane Foundation.”

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round!

Sabrina Lever, an NC Pre-K teacher at Almost Home Child Care, said, “I value that our Pre-K students have this opportunity to explore an elementary school and the kindergarten classrooms. The whole experience of the children getting to ride a bus, visit the cafeteria, gymnasium, media center, and computer lab was educational and extremely fun for them. Now they can visualize Kindergarten when we are talking about it. This experience has helped them developmentally by preparing them for what’s to come. They know more of what to expect and now have a better understanding of what it means to be a Kindergartner.”

In addition to familiarizing the students with elementary school, the tours provided another opportunity for the NC Pre-K teachers from the private sites to connect with their counterparts at the schools to build the professional community.

The participating NC Pre-K classrooms included Almost Home Child Care, LLC, Kountry Kids Learning Center & Preschool, Mocksville Head Start, Mudpies Child Development Center, and Young Children’s Learning Center. The participating elementary schools and public NC Pre-K classrooms included Cooleemee, Cornatzer, Mocksville, Pinebrook, and William R. Davie Elementary Schools.

The students who have completed their field trip have been excited to see their elementary school.  During one recent field trip to Pinebrook Elementary School, a student from Mocksville Head Start excitedly told the bus driver, Susan Pifer, “This is the best day of my life!.”

Apseed ~ Supporting our Youngest Readers

Young child using Apseed Seedling

By Jeanna Baxter White

“We aren’t looking for advocates anymore, we are looking for accomplices and we have them in Davie County,” says Greg Alcorn, founder of ApSeed Early Childhood Education. “The Mebane Foundation has been the rockstar of all partners for ApSeed.”

The Mebane Foundation and ApSeed Early Childhood Education joined forces last spring to increase literacy scores among at-risk children in Davie County by providing a free e-Reader preloaded with applications designed to help children start school kindergarten-ready. From music that will soothe a newborn to games that teach simple spelling and math, the tablet’s carefully selected apps meet the developmental needs of children from birth to kindergarten.

“ApSeed strives to help children stay age proficient at home, so they can be grade proficient in school,” said Alcorn. “Our goal is to provide a Seedling to every socioeconomically disadvantaged child 0-4 years old. We believe the ApSeed Project will level the playing field while also being a tool for real and lasting enrichment.”

Through a $105,000 grant from the Foundation, almost 1,000 custom-built tablets, called Seedlings, have been distributed free of charge to children 0-4 whose families are enrolled in the WIC program through the Davie County Department of Public Health, Parents as Teachers through Smart Start of Davie County, or Davie County’s NC Pre-K program.

“We’re always on the lookout for best practices and resources to support our youngest readers, with this partnership and with the Seedling I believe we’ve hit a home run!” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation.

Colbourne believes the Seedling is a valuable tool to support DavieLEADS, a five-year early literacy initiative funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The initiative seeks to improve kindergarten readiness from 70% to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

Children using Apseed Seedlingz

In order to receive a Seedling, parents must provide their email address and agree to complete a short, five-question survey which is emailed every 90 days. ApSeed measures the results of the surveys in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Seedling and to continue perfecting its programming. Questions include 1. How are you using the Seedling? 2. How much per day? What is your child’s favorite app? 4. What is your child learning? 5. What is the Seedling doing for you as a parent?

It is too early to make research-based conclusions in Davie County, but Alcorn said the ApSeed internal survey results have been favorable and no one has expressed that their child has experienced boredom or burnout with the device.

Responses have included: “At first he couldn’t say the alphabet but now he can use ALL of the letters,” “likes tracking letters and is trying to learn to spell words,” “the twins were born early and their speech is behind but now they are catching up,” “I can hear her singing with the tablet,” and “plays with it until the battery is dead.”

Usage by age has been consistent with Rowan County. Children begin with the music app and transition to letters and numbers as they get older. ApSeed’s analysis for Davie County explained the progression.

“Under the age of one, the music player (Pulsar) app is used the most. Pulsar can play songs over and over, meaning the Seedling can allow the infant to listen to pleasant music. Since the parent/caregiver is operating the Seedling, bonding is the most helpful value the Seedling does for the family.

Age one shows a significant increase in the child focusing. Favorite apps become shapes and colors. The brain is forming allowing the child to want to focus. Another striking development is the parent/caregiver is teaching their child. Now the child is a little less dependent on the parent/caregiver but just enough to be taught. At this stage, the child is learning how to learn to read.

Ages two and three show an amazing increase in learning colors and shapes. Parents notice this as well. The child is learning to read. Therefore, bonding decreases because the child is more independent.

At age four children use the 123 Numbers and ABC Kids apps the most because they have already learned the colors and shapes. These apps encourage tracing letters and numbers, so the children are learning to write. We have observed children tracing their letters on the Seedling, then grabbing a piece of paper to try to replicate what they just learned demonstrating the child is ready to learn to read. The Seedling is so familiar by age four that it is very easy to use. At this stage, the child is ready to enter Kindergarten at the age proficiency of the other children.”

Based on what ApSeed has learned, the apps are arranged on the tablet in age-proficiency order. Alcorn says this will help parents help their child be kindergarten-ready. Ideally, a child should spend about 400 hours over the four years using the Seedling.

Apseed Seedling

“Students less than 50% proficient in school are less likely to catch up. It’s too late when a child is in the 8th month of third grade to expect them to be able to make up for six years of not being close to age proficient and to expect them to pass the end-of-grade reading test. That’s what we are charged up about, helping children get to where they are supposed to be.”

ApSeed is now brainstorming ways to increase parent/caregiver response rates. “We want to figure out if there are additional things we should be doing to reach out to parents to find out how well the Seedling is working for their child since the response rate to our surveys is about 25%,” said Alcorn. “Most would say that’s a great return but it’s not to me. We want to be able to take a comprehensive look at the other 75% in order to know if the responses we are getting from the 25% are representative of the children as a whole.”

“We want to identify any additional needs the children might have because we have room for more apps. We also have six tutorial videos about operating the device that we’d like to get to parents.”

ApSeed also hopes to expand its social media presence so that everyone learns about the benefits of the Seedling. “The ideal situation would be to have every parent/caregiver and every person involved in the child’s life on our Facebook so that they support each other and get guidance from each other.”

“Eventually, we would like to get to where the Seedling is recognized as valuable for all of North Carolina so that it can be distributed through public funding instead of just private funding, that’s our next goal.”

Alcorn may soon get his wish. Representatives Horn, Warren, Lucas, and Howard have sponsored a bill to the North Carolina General Assembly recommending that the  Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development and Early Education, establish a three-year pilot project to implement the ApSeed program in Forsyth, Hoke, New Hanover, Watauga, and Yadkin Counties beginning in July 2019.

To learn more about the history of ApSeed in Davie County please visit

ApSeed Early Childhood Education is privately funded through foundations and donations. For more information about ApSeed visit or call (980) 643-0451.

The evolution of Davie County’s elementary schools

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on Education NC (EdNC –The evolution of Davie County’s elementary schools) and is republished here with permission.

A student at Mocksville Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

A student at Mocksville Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

With the help of the Mebane Foundation, Davie County has embarked on a mission to improve reading in its elementary schools.  Yesterday, EducationNC talked about the success the DavieLEADS grant has had in helping turn around Cooleemee Elementary, but the initiative is active throughout the other area elementary schools as well.

DavieLEADS is a five-year, $2.5 million grant, with a specific goal to get kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022. It began in the 2017-18 school year and the success is already starting to show. After the 2017-18 End-of-Grade test results were announced, the county discovered it had moved up from 45th to 17th out of all 115 districts in the state for third-grade reading proficiency.

Mocksville Elementary is another school that has seen impressive gains from the initiative. When the 2017-18 EOG results were announced, the school found out its grade-level proficiency in third grade had increased to 64.9 percent from 52.9 percent the year before. Teachers and staff who work at the school attribute that to many things, but it’s not hard to draw a direct line to the work of DavieLEADS.


Liz Bell/EducationNC

Madison Wyatt and Suzanne Doub, both third grade teachers at the school, point to the work of the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) from last year.

PLCs are essentially where teachers can get together at the school to discuss the standards they’re working with in the classrooms and get a better grasp on how to teach to them. The focus of the schools working under DavieLEADS last year were these PLCs, while this year they are focusing on implementing guided reading.

Wyatt said that the PLCs last year focused on understanding and breaking down the standards so that teachers knew how to really teach them.

“Really, honestly, you can be handsome on a standard … but what are you teaching and how are you teaching it?” she said.

Wyatt explained how she might go about teaching one particular standard: making connections in a text through sentences and paragraphs.

That standard includes a lot of different skills, such as compare and contrast, cause and effect, and understanding sequences. She said she would start out with fiction reading, because it’s easier for teaching cause and effect and compare and contrast. She would focus on one skill in a week, say compare and contrast. The next week, the students would move on to cause and effect, but meanwhile, she would also be looping back to the skill they learned the week before. She does that with each new skill set, introducing a new one while revisiting prior ones. She said that prior to the PLCs, standards were taught far differently.

Shady Grove Elementary Schools. Liz Bell/EducationNC

“We would just say, here’s our standard, we’re going to teach this standard,” she said. “And we would not have thought and processed it like we have.”

Doub said another part of the PLCs last year was getting a firmer grasp on where kids were coming from and where they needed to go.

“We also looked at vertical alignment,” she said. “What are the kids coming to us with, and what do we need to prepare them with for fourth grade?”

For Meaghan Irons, this is her first year at Mocksville teaching third grade. But watching her more veteran colleagues, she is not at a loss for why the school has improved.

“Being the new kid on the block, I can definitely see how they got here,” she said. “They literally come in every week and break apart every standard.”

She said the support she has gotten in Davie County has been phenomenal, and that’s thanks in part to the literacy coaches and professional consultants brought in using funds from DavieLEADS.

“I have literally probably gotten more support and more training in the last year I’ve been here than I got in the last five years at my last school,” she said.

Different schools in Davie County have different levels of needs and resources, and sometimes it doesn’t pay to be well off. While Mocksville and Cooleemee are both Title I schools, meaning that at least 40 percent of the children in the school are low-income, Shady Grove Elementary School is not. That comes with certain advantages, but also some disadvantages. Title I schools are eligible for federal funds that can help with school programs, but Shady Grove doesn’t get any of that extra money. For Shady Grove Principal Sarah Maier, DavieLEADs has helped fill in that gap.

“The level of support that you get is amazing,” she said.

She previously worked in Davidson County where she was most recently at a non-Title I school. There was no reading specialist or instructional coach. Any new programs or initiatives that were introduced were the responsibility of her and her assistant principal to implement.

Guided reading lesson at Shady Grove Elementary Schools. Liz Bell/EducationNC

“Coming from that to a non-Title I school that has a half-time instructional coach … also the help with implementing guided reading. I can see them implementing the … plan in what took our school in Davidson four years; they’re doing it in three months,” she said. “Because they have coaches in there helping them. If you don’t have coaches in there it’s harder to get that implementation as quickly.”

Guided reading, the centerpiece of Davie County’s strategy this year, is part of what’s called a balanced literacy approach, and here’s how it works.

There are different elements that are rotated. One is where a teacher reads aloud from a text that is above grade level. Here, students are just listening. Then there is teacher-directed reading. That is grade-level text that each student is holding or viewing via projection.

“Whether they are on grade level or above grade level, that is their window into how to read grade-level text,” said Nancy Scoggin, one of the consultants who came in to work under the DavieLEADS grant. She said this is the portion where standards are explicitly taught.

Then there is guided reading. These are small groups of students reading texts at their instructional level with the help of the teacher.

“It’s all about the mistakes that they’re making, so that we can see what to do next,” Scoggin said.

These components, combined with writing and working with words, comprise what is called balanced literacy, and they are the components of the guided reading model Davie County is using.

In the video below, Kelly McGilvary, a third grade teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, explains guided reading and what it looks like in her classroom.

The model of guided reading used in Davie County is based on the work of literacy expert Jan Richardson. Schools may say they’re using a guided reading method, but not all strategies are created equal.

Julie Fletcher is a third grade teacher at Mocksville. She has been teaching for 22 years, but this is only her third year teaching third grade. Prior to that, she was a second grade teacher. She said implementing the Jan Richardson model has been a huge change.

“I’ve taught guided reading lessons for years and years, but we’ve never done it in this way,” she said, adding later, “I can see a big difference. And like I said, this is my third year, you know, so just in two years it’s a big change.”

Kids use shaving cream to practice spelling at Shady Grove Elementary School. Liz Bell/EducationNC

The foundation of reading is understanding how words work, and that’s where Letterland comes into play. This is a phonics-based program that aims to teach students aged 3 to 8 how to read, write, and spell. Letterland played an integral role in helping improve Cooleemee, but it’s also implemented throughout Davie County’s elementary schools.

Students at Shady Grove Elementary get a lesson on letters via Letterland. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Amy Spade, a literacy coach at Shady Grove Elementary, is a huge champion of Letterland and its efficacy in helping make kids literate.

“Letterland is like a small island that all these Letterland characters live on. So all the letters become characters,” she said. For example, A is Annie Apple. “The kids meet these characters to learn their letters and sounds, how to spell, how to read,” Spade continued.

In the video below, Spade goes in depth into Letterland.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, spends a lot of time visiting the schools his organization is helping. He enjoys seeing the academic progress the schools are making, but especially at this early stage (not even two years in), he’s even more excited at how staff are responding to the changes being made.

“What I’ve seen in the way the teachers, the leadership, and the community has rallied around this initiative, is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve tried many partnerships with large dollar amounts and large initiatives, but this thing right now is as good as it gets.”

The journey to third graders reading on grade level begins long before third grade, however. It even starts before kindergarten, and that’s where the other part of the DavieLEADS plan comes into play. As mentioned before, one of the goals of the grant is to increase kindergarten readiness in the county from 70 percent to 90 percent, and that means working in preschools.

More on that coming soon.

DavieLEADS gives Cooleemee Elementary a boost

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on February 27, 2019 on Education NC (EdNC – DavieLEADS gives Cooleemee Elementary a boost) and is republished here with permission.

Davie County Public Schools got some good news last year. After the 2017-18 End-of-Grade test results were announced, the county discovered it had moved up from 45th to 17th out of all 115 districts in the state for third-grade reading proficiency. Cooleemee Elementary was singled out in those results for moving into the top 4 percent of all elementary schools in the state for academic growth.

This growing success in the district is being bolstered by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency in the third grade. It’s called DavieLEADS, and it’s a five-year grant with a specific goal to get kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest celebrates Cooleemee Elementary becoming one of the top four percent elementary schools in the state for academic growth. Courtesy of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Facebook page.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest celebrates Cooleemee Elementary becoming one of the top four percent elementary schools in the state for academic growth. Courtesy of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Facebook page.

That’s the big picture, but the changes happen on the ground, and walking around Cooleemee Elementary, you can feel the excitement buzzing in the hallways.

In the second year of the grant, Cooleemee is focused on guided reading. This combines writing, phonics, word-work, and other lessons together in specialized groups that focus on specific children and the reading levels they’re on. For instance, you may see a group of kids gathered at a table with a teacher, reading a specific book. That book will be one that is suitable to the reading level those children are on. The teacher will do a lesson with them, and then that group will be replaced with a different set of students reading a different book suitable for their specific reading level.

“It’s taking all the components children need to read — balanced literacy — and putting together the components,” said Cynthia Stone, the principal of the school.

The work this year follows on the foundation set last year when Cooleemee focused on Professional Learning Communities (PLC). That’s essentially where teachers can get together at the school to discuss the standards they’re working with in the classrooms and get a better grasp on how to teach to them. Kerry Blackwelder, a reading specialist who has been at Cooleemee for 23 years, said those PLCs were essential.

“Reading a standard and telling [teachers] what to do and having them do it is different than all of us coming together and talking about it and understanding it,” she said. “I’ve been a reading teacher for a long time, and I felt like I knew my standards. I didn’t know my standards like I should have. So I feel like I’m a better teacher because I understand what I need to ask my kids and do with my kids for them to understand that standard.”

Pre-K student at Cooleemee Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Pre-K student at Cooleemee Elementary School in Davie County. Liz Bell/EducationNC


The money from DavieLEADs includes funding for two literacy coaches and two professional consultants in the district. Those consultants were instrumental in helping lead PLCs last year, which put Cooleemee and other schools on a firm footing to focus on guided reading this year.

“When we were trying to run PLCs ourselves, we didn’t really have the training,” said Amy Stokes, another reading specialist at the school. “We made strides, but it’s been just so much more cohesive.”

She said the PLCs and the work under DavieLEADS has made a big difference because the staff of the school all feel like they have a common purpose.

“We’re following our standards, we’re all working together, and everyone is collaborating and working together to help our students grow,” she said.

Nancy Scoggin was one of the consultants who came in to work under the DavieLEADS grant. She was assigned Cooleemee, which she said was already ahead of the curve when she arrived. The grant lasts only five years, and after that the school will have to find a way to keep the gains they’ve made in that time. Scoggin said they are well positioned to do so because they have collaborated in such a way that teachers at every grade level have their fingers on the pulses of their students.

“When we talk about sustainability … every grade level is aware of what the next grade level is dealing with,” she said. “They use every single piece of data in this school that they possibly can. It’s not done with a ‘gotcha.’ It’s done with ‘let’s look at where we are. How do we need to arrange the schedule to use every single person in this building to get every inch of growth that we can?’”

One of the keys to knowing the kids is working with them in small groups during the guided reading sessions. Entering a classroom, you may see a teacher reading a sentence over and over again, substituting one word and asking the students if it makes sense.

Another tool you’ll see in classrooms is Letterland. This is a phonics-based program that aims to teach students aged 3 to 8 how to read, write, and spell. Letterland has 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.

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Of course, all of this reading and learning wouldn’t be possible without books, and Cooleemee has a lot, thanks in part to funds from the Mebane Foundation. About six years ago, Stone and others were building a book room in a small space at the school. Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, came over and asked how he could help.

Now the room is huge, with books for every conceivable reading level.

“The teacher can come and pull resources on that level specific to what the student needs,” Stone said.

Stone said that one of the things she appreciates most about DavieLEADS is flexibility. Colbourne is a familiar face around the school, and if teachers or leaders need an adjustment to how they use the money from the grant, they can talk directly to him and work it out. She also appreciates that the grant isn’t just about getting teachers new resources or lesson plans. It’s about showing them how to teach differently, and hopefully, more effectively.

“My teachers are getting skill sets,” Stone said. “They’re not just getting a material to consume.”

Editor’s Note: The Mebane Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.


The Mebane Foundation leads Davie County schools into the future

Note: This article, by EdNC staff, was originally published on February 26, 2019 on Education NC (EdNC – The Mebane Foundation leads Davie County Schools into the future) and is republished here with permission.

Larry Colbourne, Mebane Foundation, listening and learning from the team at Book Harvest.

Larry Colbourne, Mebane Foundation, listening and learning from the team at Book Harvest.

As part of the EdNC series on early-grade literacy, EdNC is focusing on what Davie County is doing to improve kindergarten readiness and reading for students by third grade. Part of the strategy Davie County Schools is using involves funding from the Mebane Foundation, which has launched a five-year, $2.5 million initiative called DavieLEADS. We’ll be talking a lot about DavieLEADS this week, but first, here’s a Q & A with Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne to kick things off. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Q: Tell me a little bit about how the Mebane Foundation has been intervening in schools in Davie County historically.
A: Since its beginning in 1998, the Mebane Foundation has been actively involved in numerous initiatives in Davie County. Many of those revolved around literacy interventions and helping kids reach their potential before third grade. The Foundation supported the Hill Center as it developed HillRAP and other programs that made its product even better and purchased Smart Boards and other technology for the school system to try and help teachers do their jobs better. Since I joined the Foundation in 2007, we have continued to be literacy driven. For a while, we veered away onto a professional development model, which wasn’t a bad thing, because we partnered with more county schools as well as the Mooresville Graded School District. However, we came back together as a board in 2016 and said, “Okay, is this a direction we want to keep going in? Professional development is important, but do we want to go back to our roots, which is literacy?” And what came out of that whole process was, “Yes, we do.”

Q: How did that lead into DavieLEADS?
A: It all began with a report I read by Dr. Jim Goodnight of the SAS Institute for the Business Roundtable. He was getting ready to make recommendations to the state about what needed to be done to help children with literacy. The report included six recommendations, and as I read them, I thought, “You know, that’s exactly what my board is talking about, those six bullet points. Why couldn’t we do this?” Their recommendation was to go to the state, and hopefully get some movement there to try to support some of the recommendations. I said, “You know what? Why don’t we try and partner with a school system and see if we can’t prove this out.”

Several of the bullet points were similar to initiatives the Foundation had worked on individually in the past. It made sense to combine them together and to propose a partnership with one school system. We were already in Davie County and had all of the resources and all of the connections, so we decided to try to make a go of it. I sat down with Dr. Hartness, the superintendent, and I said, “Dr. Hartness, do you think based on what we’re seeing here, we can move the needle in Davie County in the next five years?” And that’s how it all started that January.

And then we met many, many times. It was called the Mebane roundtable and included senior leadership from the school system, top teachers in the area, and some folks with Smart Start and other groups. We came up with this plan and presented it to the board in April 2017. DavieLEADS was based around what we had seen in that business roundtable, “Why Reading Matters and What to do About It. And when I look at how we’re executing it, it really does match up with those six policy recommendations.

Q: Give me a high-level view of what DavieLEADS is.
A: When we got together in the Spring of 2017 we said, “What are the one or two most important things for getting kids ready and able to read after third grade?” The first thing, we all knew, was pre-K, and making sure that all children show up to kindergarten ready. Our first metric became kindergarten readiness scores. At that time we were at 70 percent ready. We decided push for 90 percent in a five year span. That became our first goal.

We then decided to vertically align kindergarten readiness with third-grade EOG (End of Grade) scores. At that time, Davie County was at 60 percent reading proficiency and the best district in the state was at 80 percent. Our second goal became increasing reading proficiency from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022, which would put Davie County at number one in the state based on that year’s numbers. Those were the two metrics we decided to use. In the past, we’ve started with kids in kindergarten and tried to have them reading by the third grade. This time we decided to go deeper, back to the pre-K world, which is a huge part of this project.

Q: How is the funding used with DavieLEADS?
A: A lot of the funding has been for professional development to help the teachers. We brought in two consultants and hired two K-3 literacy coaches. It’s their role for the next five years to ensure the fidelity of the program that we’re trying to implement in the six elementary schools. We also hired a pre-K teacher coach to help vertically align what all the pre-K’s are doing, not just the ones in the school system but also the private facilities. When the children show up for kindergarten, we want them to have all had access to the same things taught in a school-based NC Pre-K program.

The consultants also worked with the leadership and teachers at each school to build PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) that provide teachers the opportunity to meet on a weekly basis to discuss how things are going and to ensure that the program is being implemented with fidelity.

Q: How do you feel it is going so far?
A: I try not to get too caught up in the results, but the first year’s results were phenomenal! Davie County Schools went from 45th to 17th in the state in 3rd grade reading proficiency. We’ve seen a 4 percent increase in our EOGs, and a 10 percent increase in kindergarten readiness scores, but more importantly, and what really makes me happy, is to listen to teachers talk and know that there has been a cultural shift. So I think it’s going great. All that being said, who knows?

I have no idea what the new cohort coming through this year looks like. I’ve learned over time that cohorts are often very different and last year’s might have been an “A” team coming through. But what I’ve seen in the way the teachers, the leadership, and the community has rallied around this initiative, is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. We’ve tried many partnerships with large dollar amounts and large initiatives, but this thing right now is as good as it gets.

Q: How do you make this sustainable after the money from the Mebane Foundation is gone?
A: When Mr. Mebane was alive and I started working with him, our goal was to provide funding for three years. We would inject a lot of capital, prove a model, and then hope either the county school system or someone else would say, “Wow, this thing worked, let’s go ahead and take over the funding for the remainder and sustain this through time.”

Deep down, that’s still what we want to do. Basically, the budget comes down to about $400,000 a year in year five. From my perspective, I don’t think we will be able to live by that model where we pull out totally. If 2022 rolls around and we’ve moved the needle by like 15 points over a five-year period, I would hope the local municipality in Davie County would say, “Okay that’s huge. We need to go ahead and pony up a little as well,” but we haven’t had those conversations yet. As the Mebane Foundation, I would say, listen, we’re not going to back away. Let’s look at what it would cost the state. Maybe we can split the difference. We know if we’re going to sustain, the school system is going to need additional money, and in this environment, it’s difficult to find those funds. Although we’re not going to walk away totally, we would hope in good faith, whether it’s Davie County or anywhere else we’d partner with, that once leadership at the county level sees these types of gains, they would jump in and say we’ll pay some here.