Make and Take – DavieLEADS Supporting Early Literacy Teachers in Davie County Schools

Katherine Johnson and Pam Cope make sight word games

By Jeanna Baxter White
For two hours on a Monday afternoon, the Central Davie gym resembled a workshop. Seated at long tables, teachers were talking and laughing while cutting word strips, sorting and bagging colored squares, and taping the edges of shower board to create small whiteboards.

The teachers were attending one of three “make and take” sessions organized by Davie County Schools to support its elementary school teachers and to provide them with valuable tools to assist with this year’s DavieLEADS focus on guided reading.

DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) was created in 2017 through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Isabelle Clark, Sierra Tardell, Landon Murphy, Nathalie Hernadez, Kierra Craig Students in Mrs. Brooks’ 1st grade writing stories using sticker stories

Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction.

During guided reading, the teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can read similar levels of texts. The other students in the class work on literacy activities independently or in pairs while they wait for their turn to work with their teacher. High quality, hands-on activities fuel literacy development while keeping students engaged so that teachers can focus uninterrupted on reading with their small groups.

Susan Shepherd and DavieLEADS consultant Barbie Brown, working on a compound word activity

Grant funds were used to cover the cost of the supplies, and DavieLEADS Consultants Barbie Brown and Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coaches Renee Hennings-Gonzalez and Amy Spade created and assembled six to eight activities specifically for each grade level. There were separate sessions for kindergarten and first grade, and second and third grades were combined.

Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for Davie County Schools, said the idea to host the make and take sessions came from discussions she and Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction, had with teachers about the challenges they were experiencing with guided reading and the resources they needed.

“We wanted teachers to know that they had been heard, and it was important for us to find ways to help meet their needs as we moved forward,” said Haynes. “Make and take sessions are not something districts can normally provide; however, we knew that they would be a practical but POWERFUL way to support and encourage teachers.”

make and take use

“Our consultants and literacy coaches invested a lot of time and effort into putting each of the activities together,” said Lynde. “Teachers didn’t just come and learn something that they had to go back and find the time and supplies to create themselves. They were able to take what they learned and apply it immediately, which has been very beneficial. Another benefit was the opportunity to talk and share ideas while being together during these sessions.”

At each station, teachers were able to make something to use at their guided reading table or something their students could use at their literacy stations.

“For every station we’ve assembled, we’ve tried to find things that would be appropriate for maintaining a level of independence for the kids so that the teacher can focus on what she is doing,”  said Hennings-Gonzalez.

One station had word sheets and cookie sheets that students could use with magnetic letters to practice making words, digraphs, and blends, while others offered phonics activities and games to practice sight words.

Teachers prepped “sticker stories” and “squiggle stories” where students write about the character on the sticker using vocabulary words printed on the card or turn a squiggle into an illustration and write about it.

Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach, with retell hand

A favorite station was the “retell hand” station. Teachers began by stuffing a garden glove and attaching a paint stick to it. Then they hot-glued storytelling clues to each of the fingers — characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, and the heart of the story in the palm. Students can use the hand to help them retell stories.

To maximize the budget as well as the value of the make and take tools, each activity was designed to be used in multiple ways over an extended period of time. The activities are also being uploaded to a website so that teachers can share other ideas they come up with for using the materials.

Sixty-three teachers attended a make and take session and they were glad they did.

“This make and take is really important because it is hard to find hands-on tools and to have the money to go purchase them,” said Sherry Wooten, a 1st-grade teacher at Cornatzer Elementary. “Having something that is already put together and ready for me to use in my classroom the next day means a lot to me.”

Nikki Whiteheart, a 1st-grade teacher at Cooleemee Elementary, said, “This session has been great because it’s provided us so many new ideas we might not have come up with on our own. I can’t wait to watch my kids use these hands-on activities and really engage with learning to read.”

Ismael Barrera, LaFaith Hall, students in Mrs. Boger’s class working on sight words

“I love having resources!” said Cindy Boger, a 1st-grade teacher at Cornatzer. “These tools will be valuable for my different literacy stations because they can be used multiple ways and are differentiated according to skill levels.”

“The 2nd and 3rd-grade session had to be postponed because of weather,” said Lynde  “We actually had additional teachers call or email to sign-up because they saw the tools their kindergarten and 1st-grade colleagues made, and they decided they wanted to attend, as well.”

“Gathering all of the supplies and finding the time to create materials can be so frustrating,” said Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach at Cornatzer Elementary. “Seeing teachers so excited about their new materials and listening to them brainstorm how they are going to use them has been so rewarding. This is such a timesaver for our teachers and I’m glad to see so many of them capitalizing on the opportunity.”

“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of research and a lot of time,” added Hennings-Gonzalez, “so it’s nice to see teachers walking away smiling and feeling supported.”

Pam Cope, a kindergarten teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, summed it up well in a post-event thank you note, “You guys really organized a wonderful make and take. I felt like it was still Christmas. That was one of the most helpful things you could have done for us. I got home feeling VERY supported and encouraged. Thank you for all the work that went into making today’s session great. I was tired when I got home, but it was a GOOD tired.”

DavieLEADS ~ Guided Reading “Often Becomes Their Favorite Part of The Day”

Davie Elementary teachers attend “Guided Reading” workshops

By Jeanna Baxter White
It’s 7:45 a.m. on Monday, November 12th, and hundreds of Davie County Schools’ teachers and administrators are filing into Davie County High School for Davie Experience 6, a full day of workshops and collaborative sessions designed to provide professional development for all certified staff in the district.

A key workshop for elementary teachers focuses on guided reading, an instructional approach in which a teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can all read similar levels of texts. The text is on the student’s instructional level and is easy enough to read with some fluency, but also offers challenges and opportunities for problem-solving.

Guided reading is a component of a balanced literacy framework for reading instruction, which also includes reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students. The balanced literacy approach, as adopted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction strikes a balance between phonics and comprehension and is a way to teach all elements of English language arts instruction. It is designed to meet the needs of all readers and to inspire an authentic love and appreciation for reading among students. The other components of this framework are read aloud, shared reading, independent reading, word study, and writing.

Davie  Elementary teachers attend “Guided Reading” workshops

This year, guided reading is the professional development focus of the DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) initiative, which was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools. The grant also provides funding for all elementary schools to develop a guided reading room filled with sets of leveled readers that will continue to be expanded throughout the initiative.

DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown provides Guided Reading instruction

DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown and Literacy Coach Amy Spade facilitated the guided reading workshop for teachers who have students in the Pre-A, Emergent, and Early lesson plans while Consultant Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coach Renee Hennings-Gonzalez conducted a training session for teachers with students in the Early, Transitional, and Fluent lesson plans.

“Before the workshop, we emailed teachers a survey asking for feedback about what they had learned, training they still needed, what was going well, questions they had, and challenges they were experiencing so that we could really tailor the training to their needs,” said Spade.

During the workshop, facilitators addressed those concerns and also passed out a sample template and a guided reading plan to help with lesson preparation. They then presented a step-by-step demonstration for planning and implementing a lesson that focuses on the state-mandated standards and meets individual student needs.

“Guided reading is about what the child needs and filling in the holes for each individual reader,” Brown told attendees as she introduced the guided reading lesson plan template. “It’s about practicing word level strategies and comprehension strategies at the child’s instructional level. The whole purpose of guided reading is growing students who read, comprehend and develop a love for reading. Research shows that guided reading is an effective way to get them there.”

Davie Elementary teachers attend “Guided Reading” workshops

To further enhance their understanding of the concept, teachers who attended the session for Early, Transitional, and Fluent lesson planning had the opportunity to sort profiles of typical readers to determine the level of assistance students needed.

“That really spoke to teachers because they had to think through ‘if I had this student sitting in my classroom, what would I do for them and how would I meet their needs?’ said Hennings-Gonzalez. “They walked away feeling better about how to serve the students in their own classrooms, and that felt really good to me personally.”

“Often, as teachers, we think that if we give students a book and they are making mistakes it’s too hard, and that’s not true,” said Scoggin. “Students will make mistakes even on their instructional level, and those mistakes actually inform teachers what each child needs in order to progress as a reader. We are working with the teachers during guided reading lessons to help them determine strategies children need, based on their individual reading struggles.”

Last year, elementary school teachers across Davie County spent 30-45 minutes of their daily teaching time on teacher-directed reading (TDR). During TDR, a teacher guides students through standards-based, grade-level language arts instruction.

DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown provides Guided Reading instruction

This year, guided reading is taking language arts instruction to the next level by focusing on each student’s individual instructional needs. During small group reading, students quietly read out loud while the teacher walks from child to child listening to them read and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses in order to address any skill gaps.

“This progress monitoring will help teachers know when to move a student up in reading levels and whether their instructional practices are making a difference,” Hennings-Gonzalez said.

“Guided reading is considered best practice among small group reading structures. However, it’s new to a lot of teachers, and therefore sometimes intimidating,” said Kris Shepherd, a 5th-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary. “Barbie, Nancy, Amy, and Renee have been instrumental in working alongside teachers to implement this new structure. This training was evidence of that.”

“As educators, our ultimate goal is to get our students to demonstrate grade-level proficiency,” said Madison Wyatt, a third-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary School. “In order to do this, we must provide differentiated instruction to meet individual needs. Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction. Through this progressive model, students are able to grow and advance in their reading proficiency, and I am excited to see the value of this program in my own classroom.”

“I love the new guided reading program,” said Sandy Hendrix, a first-grade teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, “It is very structured and intentional.  We work with children on their reading needs. The lessons focus on a variety of important reading skills every day. The skills include reading strategies, comprehension, sight word recognition and spelling, word work, as well as a writing component. The children love guided reading time, and I am seeing growing confidence in their abilities.  We have received excellent training. This is the most confident that I have ever felt teaching small group guided reading.”

According to Spade, as an added benefit, the guided reading plans will help teachers have “vertical conversations” between grade levels about where students are in a plan and the strategies that have been used so that subsequent teachers can continue to build upon those successes. “There will be a common language within the plan about the skills children are working on and where they are.”

In addition to the workshop, the consultants and literacy coaches will be providing one-on-one coaching through co-teaching support and confidential instructive observations in each teacher’s classroom.  

Hennings-Gonzalez said, “We realize that this process isn’t going to be perfect overnight. It is important to recognize teachers’ effort and to support their needs, but we also want to make sure that we are all learning from our mistakes.”

“We are using a co-teaching model to support teachers, and we want teachers to look at their lesson plan and be able to say, ‘You know what, I don’t really understand this part of the plan. Can you jump in and help me with this part?’ That’s our goal–to help teachers understand, as well as being reflective practitioners so that they can tailor their instruction to support their students’ needs.”

“Once teachers begin to see the growth in their kids, they will understand the ‘whys’ of guided reading,” Brown added. “And once they get it, guided reading often becomes their favorite part of the day.”

DavieLEADS – Building Momentum on Encouraging First Year Results

By Jeanna Baxter White
Davie County Schools is on a roll–an honor roll. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has released its statewide End-of-Grade (EOG) test data for 2017-18, and Davie County has moved from 45th to 17th out of 115 districts in 3rd-grade reading proficiency.  Based on last year’s test results, Cooleemee Elementary is now in the top 4 percent of North Carolina elementary schools for academic growth, with a ranking of 47th out of 1,218 schools statewide. In addition, kindergarten readiness in Davie County has improved from 71 percent to 80 percent based on the Dial-4 screening assessment.

Front row left to right: Representative Julia Howard, Joyah Abrams, Amy Zamora, Alex Rueda-Romero, Mary Jordan, Sam Sellers, Dayvee Smith. Back row left to right: Principal Cindy Stone, Superintendent Darrin Hartness, Lt.Governor Dan Forest, Xavier Parker, Town Clerk John Chandler, AJ Imes. Exuberant smiles standing under Top 4% Growth Banner

These are just three of the successes Davie County Schools officials shared while summarizing the first year of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative launched in April 2017 to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, the specific goals of the initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 elementary students each year over the 5-year implementation period.

DavieLEADS Teacher Training

Hard Work of Dedicated Educators Leading to Outstanding Results
“Dr. Hartness [superintendent, Davie County Schools]  and Larry Colbourne [president, Mebane Foundation] challenged us to ‘move the needle’,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools. “In just one year, students and staff have made real progress.  For example, moving from 60 to 64 percent proficient in 3rd-grade reading may not sound like a huge difference, but the rise from 45th to 17th in the state shows just how significant the gains are. Sustaining this level of growth for the next four years of this initiative would make Davie #1 in the state.”

Letterland Training through DavieLEADS

“These results are attributed to the hard work and dedication of our teachers,” Lynde added. “They have been diligent in the use of a balanced literacy approach, as well as in strengthening their grade level professional learning communities (PLCs.)  We are also seeing the benefits of incorporating research-based programs that build foundational literacy skills, such as Letterland and HillRAP in all of our elementary schools.”

Cooleemee Elementary Attracting Attention of State Leaders
“Cooleemee attributes our growth to meeting every child, every day on their level,” said Cindy Stone, principal of Cooleemee Elementary School. “DavieLEADS has strengthened our balance between meeting a student’s specific need and holding to the rigor of North Carolina standards which led to a snowball effect of student growth.“

DavieLEADS Impacting Private Daycare Learners

Recognizing this tremendous growth, state officials Lt. Governor Dan Forest, Senator Dan Barrett, and Representative Julia Howard toured Cooleemee Elementary last week to see the process for themselves.

“It was empowering for my staff to have state officials tour our school because they wanted to understand exactly what we are doing to achieve such substantial growth, and it was priceless watching the students share about their learning.”

Through DavieLEADS, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschools, appreciates the opportunity to work with other childcare providers across the district to ensure children are prepared for kindergarten. “DavieLEADS has enabled all NC Pre-Kindergarten sites to use the same curriculum and assessments.  Coupled with supportive professional development, this has brought a new alignment between public and private preschool classes. To better understand what ‘kindergarten ready’ means, preschool teachers are visiting kindergarten teachers and experiencing expectations in their classrooms. All of these efforts are building capacity and consistency in expectations and teaching practices in preschool programs across the county.”

Professional Learning Community

Early Results Confirm “None Better than Right Here in Davie County”
“To be honest, my board and I weren’t expecting these types of gains in the first year of implementation, so when Dr. Hartness and his staff presented the first year results to us in September, we couldn’t have been happier,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “We recognize the hard work, time, and effort that our educators have put into the additional training and professional development in Year 1, and they are to be commended and thanked, not only by the Mebane Foundation but by families who benefit directly from that extra work.  So, I personally want to say ‘thank you’ to all of them!”

Officials are pleased with these early results and optimistic about continued growth, as teachers receive ongoing professional development on Guided Reading, Letterland, HillRAP, and Reading Research to Classroom Practice (RRtCP) through DavieLEADS.

DavieLEADS is an investment in Davie County Schools. “We are so grateful for the partnership with the Mebane Foundation,” said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent. “This laser-focused literacy initiative is building teacher capacity and providing resources we wouldn’t otherwise have to support teaching and learning. The work isn’t easy; ask any teacher. However, we want the best for students and the community we serve, and the results are already reflecting teachers’ efforts. We hope seeing the results from the first year will be encouraging and help us build momentum.”

“We realize that this is a 5-year journey in our partnership with DCS and its teachers,” said Colbourne. “That being said, I know that right now our teachers are being asked to do much more than ever before, not only with our reading initiative in DavieLEADS but with new math standards introduced by the state this fall. However, I believe that even in light of these new standards and instructional changes, we can maintain our momentum. This community should be proud of the results that our teachers produced in Year 1 and should continue to support their continued efforts.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, over the last 10 years I’ve been in dozens of school systems and in hundreds of schools across this state, and none is better than what we have here in Davie County!”

Cognitive ToyBox – Data-Based Assessment Tool to Accelerate Progress in Early Childhood Literacy

By Jeanna Baxter White
Assessment of child progress, a National Association for the Education of Young Children program standard,  helps teachers to improve their teaching and enhances student learning. Currently, observation-based assessment is the most common assessment approach in Head Start and state-funded Pre-K programs. However, it is also time-consuming for teachers, who spend 
four to six hours per week writing notes on student development, transcribing the notes into a digital form, and then scanning for patterns to guide instruction.

Three pre-school teachers from the Davie County School system in Mocksville, NC were among the first to evaluate the efficacy of a new assessment system through a pilot program during the spring of 2018.

The pilot partner, Cognitive ToyBox, developed a research-backed, game-based platform that 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.

Data-Based Assessments – Accurate, Consistent & Actionable
“By making data collection easier and enabling teachers to utilize the data in real-time to drive instructional adjustments, we can help teachers focus on the things that matter most for a child’s success: high-quality interactions between teachers and their students,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox.

Ideally, CTB Assess will become a valuable tool in achieving the goals 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.

DavieLEADS is funded through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, which also brought the two organizations together. The Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals, business leaders, elected officials, and the community that help ensure that children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential.

Mebane Partnership with 4.0 Schools Continues to Pay Dividends
Foundation President, Larry Colbourne, learned about Cognitive ToyBox through a grant to New Orleans-based 
4.0 Schools, a non-profit incubator that finds, trains, and invests in passionate people solving the most critical challenges in education. He recognized its applicability to the preschool portion of DavieLEADS which has ultimately led to a serendipitous partnership between two programs the Mebane Foundation supports.

“The goal of funding 4.0 Schools was to gain access to great educational thinkers across the country,” Colbourne said. “We hoped to find entrepreneurs with ideas that align with our mission and we believe we have done so with Tammy (Kwan) and Cognitive ToyBox.”

Colbourne shared the program with Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools.

Standards Aligned Data by Student, Class, and District
Both Nuckolls and Nelson quickly recognized CTB Assess’s potential for creating consistency and increasing reliability in assessments throughout the county’s public and private NC Pre-K classrooms, particularly since it aligns with the standards used by preschool teachers across all settings.

“We saw its value as a universal and less subjective measurement tool that could truly focus on the child’s ability versus what the teacher thinks the child can or cannot do, erasing any potential bias,” Nuckolls said.

“Data can be pulled by student, class or district. This is helpful for administrators as well as teachers who can take student data and sort children by skill mastery which aids in putting children together in small groups to focus on different skills and objectives. After talking with Tammy (Kwan), we decided to give the platform a try.”   

During the pilot, the school system met with Kwan each month to provide feedback on what worked about the platform, and what could be improved to better support their program.

“Participating in the pilot program has been great,” said Nelson. “Tammy has continuously asked, ‘What do we need to tweak? What do we need to change? How can we make it better? She isn’t afraid to make changes.’”

Tam Hudson, Felicia Myers, and Josey Redinger, who used the platform in their classrooms for three months, found the platform user-friendly and appreciated the additional data.

“My Kids Love Cognitive ToyBox” – Engaging and Interactive
“My kids loved Cognitive ToyBox,” said Redinger. “It was engaging and interactive. It provided an opportunity to work on their own at their own pace and also an opportunity to work alone with me. I enjoyed it for the same reasons. I also like how the reports gave me some insight into their abilities and helped me to group them in learning activities!  This also helped me to complete student assessments for GOLD checkpoints.”

Hudson said, “By looking at the results, I was able to use the information to lead my teaching in large group and small group instruction. It is a quick picture that gives me a clear idea on what areas a child may need extra time with us to master a skill/task. My students loved it. They thought of it as a game!”

Both teachers found that the platform’s leveling of students across language, literacy, and math reflected their own understanding of students levels.

Their evaluations correlated with the other anecdotal assessments received by Kwan who said that one pilot teacher shared that in observing four to six children in math at a time, she sometimes “missed kids.” In comparison, Cognitive ToyBox gives her access to “super individualized” data on how each child is doing. Moreover, several teachers shared that having an additional source of data was incredibly valuable. In one case, a teacher had assumed that a child who was behind in language was also behind in shape recognition. Through the platform, she was surprised to learn that the child had mastered all of her shapes. In another case, the platform provided an additional data point for the instructional team to use to recommend that a child be screened for a language delay.

Cognitive ToyBox Expanding to All Public and Private Davie County Preschools for 2018-19 School Year
Pleased with the overall results of the pilot, Nuckolls is looking forward to introducing the CTB Assess platform to all of the NC Pre-K classrooms, both public and private, across the county this fall. An
$18,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide both the software and the technology needed to support it.

“It is our goal to support and invest in our teachers,” Nuckolls said. “This platform will help them to become better at what they are already doing and more consistent in our assessments across the county. This platform will take out subjectivity and allow for more reliable measurements. The implementation of this project will allow us to walk closer to our goals in DavieLEADS.”    

“It’s been wonderful having Larry (Colbourne) as part of the continuous growth for the LEADS program,” she added.  “As a funder, he isn’t just handing out money, but is invested in the true measurement of what we are trying to build which speaks volumes.”

Although delighted with the response so far, Kwan said Cognitive ToyBox is continuing to refine the technology to ensure that it is the most beneficial assessment platform available. “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.”

ApSeed and Mebane Foundation Join Forces to Provide 1,000 Mobile Touchscreen Tablet e-Readers FREE to Qualifying Davie County Preschool Children

By Jeanna B. White
The Mebane Foundation and ApSeed Early Childhood Education have joined forces to increase literacy scores among at-risk children in Davie County by providing a free e-Reader preloaded with applications designed to improve literacy and strengthen vocabulary.

Thanks to a $105,000 grant from the Foundation, based in Mocksville, NC, 1,000 custom-built tablets, called Seedlings, will be distributed free of charge to children 0-4 whose families are enrolled in the WIC program through the Davie County Department of Public Health or Parents as Teachers through Smart Start of Davie County.

ApSeed – Closing the Opportunity Gap in Early Literacy
Studies indicate that economically-disadvantaged children hear 30 million fewer words by the age of five than their more affluent peers and that there is a direct link between children’s academic performance in third grade and the number of words spoken in their home from birth to age three.

ApSeed, a non-profit organization based in Rowan County, hopes to close that word gap and better prepare these children for school through a series of colorful, interactive apps designed to engage children from 0 to 4. These apps were vetted and approved to promote kindergarten readiness by Rowan County Schools. From music that will soothe a newborn to games that teach simple spelling and math, the tablet’s carefully selected apps meet the needs of children from birth to kindergarten. Children can complete the activities with the help of a caregiver or independently. The tablet does not have an internet connection so that the activities can be enjoyed anywhere.

ApSeed is the brainchildren of Salisbury businessman, Greg Alcorn, founder of Global Contact Services, who also serves on the N.C. Board of Education.

“The State Board of Education focuses on graduation rates,” Alcorn said. “Back in 2015, we were looking for a way to help increase that rate. My wife, Missie, and I read the Thirty Million Word Gap research and said ‘that’s where and who we can help!  At the very, very beginning of learning.’  If ALL four-year-old children enter kindergarten with enough language, our community will benefit.”

“ApSeed is striving to make a generational change.  We have short, mid and long-range goals. Increase kindergarten readiness scores, then significantly increase the 3rd-grade reading scores and ultimately spur economic growth.  Everyone wants to live in a community with great schools and great students make schools great.”

ApSeed and Mebane Foundation Partnership a Home Run
ApSeed’s goals align well with the goals of DavieLEADS, a  five-year early literacy initiative supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The initiative seeks to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

“By partnering with our friends at the Davie Health Department and Smart Start, we’ll be able to distribute this interactive learning tool at a relatively low cost to the Mebane Foundation,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “In the coming 12-18 months, I’d anticipate that 1,000 or more of the Seedlings will be placed in the hands of young children here in Davie County. We’re always on the lookout for best practices and resources to support our youngest of readers, with this partnership and with the Seedling I believe we’ve hit a home run!”

The Department of Health will be distributing the Seedlings during regularly scheduled nutrition and pediatrician appointments with Mandi Irwin, WIC director, and Dr. Stephanie Pirkle, who have been trained by ApSeed to distribute the tablets.

“We know that children whose parents read to them in the preschool years enter kindergarten with better literacy skills than those whose parents do not,” said Dr. Pirkle. “Exposure to printed material is beneficial, but so is exposure to games and songs which can help kids with grammar, pronunciation, and rhyming. The Seedlings do all of this, as well as introduce these children to aspects of technology (like apps and swiping) that are so prevalent today but that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to learn.”

“As Dr. Seuss so eloquently states in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, a book that I read to my three-year-old, ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’”

Irwin said, “We are excited to promote literacy and school readiness in our community with this partnership.”

Hands-On With ApSeed Readers
She is enthusiastic about the Seedling’s potential, particularly after watching Jared Chegue (3) and his brother Obed (2) play with the tablets. The boys are the sons of Maria Chegue, a processing assistant and interpreter for the health department.

Chegue agreed, saying that although the boys had only had their Seedlings for a couple of days, they had enjoyed playing with them. She has already observed that different apps appeal to each child based on their age. “Jared likes the puzzles and the doctor game and Obed likes the coloring game.”

“We speak Spanish at home, so this will really help Jared prepare for kindergarten, particularly the app that sounds out letters,” she added. “It is also nice for me as a parent that the tablets don’t have internet access so that I don’t have to worry about them playing with it and ending up on a website they shouldn’t go to.”

Jared’s older sister, Grecia, has noticed that he is speaking more English and pronouncing words in English better. “He now knows his colors in both Spanish and English.”

Chegue has distributed several of the first tablets and said the response of children and parents has been positive. She noted that the mother of a child with developmental delays was particularly thrilled because the child immediately engaged with the sounds and colors providing her with another teaching tool.

Gena Taylor, executive director of Smart Start of Davie County, believes the Seedling will allow children not otherwise engaged in age and developmentally appropriate technology to be afforded the opportunity to have this experience. Parent Educators will work with the families to build upon the skills learned through the technology to prepare children for kindergarten.

How to Get an ApSeed e-reader
Smart Start will distribute the Seedlings to families engaged in the Parents as Teachers home visiting program.

The ApSeed model includes three years of measuring results and maintaining the Seedlings. 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. 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?

According to Alcorn, the research from the 1600 Seedlings distributed in Rowan County since 2016 shows “active use of the Seedlings, interest in specific applications by age, and high satisfaction from users.”

Alcorn is enthusiastic about the opportunity to begin distributing Seedlings to children in Davie County. “Over the next three years, you will see a lot of Seedlings in Davie County.  Many thanks to the Mebane Foundation and Davie County early childhood professionals.

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

The Mebane Charitable Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals (public and private), business leaders, elected officials, and the community at large. The Foundation focuses resources on ensuring that all children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential in school, career, and in life.

Davie County Preschoolers Excited about Field Trips to “Big School”

By Jeanna B. White
Carefully, they climbed from the van. Wide-eyed and wiggling with excitement, the twenty rising kindergarteners from Kountry Kids Learning Center & Preschool and Young Children’s Learning Center were ready for their tour of Mocksville Elementary School.

Transitioning from preschool to elementary school can be a scary proposition for many students, particularly if they have never been to an elementary school. To ease the adjustment, the Davie County Schools’ Preschool program created field trips for NC Pre-K students in non-public school preschool settings to visit local elementary schools.

“We hope to help these children get an introduction to elementary school and to reduce their fears and anxieties about going to “big school,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools, who organized the field trips. “For those children who get to visit the school they will attend it should be easier when they come back for kindergarten screening. They will feel more comfortable at the screening if they have some familiarity. Even if they didn’t get to visit their school, we are hoping that the idea that they have been to a big school and had a great experience will help reduce their fear when they go to their respective school for screening. We also believe it will help to see other small children here, and that elementary school is not all big kids.”

The tours were funded through DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation.

Through the initiative, collaborative work with 4 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 trips included a tour of the school conducted by kindergarten teachers and the opportunity to join the school’s NC Pre-K class for a story time in the media center.

“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,” she added. Nelson said. “Most centers don’t own a vehicle to take their children on trips or have the funds to hire YVEDDI to come transport the children.”

Sabrina Lever, an NC Pre-K teacher at Almost Home Child Care, said, “The tour benefited the kids because they were able to see firsthand where they would be going to school and got the feel of walking down the hall, sitting in the media center listening to a story, and meeting teachers and the principal. This helped them to understand what going to kindergarten means, and they now know more of what to expect.”

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.

“These field trips have truly been a unique opportunity,” Nelson said.

The participating NC Pre-K classrooms included Almost Home Child Care, LLC, Kountry Kids Learning Center & Preschool, Mudpies Child Development Center, and Young Children’s Learning Center. The participating elementary schools and public NC Pre-K classrooms included Cooleemee Elementary School and Mocksville Elementary School. Van transportation was provided through YVEDDI.

The students who have completed their field trip have been excited to see their elementary school.  During one recent field trip to Cooleemee Elementary school, a student from Young Children’s Learning Center excitedly told the principal, Cindy Stone, “I’m going to go to college and kindergarten!”

“What is an Elementary School?” – Preparing Preschoolers for the Next Adventure!

Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County School, reads “What is an Elementary School” with Emma Swofford, an NC Pre-K student at Central Davie Preschool.

By Jeanna Baxter White
For children who don’t have an older sibling or have never been to an elementary school, words like principal, cafeteria, and media center are foreign concepts.

Davie County Preschool is filling those gaps by providing rising kindergarteners with a book containing pictures of the elementary school that they will be attending this fall. There is an individualized booklet for each of Davie County’s six elementary schools created with pictures provided by teachers at the school-based Pre-K programs. Entitled “What is an Elementary School?” the books include photos of the exterior of the school, the principal and assistant principal, media center, cafeteria, gym, a kindergarten classroom, as well as contact information for the elementary schools and information about kindergarten registration.

Like Planning a Vacation
“It may seem like a really simple idea, but if you compare going to elementary school for the first time with the idea of planning a vacation to a place you’ve never been before, it makes so much sense,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools.  “When planning a vacation, we like to see images and learn about unique features of our destination before we go. Giving rising kindergartners and their families a book with pictures and new school vocabulary helps everyone learn about their upcoming adventure and eases fears.”

According to Nelson, the goals of the books are:

  • Introduce rising kindergartners to their elementary school  
  • Teach new vocabulary such as the words “principal” or “cafeteria”
  • Include families in a transition activity as they read the book to their child over the summer
  • Reduce transition fears for both children and parents by helping the school seem inviting
  • increase registration in kindergarten screening with the parent note on the back page of the book

Where to Get Your Books
The books are being distributed in the four private child care based NC Pre-K classrooms.  Each elementary school received copies to share with students and families that attended the Rising Kindergarten Lunch on April 20th, or for other points of contact with rising kindergartners.  

“Introducing kindergarten students to the school they will be attending makes the transition more comfortable and the student more confident,” said Karen Stephens, principal at William R. Davie Elementary School. “It’s a wonderful idea to have children seeing key sight words and familiar faces. I appreciate the Davie County Preschool and the DavieLEADS initiative.”

DavieLEADS – Inspiring Innovation In Early Childhood Literacy
Funding for the booklets was provided through DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, was thrilled with the novel idea and said, “When we set out on these larger, more comprehensive partnerships one of the natural things that happens is high-quality teachers and administrators come up with innovative ideas to address problems, and in turn the result is something like this amazing little book, “What is an Elementary School?” I’m actually surprised a children’s book author and publisher haven’t come up with something like this. Think about it, in North Carolina alone I estimate there are about 125,000 children entering kindergarten every year. What an opportunity to support children and families, and just think of it, one of our own came up with this idea. I love it!”

DavieLEADS – Impacting Early Literacy in Public and Private Preschools throughout Davie County

By Jeanna B. White
Learning to read and write is an ongoing process from infancy. Contrary to popular belief, it does not suddenly begin in kindergarten or first grade.

Children who fall behind in oral language and literacy development in the years before formal schooling are less likely to be successful beginning readers; and their achievement lag is likely to persist throughout the primary grades and beyond.

DavieLEADS was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

From the earliest years, everything that adults do to support children’s language and literacy is critical. Research shows that when adults create rich language and literacy environments, they can boost that child’s emerging language and literacy development and increase the likelihood of future academic success. And the adults with the greatest potential to help are the most important ones in that child’s life: his parents and caregivers, including child care providers and early childhood educators (ECEs).

“Preschool is the bridge to kindergarten through 3rd grade,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools. The whole initiative is reaching Pre-K through 3rd grade, which aligns with the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds) federal guidelines for birth to 8 years. We are building the foundation for the literacy concept so that when the students reach kindergarten, they are ready to hit the road with a lot of rigorous literacy. Since we are using the same Letterland curriculum, there is a lot of continuity from the start.”

Professional Development Support for Public & Private Preschool Facilities
The preschool portion of the DavieLEADS initiative provides professional development, materials, and specialized support staff to develop and build the professional capacity of 13 preschool classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities.

During this first year, the four NC Pre-K’s in private facilities received the same curriculum and assessment tools used in the public NC Pre-K classrooms including Letterland, Creative Curriculum 5, and GOLD Assessments as well as laptop technology. A collaborative teacher was hired 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.

“These programs were using state-approved curriculum and assessment tools before the initiative, but the grant has enabled them to get the current and same tools used in the NC Pre-K classrooms in the public school settings,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher. “I have had a standards-based conversation with each program to determine what type of support I might be able to offer them in reaching those standards to improve the quality of learning for the students they care for.”

“I visit weekly to help the teachers set goals for themselves and to provide support such as model teaching or developing resources, and talking through the standards. We discuss What does that standard mean? What does it look like? How do I teach it? How do I know if a student has met the standard? How do I individualize instruction for different students?“

“As I’ve talked with them to learn what their interests and needs may be, I discovered the need for training on social/emotional development and practices in the classroom which also created opportunities for the teachers to connect better with the school system and to see kindergarten classrooms firsthand,” she added.

Support, Modeling and Collaboration
Nuckolls believes the coaching and support provided by Nelson are the keys to the success of the kindergarten readiness portion of the initiative. “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 on new curriculum when they have so many business aspects to take care in running 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 using those resources throughout their classrooms in all aspects of their schedule.”

Nelson agreed, sharing that she thinks the term collaborative teacher was chosen for her title because she not only collaborates with the teachers receiving new materials but helps to bridge collaboration between the public and private school settings.

“We are also extending beyond just the NC Pre-K classrooms and offering coaching services and curriculum support to half-day preschool programs, Head Start, and to preschool classrooms that do not have NC Pre-K funding. Any childcare facility in the community can tap into curriculum support. I can offer any coaching services to any of the administrators and teachers.”

Nuckolls said another critical piece of the collaboration is creating a common language between the NC Pre-Ks and other licensed and non-licensed facilities.

“We built that common language maybe ten years ago, but things grow, and we end up in our own little world, and there hasn’t been that connection in a while. Creating that common language of what is kindergarten readiness? And having all of these people at the same table talking about kindergarten standards and preschool foundations and understanding how they align is huge! Otherwise, we have people that are so segmented and living in their own little box in their own little world that they don’t understand the larger picture.”

“All of the students in this county in Pre-K will eventually be in Davie County Schools, we hope, so we want to reach out to as many as we can with the understanding that they are all our students,” Nuckolls continued. “At three and four years of age they are still Davie County students, and we care about that relationship and that they are getting the best they can get before they get to us. Kindergarten through 3rd grade is so rigorous at this point that it is essential that they have a high-quality awareness and environment to learn and grow in.”

“For the religious facilities that don’t fall under the same state and federal guidelines, I think that what we are doing is helping them to understand that they are truly part of the bigger picture and that it is helping them set their goals at a different standard,” Nuckolls said. “We have helped them look into Letterland and some of the other curriculum we are using and have offered support and opportunities such as field trips, professional learning communities, and training. We’ve gotten good feedback from these facilities, and some have gone on multiple tours and participated in multiple trainings because they wanted to become enthroned in the common language and environment.”

“We hope they feel valued and know that they matter,” added Nelson.

DIAL Screenings, School Visits & Tours for Preschool Age Children
In addition to offering mentoring and training, Nelson developed a brochure for parents explaining the importance of the DIAL screening for rising kindergarteners, organized field trips for NC Pre-K students and their teachers from private childcare facilities to visit an elementary school, and created a book called “What is an Elementary School” to introduce children to kindergarten.

“Stephanie has gone above and beyond to think of ways to create these transitional pieces to help children get ready for kindergarten,” Nuckolls said. “Having this grant from the Mebane Foundation has given us the ability to focus on the true transitional activities that had been lost. Having someone to be able to focus on that transitional piece has also brought out some valuable experiences this year that we didn’t expect.”

“We really didn’t expect the teachers to embrace this program as much as they have. They have truly opened their doors, they have called and asked questions, and they have been willing to build a relationship. You never know when you do something like this how it is going to be. These teachers have been thirsty for mentoring support, and it has been a wonderful opportunity for Davie County schools to reach out and offer that coaching piece.”

“The teachers have been phenomenal,” added Nelson. “The bottom line is no matter where people in this county are working with children they want to do the best they can for the children. I feel like we’ve put a lot of work this year into building the relationships, but this fall we are going to hit the ground running. I see exciting things on the horizon.”

DavieLEADS – Professional Development and PLC’s – A Wonderful Process to Watch Unfold

By Jeanna B. White
“What steps will you take forward to help ensure a growth mindset for your team?” asked DavieLEADS consultant, Barbie Brown, during a workshop for the leaders of Davie County Schools’ Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Professional Learning Communities allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.

These meetings have become an essential component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed). Although the initiative, created through a 5-year $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, focuses on early literacy, all teachers across the county are benefitting from its professional development.

Davie County Schools’ PLCs are organized by grade level. Each school includes a time within its master schedule for the weekly meetings. During those meetings, teachers discuss how to increase academic performance by evaluating what is going well and what could be improved. The primary focus of the meetings is to gain a deep, collective understanding of what the standards are requiring our students to know, understand, and do. Teams also create common formative assessments, update quarterly pacing maps, and review testing data. The goal of PLCs is effective classroom instruction that ensures high levels of learning for all students.

PLC Leader Training
Over the summer, PLC leaders were trained to create a solid foundation for weekly PLC meetings. With the assistance of the school’s instructional coach, as well as the guidance of the PLC consultants, these leaders are learning to support collaboration in PLC meetings.

“PLC Leader’s Training is empowering our teachers,” said Kelly Myers, the instructional coach at Cooleemee Elementary School. “Through training, teacher leaders are learning how to plan for and facilitate effective PLCs.  We are putting structures and tools in place that allow us to think deeply about our standards and what students need to know and be able to do. Strong PLCs allow us to grow as educators and lead to laser-focused classroom instruction.”      

This month around 100 PLC leaders from preschool through high school met at Bethlehem United Methodist Church for continued instruction on facilitating an effective PLC meeting.

“Our goal is to train leaders in each grade level how to dig deeper into the standards and content so that the process can be sustained beyond the five years of the grant,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach.

Since this year’s PLC focus is clarifying standards and learning to teach them more deeply, the PLC leadership teams participated in activities that further clarified the work that should be done in PLCs.  Teachers gained a deeper understanding of the Depth of Knowledge/rigor that the standards require. Time and attention was focused on vocabulary instruction as well.

“PLCs are a work in progress, “ said Nancy Scoggin, DavieLEADS consultant. “We are on a journey. As we dig deeper into our standards, evaluate data, and examine teaching practices, we have to be patient and persistent.”   

“This is a huge process,” Brown added encouragingly,  “Nancy and I think you are making great progress. Pat yourselves on the back because you’ve done a lot of work even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

Tracie Welch, the instructional coach at Mocksville Elementary School, believes the hard work is paying off. “During PLCs, our teachers are really able to “dig in” to their learning standards for students and guide their instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  Our teachers are putting in a tremendous amount of work, and it shows through student growth. It has been a wonderful process to watch unfold!“

Letterland – Davie Teachers Receive Hands-on Literacy Training!

By Jeanna B. White

“When I say the word cuckoo, what do you think of? What does it remind you of?” asked Cindy Cooke as she prepared to read “The Cuckoo School” to a class of 2nd graders at Cooleemee Elementary School. 

Cooke, a trainer from Letterland, was modeling a lesson using the Letterland methodology and materials for the school’s 2nd-grade teachers. She and fellow trainer, Reba Walden, traveled to each of Davie County’s elementary schools March 5-7 to model lessons for teachers from kindergarten through 2nd grade and to answer questions about best practices using the program. Teacher assistants stepped in to cover classes so that all of the teachers could participate.

Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms, and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.

Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing. As students progress, the lessons become more complex maintaining student interest.

The program works. Engagement in Mrs.O’Neal’s classroom was high as students read aloud, defined vocabulary words, answered questions, and brainstormed ways to personalize the story for their own school.  

Letterland is 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.

Although all preschool-2nd-grade teachers received Letterland training last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet in small groups and to ask the Letterland consultants specific questions about implementing the program in their classrooms.

“This training was tailored to meet our teachers’ specific needs and focused on what they wanted to work on,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach. “We know we need to elaborate and help our teachers in the areas they feel they need a little more clarification which also assists with implementing the program across the county with consistency.“

Cooke added, “When teachers attend initial training in Letterland, the information and materials can be overwhelming. Coaching is critical and necessary to help teachers implement the instructional practices built into the program. Reba Walden and I are here this week to provide teachers the support they need so they can teach the Letterland program with fidelity.”

The teachers appreciated the coaching and opportunity to ask questions.  

“I found it really helpful to watch someone do an example lesson with students,” said Jennie Kimel, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary. “I liked how we had the opportunity to debrief and ask questions afterward to clarify the techniques we saw. I found the visit to be productive and beneficial. I wish we did more training on site like this because handing us a manual is great but watching it in action is a completely different experience.”

Katie Sales, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee, agreed, saying, “It was nice to see what else the instructor did beyond the textbook instructions. It is always nice to see how others teach and get new ideas.”  

The Letterland trainers, Cooke and Walden; and literacy coaches, Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, also met with Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools, to examine the instructional framework for the district and to assess the implementation of Letterland across the County as a whole.  

Cooke and Walden will return in April to observe teachers in their classrooms and to provide ideas, tips, and tricks that will enrich future lessons.

TDR Training Helps Davie Teachers Create Active and Thoughtful Readers


By Jeanna B. White

“Everything is about what students need to know, understand, and be able to do,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach, while leading a professional development workshop for Teacher-Directed Reading (TDR).

As Davie County’s elementary school students headed home to enjoy their early release day on February 14th, their teachers fanned out across the county to delve deeper into TDR.

TDR is the guiding component of a Balanced Literacy framework for reading instruction that involves teaching by reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students. The Balanced Literacy approach fosters fluency and comprehension as well as perseverance, collaboration, focus, and stamina. Overall, the goal of Balanced Literacy is to create independent readers by inspiring an authentic love and appreciation for reading among students.

Balanced Literacy is a critical tool for achieving the goals of the DavieLEADS initiative, which was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.

“Professional development is an essential component of the DavieLEADS initiative,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools. “We want to invest in our teachers and provide them with quality workshops and training. They are much more valuable in producing student growth than a packaged program.”

Barbie Brown, DavieLEADS consultant, led the workshop for kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers across the district at Mocksville Elementary; Amy Spade, literacy coach, led 2nd and 3rd-grade teachers at Shady Grove Elementary; and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, literacy coach, led 4th and 5th-grade teachers at Cooleemee Elementary. Dividing the training by grade level allowed teachers to collaborate with their counterparts from across the county.

Elementary school teachers across Davie County spend 30-45 minutes of their daily teaching time on Teacher-Directed Reading. During TDR, the teacher guides students through standards-based, grade-level language arts instruction. As students read the text, teachers use and model appropriate comprehension strategies. This approach encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers, enhancing their understanding and comprehension of what they have read.

The workshop provided information on best practices for planning TDR lessons that focus on each of the state-mandated standards.Topics discussed included:

  • What types of text do I use for TDR?
  • When planning, do you select the text or standard first? And why?
  • How much surface knowledge should be taught before addressing the rigor of the standard?
  • If students don’t master the rigor of the standard, what are my next steps?

During the workshop, facilitators passed out a sample template and a clarifying document to help with preparing TDR lessons. Teachers then watched a video of a teacher teaching and evaluated how effectively she led the Teacher-Directed Reading. During breakout sessions, small groups shared their experiences as well as brainstormed new ideas and techniques.

Angela Spillman, a 2nd-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary, particularly appreciated watching the video of a TDR lesson being taught and discussing it with fellow teachers.

“It’s hard to step back and evaluate yourself when you are teaching,” she said. “Watching a video of a lesson and then discussing how well the concepts were taught was very valuable to me.”

Angelina Etter, a 2nd-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary, valued the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from across the county.

“Collaboration opens our minds so that all of the teachers and students are gaining. We are looking a lot closer at the standards so that our teaching can be more intentional.”

Spade said, “The DavieLEADS initiative has allowed us to tailor our professional development based on student needs and teacher needs while building a district-wide focus on Balanced Literacy.”

Hennings-Gonzalez agreed, “As teachers continue to grow in their craft, the DavieLEADS initiative is intended to provide continuous support. As a literacy coach, my personal goal is to ensure that teachers feel that they are encouraged and that they are equipped to use Teacher-Directed Reading in their daily instruction.”

“One great piece that the TDR training has created is the opportunity for teachers to reflect on their own instructional practices, realize the need for a change, and to reach out for support.”

DavieLEADS Focus on Development – Supporting Professional Learning Communities in Davie County Schools

By Jeanna B. White

“Really having the time to clarify standards with colleagues can become an ‘ah-ha experience’,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County schools, referring to the Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings that have become a key component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed).

DavieLEADS was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.

“Professional development is an essential component of the DavieLEADS initiative,” Lynde said. “We want to invest in our teachers and provide them with quality workshops and training. They are much more valuable in producing student growth than a packaged program.”

According to Lynde, this year’s professional development focus is strengthening PLCs meetings. These PLCs allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.

Davie County Schools’ PLCs are organized by grade level. Each school includes a time within its master schedule for the weekly meetings. During those meetings, teachers discuss how to increase academic performance by evaluating what is going well and what could be improved. They also delve into other issues such as creating common formative assessments, updating quarterly pacing maps, and reviewing testing data.

Over the summer, PLC leaders were trained to create a solid foundation for weekly PLC meetings. With the assistance of the school’s instructional coach, as well as the guidance of the PLC consultants, these leaders are learning to support collaboration in PLC meetings.

“It has been really great watching the teacher-leaders take ownership,” Lynde said. “In just the short amount of time we’ve been focusing on PLCs, the level of rigor in instruction is beginning to increase.”

Clarifying standards is another focus within the PLCs, according to Lynde.  “These meetings are where we are asking the really difficult questions such as, ‘Do we thoroughly understand the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and is our instruction rigorous enough to match?’”

“We’ve seen that Davie County is doing a good job at teaching the standards but not always going deep enough. It’s developing that depth that is really going to increase reading scores,” said DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown. She and fellow consultant, Nancy Scoggin, are both retired educators who have worked as classroom teachers, curriculum facilitators, and instructional coaches.

Although this depth of evaluation and analysis is challenging, Lynde said teachers and administrators are beginning to recognize the long-term value of the process and embrace the challenge.

“This process has allowed us to look at what we are already doing and take it to the next level,” said Julie Holt, a kindergarten teacher at Pinebrook Elementary School.

During a recent PLC meeting at Pinebrook, Brown led the kindergarten teachers through an exercise to clarify writing standards. Kindergarten students completed an assignment using a common writing prompt and their teachers evaluated the assignments using the same scoring rubric.

At the meeting, the teachers compared writing assignments to evaluate the consistency of their scoring. Although the state has had a scoring rubric, Davie County recently adopted its own rubric to increase consistency across the county’s six elementary schools.

“I’ve been really proud of this team,” said Brown. “They have really worked hard and have been willing to make some changes.”

The kindergarten teachers appreciate Brown’s support.

We love having someone provide us with feedback on how we are doing,” said Emily Moore.

“These ladies are so knowledgeable. I really feel like we are getting something that we need,” Pam Cope added.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, attended the PLC and was impressed by the experience. “Asking these already good teachers to be willing to put themselves out there in front of their peers in a PLC setting is a tough proposition. I’m sure it’s been challenging, and I do not doubt at the end of the day many seasoned teachers feel as if this might just be another fad that comes and goes. However, I’m encouraged by their commitment and that of the leadership team, all the way to the superintendent’s office.

“Sure, there’ll be bumps along the way of our journey together, but I’m confident their commitment, coupled with the love they have for their students, will push them from being good to being the best North Carolina has to offer!”

EdTalk: Meet Larry Colbourne and the Mebane Foundation

From the Mebane Foundation on its work:

The Mebane Foundation doesn’t claim to have all the answers about how to create a top-tier, transformative, career-building and life-enriching learning environment. But beginning in 1998, we began searching for at least some of those answers.

From the start, we have focused on a simple proposition to help address a complex, deeply-rooted problem:

The Foundation will do everything in its power to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, will be reading at or above grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.

Research consistently shows that these children are vastly more likely to succeed in school. And we all know that a child who succeeds in school is more confident and more likely to succeed in work and in life.

Wanting to promote equal access to excellent education for all children, the Foundation established a partnership with the Davie County Schools. Since then, the Foundation has served as a catalyst by granting more than $13 million to educational program partners in Davie County and across the state.

A handful of programs the Foundation has funded have not been successful. But we learned a lot in the process. Most of the time, the lack of success stems from the lack of strategic business planning and the kind of support that creates long-term sustainability, not from the effectiveness of the educational initiative we funded. That is why we now insist on having overwhelming community-wide support — school administration, teachers, parents, elected officials, and taxpayers — before committing to a partnership.

For almost 20 years, the Foundation has forged numerous strong relationships with corporate and philanthropic partners and all levels of education, as well as participated in educational-policy issues at the local and state levels.

In the future, it is our hope that school systems across North Carolina and the nation will incorporate many of our successes into their educational systems.

Moving the needle: Investments, not silver bullets

Note: This story originally appeared on EducationNC (EdNC)  – Moving the Needle: Investments not silver bullets

The Mebane Charitable Foundation has invested more than $17 million in literacy-related programs since 1998. The Foundation invested more than $7 million in literacy intervention partnerships with public school systems, traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and other literacy-focused organizations in Davie County. While some interventions have worked better than others, all have provided valuable data, metrics, and research results.

A big bet, a national model

In April, the Mebane Charitable Foundation announced its largest partnership to date, a grant of almost $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Davie County Schools has a rich history of academic success and consistently ranks in the top 10-15 percent of districts in the state of North Carolina. But despite the county’s successful academic performance, approximately 30 percent of students do not enter kindergarten “ready” according to DIAL scores (Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning) and 34 percent do not show reading proficiency by the end of the third grade as demonstrated on the NC End-of-Grade (EOG) Reading Test.

The goals of this initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 students each year over the 5-year implementation period.

Details of how those goals would be achieved were introduced to more than 400 Davie County pre-K and elementary school personnel during an end-of-year celebration in June 2017 at the West Campus of Calvary Baptist Church, complete with pom-poms, music, and a few spontaneous dance moves.

“When Dr. Hartness and his staff presented this proposal to my board it was a scary moment for everyone,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “What we hope to accomplish is a daunting task, but I told my board, that without a doubt, if there is a system in North Carolina that can do this, it will be Davie County Schools. You folks in the room can make it happen. I’m confident of that.”

Initially, the initiative will be a collaboration between Davie County Schools, Smart Start, and the public/private preschools. The grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide professional development, materials, and specialized support staff totaling $2,447,188.00 over five years, with additional supplementary funding for the Read to Achieve Summer Camp for at-risk first, second, and third graders who need extra academic support beyond the regular school year. In addition, this project will develop and build the professional capacity of 111 preschool through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities. These educators will continue impacting countless students for years to come.

“I would like to make you a promise,” Colbourne added. “The Foundation does not want to get in your way. We are not going to make your jobs any more difficult than they already are.”

Dr. Darrin Hartness, the superintendent of Davie County Schools, added, “We wanted to bring you together to help you share in the excitement that we have in what is on the horizon and the things that are ahead for us. I have never been as thrilled about an opportunity as I am about this one. In my career in education, I’ve never seen a commitment from a private entity investing in what we do every day. This initiative with the Mebane Foundation is going to make you an envy of teachers across North Carolina. This is not some silver bullet, some shiny new thing in our school system. Instead, this is an investment in the most important factor in a child’s education because this is an investment in you. ”

Process and partners matter

“This school year we began to hear from Dr. Hartness and Larry Colbourne the phrase ‘moving the needle,’”said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for academic service. “They started asking, how can we move the needle, how can we improve, how can we do even better than we are already doing?”

“As we looked at our 2015-2016 data, the problem we identified is that 30 percent of our students aren’t ready for kindergarten and  34 percent of our students are not proficient at reading at the end of third grade. As well as we are doing, about a third of our students aren’t making it, and we can’t be okay with that one third not being prepared for the future,” Haynes said.

“This school year we began to hear from Dr. Hartness and Larry Colbourne the phrase ‘moving the needle,’” continues Haynes. “They started asking, how can we move the needle, how can we improve, how can we do even better than we are already doing?”

Those questions and concerns led to a series of roundtable discussions involving Colbourne, SmartStart, and Davie County Schools administrators, and pre-K–3rd-grade representatives from each elementary school with varied perspectives — all brainstorming how to improve early childhood literacy. Focus groups involving principals, instructional coaches, reading specialists, media coordinators, private child care directors, and SmartStart gathered input, prioritized, and built buy-in. Together they carefully crafted DavieLEADS, the long-term plan designed to move the needle in early childhood literacy in Davie County.

“Everyone in this room knows the importance of education,” Haynes said. “Education allows students to break the cycle of poverty and it opens the doors of opportunity for our children. We know that research tells us the importance of being able to read proficiently by the end of third grade, which is why it is a national focus, not just in North Carolina or Davie County.”

Realizing the value of being able to assess the effectiveness of this project and others they invest in, the Mebane Foundation developed a series of metrics that will help it prioritize its investments and maximize its impact.

Performance metrics: Q&A with Larry Colbourne

Q: The Mebane Foundation has made significant contributions to literacy initiatives for the past 16 years and has achieved great success. Although many project results have been anecdotal, why develop specific metrics now?

Through the years we know we’ve partnered in some great work and had good success helping children, but as an organization, we felt it was time “to move the needle.” The only way to do that is to measure growth, and without achievable and tangible metrics, how can we know whether we’re truly moving in the right direction? Well-defined metrics will also allow us to tweak our approach throughout the process. If we expect potential partners, like other school systems, foundations, and political leaders to someday replicate our work, we need to be sure we can prove how we achieved our success.

Q: What are the performance metrics the Foundation has adopted to assess its work? How did the Foundation arrive at the specific metrics being adopted?

In the fall of 2016, the Mebane Foundation board went through an extensive exercise that led us to a consensus on what metrics we should hold to for years to come. First, we wanted to continue to engage other partners, whether that meant peer foundations and corporate funders, or political and educational partners at the local, regional, and national level. Secondly, we wanted to look at our funding decisions more closely through a financial lens. In order to maximize our impact, our decision-making process will now be driven by the number of children served, the predicted growth, and the program costs. Finally, we decided we wanted to “popularize” what we do with our partners. We see this as a win-win: The partnering organizations get great exposure and we get the opportunity to share ongoing best practices with peers in our educational space.

Q: What do you anticipate the impact of these metrics will be for the Foundation?

For the Mebane Foundation, these metrics put us out there in front of our peers and enable us to share valuable information and ideas. We no longer want to operate in a silo. These metrics allow us to evaluate and validate what we’re doing.

Q: For the grantee organization?

We see the same benefits for our partners. Our metrics also will help them evaluate and validate their success.

Q: For students?

At the end of the day, it’s all about offering every student the best opportunity to succeed. Our metrics are not meant to be intrusive and create more work and tests for our students and teachers. Our main goal is to add support so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. Metrics are a necessity, but they shouldn’t make the task at hand more difficult. On the contrary, the metrics should serve as a guide for our students and teachers.

Q: Why did the Foundation provide such a generous grant to Davie County schools? What does it ultimately hope to achieve?

We have a strong history with Davie County that has been forged over many years through multiple partnerships. This project is a huge undertaking that will require a strong partnership built on trust. With everything we’ve been through together over the last 15 years, and with all the assets remaining intact, we couldn’t think of a better place to tackle these aggressive goals and metrics.

Q: How does the Foundation envision its future? What would it like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years?

Five to ten years from now, I hope to see us funding similar partnerships to the one with Davie County Schools. That would mean it was a success. We will know the number of children served, the growth achieved, and the cost. Armed with that knowledge, I would anticipate that other systems and partners will be willing to take a similar approach. It is our hope that the Mebane Foundation will continue to be a catalyst for excellence and innovation in early education for many years to come.

Comprehensive, Effective, Kid-Friendly Phonics? Letterland Becoming Key Component of DavieLEADS

By Jeanna B. White

There were Kicking Kings and Quarrelsome Queens, Zig Zag Zebras and Red Robots when Pinebrook Elementary School’s kindergarteners dressed up as their favorite Letterland characters.

The costumed cuties sang each letter character’s song and made its sound and hand motion, demonstrating their growing literacy development for the dozens of family members and friends who turned out for Letterland Day.

Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.

Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing.

Letterland Characters“I love Letterland!,” said Marianne Stein, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee Elementary School. “It is the most comprehensive, most effective, most kid-friendly way to teach phonics. When you hear the word phonics, you think “ugh”. But this program is so multi-level, so multisensory, how better to teach five-year-olds than with music and dancing and pictures and games? They just love it! They get so excited about it!”

“Letterland helps with gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and appropriate tracking of letters that turn into words. No matter where a child is in a skill level or skill set, they get something out of it. It could be word blending or the letter A, it could be Annie said “a”, but if you are consistent, and if you buy into it and believe in it, they will too,” she explained.

Davie County Schools 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.

letterland chsaractersWhen 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.

“During those roundtable discussions we decided that there were a lot of things we were already doing really well, we just needed to get better at what we do, and Letterland was a piece of that,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction. “ We already knew Letterland was working well in the pockets in which it was being used so we wanted to make sure that everyone had the updated materials, everyone had all of the training, and we expanded it to 2nd grade.”

In 2016-2017, the Mebane Foundation gave a $44,000 grant to provide Letterland materials, software, and professional development for all Pre-K-1st-grade classrooms.

This year, second-grade classrooms have received materials, software, and training as part of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the 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. The grant will also provide Letterland materials, professional development and coaching to private daycares in Davie County. In addition, all incoming teachers will receive training to maintain the effectiveness of the program.

This is the first year Letterland will be fully implemented in Pre-K through 2nd grade and teachers from across the county are excited about the program’s potential.

“Through the stories and songs, students connect with Letterland. It makes our language make sense to them,” said literacy coach, Amy Spade. “It’s super engaging instead of abstract. When Tracy Miller and I went through Reading Foundations, we saw the huge benefit of being able to tie in syllable types with the characters, helping 2nd graders really understand how syllables work. We wanted to continue giving them that solid foundation.”

“The whole program makes it possible to teach to every different learning style when you teach it the way it is laid out for you,” said Tracy Miller, who teaches 2nd grade at Pinebrook. “Each child in your classroom will attach to it in some way.”

“It is developmentally appropriate for all students no matter where they are in reading,” added  Pinebrook kindergarten teacher, Emily Moore.“Letterland allows them to connect the sound to a letter before they even know it is a letter, so a lot of them know their sounds and are ready to read before they even realize that.”

“Letterland is comprehensive,” said Jill O’Toole, who teaches Pre-K at Pinebrook. “We can use it for the whole group, we can break up into small groups, we can put things in centers. Especially in Pre-K, a child can pick up a duck and say, “d,d, Dippy Duck” and then connect those things with real life.”

“I’ve seen an increase in the number of kids I have leaving my classroom that are ready to take that step in kindergarten into reading,” O’Toole added. “They are more aware of sounds, how sounds link together to make words … and they are more confident in what they are doing. I’ve had kids who walk into my class knowing no letters and leave, maybe not knowing the letter’s name, but knowing the character it is attached to and the sound it makes. That makes kindergarten so much easier, especially starting out with us and having Letterland flow through every grade.”

“Letterland touches boys and girls,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschools. “A lot of  boys are not interested in reading and letters yet due to developmental stages, but they become interested when you add Noisy Nick, Firefighter Fred and Fix-it Max, characters that mean something to them, it makes it come to life.”

“In second grade, the program really allows us to differentiate because we are able to break students into groups and meet them where they are,” Spade said. “If a student needs to repeat a lesson we can do that while another group moves ahead to work on syllable types.”

The DavieLEADS grant also funds two literacy coaches who will offer teachers on-site professional development and support, including assistance with Letterland. Later this year, consultants from Letterland will be further enhancing professional development by doing observations in classrooms and offering lesson modeling, feedback, and coaching sessions.

The additional support demonstrates the significance of the program and will help teachers maximize the program’s potential for their students.

“When you have that much support, it makes it more obvious to the teachers that are teaching the program that it is important and that they need to use it and use it the way we’ve been trained,” said Miller.

“If there is a problem, we have people to go to,” said Bridgett Bailey, who teaches 1st grade at William R. Davie. “When you feel better about something you are going to do better, you are going to teach it to the best of your ability.”

“I really appreciate that we can now use Letterland across the district and it is not limited to where we were able to get funding or not get funding,” Spade said. “Thanks to the Mebane Foundation, all students from preschool through 2nd grade will be getting this solid foundation.”