Empowering Young Minds: Mebane Foundation Supports STEAM Storytime at Cognition

By Meredith Ratledge

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

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

STEAM Storytime: Igniting a Passion for Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Key Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing Children For Life Through Literacy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interactive, Hands-On Approach

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

LIFT: Diversifying North Carolina’s Teacher Pipeline

By Jeanna Baxter White

Did you know that while students of color make up about half of the traditional North Carolina public school student body, 80% of teachers are white? Moreover, between 2000-2014 (the latest year for which data is available), the state saw an enrollment increase of 306.7% among Hispanic students. 

The mandate is clear: North Carolina must diversify its teacher pipeline and build pathways into education careers for bilinguals and students of color. 

One solution? Leadership Institute for Future Teachers (LIFT), the NC State College of Education’s evidence-based year-long program to introduce, prepare, and support academically competitive high school students of color and/or bilingual students who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills and exploring a potential career in education.

“LIFT was established to address the critical need in populating the teacher pipeline with licensed, well-trained educators, particularly students of color, males, and bilingual teachers,” said Anona Smith Williams, Ed.D., the College of Education’s associate dean for student success and strategic community engagement and executive director of LIFT. “The increase of Spanish-speaking students in our state’s classrooms presents both an opportunity and an obligation to increase the number of Spanish-speaking people who are attracted into the field of education.”

Implemented during the 2020-2021 school year, LIFT is gaining the attention of funders across the state, including the Mebane Foundation in Mocksville. LIFT’s mission resonates with the Foundation, which is focused on ensuring that all children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential in school, career, and life. In response, the Foundation provided $25,000 to support this year’s program. 

“NC State’s College of Education LIFT Program addresses what the Mebane Foundation believes is a critical issue in our teacher workforce, and that is a lack of teacher diversity in the classroom,” explained Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “The best example I can give is almost 20% of our student population is now Hispanic, yet only 3% of our teacher workforce is Hispanic. Wouldn’t it be great if we could at least double that 3% to 6% over the next ten years? NC State’s LIFT Program is a giant step in the right direction to get the percentages moving in the right direction!”

Matt Friedrick, executive director of development, College of Education, agrees and said, “North Carolina needs more educators, and particularly educators who can identify with our increasingly diverse K-12 students across the state. We are so proud that the College of Education, with the Mebane Foundation’s support, is helping to bring new, outstanding future educators into the field.”

 “The generous support of the Mebane Foundation made it possible for us to bring our LIFT participants together this past summer and fall to participate in leadership development that will hopefully someday empower them to be creative and innovative game changers in K-12 across the state,” added Dr. Williams. 

How does LIFT work?

High school teachers and counselors nominate students they believe to have the potential to become extraordinary educators. In 2020-2021, twenty-nine rising high school seniors from across North Carolina participated — 55% were bilingual. The majority were from Tier 1 or Tier 2 counties. (The North Carolina Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties based on economic well-being and assigns each a tier designation. The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2, and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3.) One hundred percent applied and planned to attend college, and 75 percent still planned to become educators. This year, there are 24 students enrolled in the program.  

Up to 30 nominees are invited to take part in a five-day summer residential program followed by nine months of activities. (Note that in both 2020 and 2021, the summer program was held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns and the limited vaccine availability for teenagers.) The LIFT cohort learns about teaching and its power through a series of innovative field-based activities, interactions with educational leaders, and professional leadership development training.

Participants and their parents have opportunities during the institute to attend college prep workshops and learn about scholarship opportunities. Current College of Education students co-facilitate the various sessions, coordinate exciting and creative programming, and serve as mentors and role models to the high school students. Particular emphasis is given to introducing and enhancing the participants’ competitiveness for local, statewide and national scholarship programs.

  • Summer Program: Demystify the college environment for participants who have little, if any, knowledge of campus. Students receive intensive leadership-building, coaching, and related experiences while exploring teaching in elementary, STEM, and other content-focused areas. 
  • Family Support: Orientation for parents/guardians. LIFT provides continued support throughout the participants’ senior year with bilingual support for parents and mentoring for the participants from seasoned teacher-mentors of similar backgrounds. 
  • College Readiness: Interactive sessions on leadership development, SAT/ACT prep, common application essay writing, and public speaking. Participants hear from innovative education leaders, legislators, and current teaching fellows from across the state.  
  • Senior Year: Students and their parents/guardians have an opportunity for two high-impact experiences, in addition to drop-in activities. LIFT Saturday Success Academies, held in the fall and spring, include mock interviews and public speaking, meeting with the College Board, the application process for Teaching Fellows, understanding financial aid and the FAFSA form, fiscal management for first-year college students, college study skills, and continued leadership development in cultural and equity awareness. Some of this programming is offered in both English and Spanish, and some is tailored for parents/guardians.

LIFT has been life-changing for the students involved. Kayla Womble was nominated for the program’s inaugural class by Vicki Brown, her academy of business and finance teacher at Southern Lee High School in Sanford. A member of the 2020-2021 cohort and now a freshman at NC State majoring in education, Womble shared her experience.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences with LIFT and it helped me gain a newfound respect for the field of education. This program is what solidified my decision to become an educator, specifically at NC State. 

LIFT also improved my confidence in my abilities. I feel that I got to identify and express many of my strengths socially while also working on and improving my weaknesses. Everything about this camp made me a more well-rounded individual, and I gained a better appreciation for teachers,” said Womble.   

“Initially, I was thinking about a major in either business or agriculture, but education also sparked my interest because I have always wanted to make a difference, even in just one person’s life. The idea of sculpting future leaders encapsulates every reason I want to be a teacher. I want to show students how to explore their individuality and help them utilize their capabilities to their fullest potential. Most of all, I want to help individuals (not just students) become their best selves. Without this program, I am not really sure what my major would be, but I am just about positive it would not have been education. Now, though, I cannot imagine myself pursuing any other degree. My major is elementary education with a special education licensure. My ultimate goal is to prioritize children and set them up for the same level of success to flourish on their own that LIFT has done for me.” 

Womble appreciated the continued support throughout her senior year and said it helped her remain motivated. “During senior year, many people experience “senioritis” and I definitely struggled with that myself but because of the mentoring and assistance with admissions and scholarship processes that LIFT provided, these effects were minimized. I also gained newfound confidence in my abilities because the mentoring and tips we received regarding the application process set me up for success and I achieved all of my goals.”

LIFT Program Student, Kayla Womble

“Another good thing about LIFT is also, if you engage in the camp, but decide education is not for you, the other skills taken away from the camp are still helpful. For example, we discussed the importance of equity inside and outside of the classroom which is a life skill necessary in today’s society, and we also learned a lot of useful information regarding the college application process and so much more can be taken away from the knowledge delivered in this camp.”

As a first-generation college student, she and her family found the family support particularly valuable. “LIFT was also very inclusive of my family and they enjoyed being given the opportunity to engage in certain sections of the program. I think it helped my parents understand my career decisions more. LIFT also definitely reassured them in my decision to go to college because the finances really scared them but LIFT shared all the scholarship opportunities and financial aid opportunities for educators and my parents loved this line of communication.

“I would tell other students if they have the opportunity to engage with this program, DO IT!  I truly hope LIFT is around when I have kids someday because I enjoyed it so much. I want to scream it from the rooftops and tell anyone and everyone to do it.”  

Mebane Foundation Provides Free Fridays at COGNITION

By Jeanna Baxter White

Hadley Clendenin (3) “rides” a John Deere tractor into the agricultural exhibit.

Catherine (3) says she wants to be a doctor. James (5) wants to “build like daddy.” 

COGNITION meets both of their interests,” said their mom, Katie Sanders. “ It offers wonderful hands-on activities and keeps the kids away from screen time which we try to limit. We feel very fortunate that the community chose to invest in this space for our children and future children.” 

“It’s nice to have something in the area for children to do, particularly on rainy days,” said Christiana Day who brought her three-year-old daughter, Hadley.

Kids Can Get Hands-On

Initially built through a community-wide capital campaign, the interactive learning space in downtown Mocksville offers nearly 5,000 square feet of interactive exhibits for ages nine and under.  A farm-to-table theme takes children from the farm to the market to shopping for a balanced plate and preparing it in the food truck. From sewing garments to laying bricks, to investigating slides under the microscope, children get a basic introduction to some of the industries in Davie County.  Downstairs, a hands-on makerspace allows ages 10 and up to craft, tinker, and create. Admission is $5 per person for the upstairs exhibit area, with separate admission for the makerspace.

Sanders and Day represent two of the 11 families who took advantage of the first Free Fridays event held at the museum on June 11th. Sponsored by a grant from the Mebane Foundation, the program allows children ages 0-7 to visit the upstairs museum free of charge. Catherine, James, and Hadley were three of the 25 children who enjoyed the opportunity. 

Free Fridays

“With COVID-19 hitting when it did, basically simultaneously with the opening of COGNITION, we thought a small injection of Foundation funds would ease the financial burden for families, thus “Free Fridays” was born,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. 

“COGNITION’s vision to help children play, learn, and grow through hands-on, interactive experiences complements our mission to support early transformative learning opportunities,” said Colbourne. “Research shows that play is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. It promotes healthy physical and emotional development as well as critical thinking skills which are essential for success in school and in life.”  

“Free Fridays are a wonderful opportunity for COGNITION to reach more families and show them everything we have to offer,” said Jessica Huyett, COGNITION site coordinator. “There truly is something here for everyone, I even caught some of the parents laughing and playing with the exhibits! Most of the families who took advantage of Free Friday said they would definitely be coming back and telling all their friends as well. We are so grateful for the support of the Mebane Foundation and everything they do to support the children in our community.”

Activities for All Age Groups

The Mebane Foundation also recognizes and supports the value COGNITION offers for older students. 

“COGNITION has partnered with local industry to put on Camp COGNITION: Cardboard Engineering. The camp highlights engineering-type skills and fosters creativity and collaboration. This is a program the Mebane Foundation will throw some support behind as well! I hope the community will take advantage of this cool opportunity”

Huyett explained the two different camps that are being made possible through Ashley Furniture Industries, which donated the tools and supplies. Four one-week sessions will be offered beginning June 21-24. Rising 2nd – 4th graders will get to design and construct a life-sized train set while rising 5th – 8th graders will design and construct a full-size functional mini-golf course. 

“What I want people to understand about Camp COGNITION: Cardboard Engineering is that it isn’t just cutting and duct-taping cardboard together. At camp, we will be following the engineering design process to plan and design what either the train set or mini-golf course will look like. Campers will then learn methods of cutting, bending, and fastening using safe tools to fabricate their design.”

“Critical thinking skills are essential for lifelong success. Our goal is to help children develop those skills while they are young through hands-on problem solving,” explained Cammie Webb, chair of COGNITION’s board of directors.

“This camp is a GREAT opportunity for kids to exercise their brains this summer while having a blast!” added Huyett. “Your children will discover a love for creating, learn basic engineering and design methods, practice teamwork and collaboration, and gain tools for the future. You don’t want to miss out!” 

How to Register for Camps

To register for Camp COGNITION visit www.cognitiondavie.org/calendar or stop by the museum.

COGNITION is open Wednesday-Friday with a morning session from 9:30-11:30 and an afternoon session from 1:30-3:30. There is an additional morning session on Saturdays from 9:30-11:30. The museum is making every effort to keep visitors safe as they begin to reopen. An air scrubber was installed thanks to a donation from Davie Community Foundation and exhibits are thoroughly cleaned after each session.

Advanced registration is required for all activities so check out the calendar page on the website at www.cognitiondavie.org/calendar to reserve your spot.

About COGNITION of Davie

COGNITION is located at 119 N. Salisbury St. next door to the Davie Community Foundation in Mocksville. The museum offers nearly 5,000 square feet of interactive exhibits for ages nine and under, and a hands-on makerspace for crafting, tinkering, and creating for ages 10 and up. Admission is $5 per person for the upstairs exhibit area, with separate admission for the makerspace.

The gears at Cognition are always turning – follow them on Facebook and Instagram for additional events and updates. You can also visit www.cognitiondavie.org, email info@cognitiondavie.org, or call (336) 753-1046.

Mebane Foundation and Local Businesses Come Through For Davie Youth and 4-H Programs

By Jeanna Baxter White

When Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne saw a plea in the Enterprise for sponsors for Davie County’s 4-H summer camps he immediately asked himself, “What would Allen (Mebane) do?” — then he wrote a check. 

“Allen read the paper every morning and I remember vividly how he’d call me into his office and tell me to take a look at a story he’d just read, articles similar to the 4-H one. He’d say, ‘I think they can use our help, what do you think?’  I knew all along we were going to help the organization, but he did that so I’d understand just how good it would make me feel. Now that he’s gone, I still do that from time to time, and you know what? It still feels as good as it did that first time in his office,” Colbourne shared. 

4-H Programs Forced to Pivot Funding Sources

4-H is the largest youth development organization in North Carolina, educating hundreds of thousands of young people each year. Sponsored by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, the goal of 4-H is to teach life skills, leadership, and public speaking to youth ages 5-18.

Because of COVID, the organization, which serves nearly 400 youth annually across Davie and surrounding counties, has seen a dramatic decline in funding due to limited donations and canceled fundraisers. The biggest fundraiser, the Davie 4-H Golf Tournament, which generally brings in $4,000, had to be canceled last year. Due to guidance from NC State University, which oversees Davie County 4-H, and outdoor gathering limits, this year’s Davie 4-H Golf Tournament was also canceled.

The decision dealt a tough blow to funding for the organization’s summer programming.  

“This was a very hard decision for us,” says Danny Lough, Davie County 4-H Extension agent. “We want to ensure everyone stays safe during this time and an in-person spring fundraiser does not allow us to do that. The funds earned from the golf tournament go directly to serving youth in our community through our clubs, camps, school enrichment, and STEM programs. Thanks to these funds, we can offer all these programs at little to no cost for our Davie families, which allows every youth an opportunity for a fun and educational experience.”

Programs Are Able to Stay Low Cost or No Cost Due to Funding

One of Davie County 4-H’s largest youth opportunities is the Summer Fun Camps that serve nearly 100 children annually and provide a safe, hands-on educational opportunity for families that need summer child care. 

Davie County Farm Bureau and United Way of Davie County donate funds annually to help cover some of the costs of camps. However, without additional funding, Lough was concerned that the cost of this summer’s camps would have to increase to cover insurance and travel expenses; possibly pricing out many families traditionally served by Davie 4-H Summer Fun.

Then he had an idea – ask businesses to sponsor the Summer Fun Programs like they sponsor the golf tournament.  

The idea was a tremendous success.

In addition to a $3,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation, Davie County 4-H received donations from Barnette Heating & Air, Fuller Architecture, Fuller Welding & Fabricators, Meg Brown Home Furnishings, Mocksville Auto Pride Car Wash, TAOksm, and Trailers of the East Coast

Summer Fun & Learning

“We really appreciate the outpouring of support from the business community as well as a few individuals. Several donors have children who have gone through the Summer Fun Camps and wanted to give that opportunity to others. We actually raised more than the funds lost which has allowed us to keep the prices low and increase the number of camps offered plus add a zoo trip.”   

This summer’s 14 camps cover a wide range of topics from gardening to computer coding. Each camp will be limited to 10 participants to allow for social distancing during transportation. After-camp care will also be provided for the first time. 

Most of the camps are led by volunteers who are very knowledgeable in the field they are teaching. “Our Davie County Master Gardeners help lead our Junior Master Gardener Camp where youth learn more about gardening. A local chef teaches the cooking camps and teaches the kids cooking skills and healthy recipes. Our Davie 4-H Shooting Sports instructor, Nelson Cowden, will teach youth about firearm safety and wildlife identification,” Lough said.

“The Mebane Foundation is all about education and getting kids involved in our community and I think our summer fun programs really align to that core value. Every kid is going to have fun, every kid going to have a safe summer camp experience but at the same time walk away with new skills and knowledge gained from our camps.” 

Registration Begins April 27, 2021

Camp registration is held in person and begins at 8 a.m on Tuesday, April 27th. Interested families may stop by the Cooperative Extension office, 180 S. Main St. #210, Mocksville, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m on weekdays. There will also be an evening sign-up on May 6 from 5-7 p.m. 

Learn More

To learn more about this summer’s camps check out the camp brochure HERE.

For more information, contact Lough at danny_lough@ncsu.edu or call (336) 753-6100.