Davie County Kinder Camp: Preparing Little Learners for Kindergarten Success

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

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

Acclimating Little Learners

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

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

Connecting Students and Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

Combining Learning and Play

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

A Precious Gift 

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

UNC Charlotte’s Project ENRICH Provides Valuable Clinical Experience for Future Teachers

By Jeanna Baxter White

Rouisha Slavenburg, undergraduate teacher candidate in the Elementary Education program teaching and reviewing letter-sounds during a Sound Partners lesson with two students at Niner University Elementary School SRC.
Rouisha Slavenburg, undergraduate teacher candidate in the Elementary Education program teaching and reviewing letter-sounds during a Sound Partners lesson  at Niner University Elementary School SRC.

Mebane Foundation Founder, Allen Mebane, believed that to achieve our nation’s greatest potential, it must ensure its young people receive a top-tier education.

Knowing that teacher quality is one of the most important school-related factors influencing student achievement, the Foundation cultivates partnerships with leading colleges of education to fund transformative training opportunities for both in-service and pre-service teachers. 

At the top of the list is the UNC Charlotte Cato College of Education. Since 2019, the Foundation has invested $50,000 annually in the University’s research-based summer reading camp, which gives local elementary students access to incredible resources and literacy support, offers area teachers the opportunity to learn and practice highly effective evidence-based techniques for teaching reading, and provides the University’s teacher candidates (TCs) with valuable clinical experience. 

A student at Niner University Elementary School SRC practices reading during a Sound Partners lesson.
A student at Niner University Elementary School SRC practices reading during a Sound Partners lesson.

Since its inception in 2016, the summer reading camp has served more than 300 elementary-grade students across seven schools to mitigate summer learning loss by providing access to evidence-based instruction in foundational reading skills and other literacy learning opportunities. Involved faculty, Drs. Kristen Beach, Erin Washburn, Miranda Fitzgerald, and Samantha Gesel have trained more than 35 in-service educators and 20 College of Education TCs and graduate students to provide and support evidence-based reading instruction.

The camp focuses on supporting reading instruction during the summer months, so historically there have been limited opportunities for training and supporting TCs, whose work in schools primarily transpires during the academic year. However, other programs, such as Project CERTIFIES (Co-PIs Drs. Gesel and Washburn) funded by the Belk Foundation since 2021, have taken the lead in offering TCs extended clinical experiences during the academic year. Experiences have included a semester of instructional coaching support while TCs volunteered to tutor a child in reading intervention. 

This year, a new program is going a step further. Project ENRICH (Engaging Niners in a Reading Intervention and Collaboration Hub) will enable unprecedented enrichment experiences for tomorrow’s educators while simultaneously supporting the reading achievement of underperforming and at-risk elementary students.

Savannah Paguio, undergraduate teacher candidate in the Elementary Education program during the book reading component of a Sound Partners lesson  at Niner University Elementary School SRC.

“Our goal is to create a hub for TC enrichment, in partnership with local schools, where TCs can strengthen their skill in delivering evidence-based reading instruction and strengthen collaboration with in-service teaching professionals,” said Dr. Beach, associate professor of Special Education.“Project ENRICH will serve as a model for improving the reading skills of elementary-grade students, mitigating summer learning loss (and COVID learning loss in 2020 and 2021), training TCs on evidence-based, scientifically valid reading programs, and guiding TCs as they develop additional teaching and leadership skills.”  

Thrilled to support a program that will build more robust clinical experiences that teach the next generation of educators about best practices, the Foundation quickly provided $60,000 to fund its first year. 

Caroline Owens, recent UNC Charlotte graduate in the Elementary Education program during the book reading component of a Sound Partners lesson  at Niner University Elementary School SRC.

“Allen Mebane’s primary goal in establishing the Foundation was to be a catalyst for innovation in early childhood literacy.  He also believed strongly that a teacher is a child’s most precious resource when it comes to succeeding in the classroom.  Additionally, he believed that real-time, real-world experience for teachers being trained in the latest methodologies to foster literacy is of the utmost importance. The Foundation’s relationship with UNC Charlotte Cato College of Education has proven to be exactly what he was searching for in a world-class partner, ” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. 

Teacher Candidate enrichment will occur in two key areas:

  • Extended tutoring opportunities in the Summer Reading Camp for TCs who were previously trained to implement evidence-based reading interventions as part of Project CERTIFIES, as well as TCs newly trained for ENRICH. 
  • New mentorship opportunities for TCs will begin in summer and transpire across the academic year and in partnership with in-service teachers previously engaged in the Summer Reading Camp or recommended by SRC faculty.
Pauline Vane, undergraduate teacher candidate in the Elementary Education program during the Sentence Reading component of a Sound Partners lesson at Niner University Elementary School SRC.

Developing Mebane Summer and Academic Year Scholars and Mebane Mentors

The year-long project began in Summer 2022 with the development of 13 Mebane Summer Scholars who were recruited from a pool of 23 TCs enrolled in the Reading and Elementary Education or Special Education Departments at UNC Charlotte.  Existing school partnerships and tutoring infrastructure were leveraged for Mebane Summer Scholars to provide evidence-based reading instruction and/or enrichment to elementary-aged students who read below grade level expectations. 

Additionally, Mebane Summer Scholars participated in a series of professional learning and mentoring opportunities with a Mebane Summer Mentor teacher, an in-service teacher who also had experience providing evidence-based reading tutoring at one of the three Summer Reading Camps (SRC). Mebane Summer Scholars valued the time spent with their in-service teacher mentors. 

As one Mebane Summer Scholar shared, “Being able to debrief after the end of each week and really put thought into my own personal ‘glows and grows’ and ask questions…about my teaching was really helpful. There were a lot of times where I doubted myself, and my mentor encouraged me and gave me great feedback on my work.” This kind of feedback and opportunity to reflect on instruction is a key driver of TCs’ professional growth.

During the 2022-2023 academic year, at least ten Mebane Scholars and five Mebane Mentors will engage in the year-long mentorship program.  Academic year Mebane Scholars are TCs in their last year of the teacher preparation program who were recruited from the pool of 13 Mebane Summer Scholars and other TCs who participated as SRC instructors at one of the three SRC sites.  Academic year Mebane Mentors were recruited from the pool of 5 summer mentors and teachers from partnership schools.  

Scholars and Mentors will have opportunities for additional training in evidence-based reading instruction and will engage in continued collaboration throughout the academic year to strengthen the Scholars’ teaching skills, sense of identity, confidence, and leadership skills. 

Keirra Crosland, 1st grade teacher at Niner University Elementary School sits with her students practicing long vowel sounds in a Sound Partners lesson at Niner University Elementary School SRC. She is serving as a Project ENRICH academic year mentor for teacher candidates.
Keirra Crosland, 1st grade teacher at Niner University Elementary School practicing long vowel sounds in a Sound Partners lesson at Niner University Elementary School SRC. She is serving as a Project ENRICH academic year mentor for teacher candidates.

Enrichment in the Reading Intervention and Collaboration Hub

Mebane Scholars and Mentors will engage in the reading intervention and collaboration hub in several ways. First, across 4 to 5 weeks in Summer 2022, each Mebane Summer Scholar provided approximately 100 hours of reading intervention to elementary-grade students identified as reading below grade level via face-to-face or virtual tutoring, using at least one evidence-based reading program (Sound Partners or Quick Reads).  Mebane Summer Scholars participated in professional development training on trauma-informed social-emotional learning and received weekly support from their matched Mebane Mentor teacher as they implemented instruction and several opportunities for discussion and reflection about their teaching practice. 

Each Mebane Summer Mentor provided 50 hours of summer reading intervention to elementary-grade students and an estimated 50 hours of mentorship. 

During the academic year, Mebane Scholars and Mentors will also engage in extended enrichment and mentorship activities. The time investment for academic year activities for each Scholar will be approximately four hours per week (232 hours per Scholar). Time investment for Mentors will be about one hour per week (136 total hours per Mentor).

Izoma Mua, undergraduate teacher candidate in the Dual Elementary and Special Education Program, and her student engaging in a Pictionary review game to review the CVC and CVCC patterns of focus during a Sound Partners lesson.

The Impact 

Program organizers anticipate the direct impact of Project ENRICH at three levels, as summarized by Dr. Beach. “First, we will strengthen TCs’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy for implementing evidence-based reading interventions to students reading below grade level while providing paid employment opportunities in their field of study. We will also support TCs’ sense of teaching identity and belongingness to the profession through extended collaboration with in-service teacher Mentors. Additionally, we will enhance their pre-service learning experiences, filling in gaps in knowledge and providing leadership opportunities. Next, we will strengthen in-service teacher capacity to implement and coach the implementation of evidence-based reading instruction. We will also develop mentorship skills. Last, we will improve reading outcomes for participating elementary-grade students.”  

Dr. Beach also shared expected collateral program impacts. “Investing in enriching TC training has the potential to improve their impact on student reading achievement within their first years of teaching. Similarly, continuing to invest in in-service teacher capacity to deliver evidence-based reading interventions can potentially mitigate reading risk for any student enrolled in trained teachers’ classrooms. In addition, developing in-service teachers’ capacity to serve as intervention coaches provides leadership experiences to teachers and enhances school capacity for sustaining strong implementation of evidence-based interventions. Developing mentors also provides TCs with rich network connections that can be leveraged on the job hunt or while climbing the first-year-of-teaching learning curve.” 

About the Cato College of Education at UNC Charlotte

Since the Cato College of Education’s inception, future educators have harnessed their passion to positively impact the trajectory of the students’ lives. The school prepares teachers, counselors, and school leaders who provide access to high quality education to students from diverse backgrounds. Each year over 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students enroll at the Cato College of Education at UNC Charlotte.