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

Central Davie Preschool student works on Cognitive ToyBox

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress Report by Domain

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

Small Group Report by Objective

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

Mebane Foundation Will Fund Use Again For 2021-2022

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mebane Foundation Continues to Support the Inspiring Brookstone Schools Program

By Jeanna Baxter White

Three tables of kindergarteners are busily working away. Four children construct bridges for the Three Billy Goats Gruff, others are building houses for The Three Little Pigs, and the third group uses manipulatives to sequence Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

“The foundation of literacy is understanding the relationship between words and their meaning both literally and visually,” explains their teacher, Mary Snoke. “Basic reading comprehension is participating in story retell using the pictures of a given book.  A deeper comprehension of a text is developed when the child can visualize the ideas of a story and apply them through creative expression…These activities provided opportunities for student retell, creative design, understanding cause and effect relationships, and developing problem-solving skills. This is literacy 101!!”

Literacy Camp Develops Comprehension & Prevents Summer Learning Loss

Innovative activities like this are the hallmark of Brookstone Schools’ Straight to the Top Summer Literacy Camp, which strives to prevent the “learning loss” that often occurs over the summer, particularly for students without access to books or reading. 

Mary Snoke and her kindergarteners use manipulatives to retell Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do you See?

The camp offered five weeks of fun, games, learning, and continued support during the summer months to 123 rising kindergarteners through rising 8th graders in Uptown Charlotte. Its main focus is to teach early literacy skills to rising kindergarteners, accelerate reading fluency, improve comprehension skills for all students, and build motivation and love for books.

“Research shows that students lose two to three months during the summer and that learning loss is cumulative over the years they are in school,” explained Suzanne Wilson, M.Ed., Brookstone’s director of major gifts. “However summer camp keeps their minds engaged and keeps them reading. Pre and post-tests show that, on average, our campers make at least a month to six weeks gain in reading fluency each summer. This summer’s camp is of even greater benefit, as it will help students regain some of the learning loss that may have occurred during this COVID year.”

Providing Quality Education for Twenty Years

Brookstone Schools, which opened its doors in 2001, is a non-denominational Christian school incorporating a biblical worldview into quality education for under-resourced families in Charlotte. Its students are equipped academically, socially, and spiritually for future lives of leadership and service.

The Mebane Foundation has supported Brookstone since 2012 when it awarded the school a three-year grant to launch the Straight to the Top summer literacy camp. Since then, the Foundation has invested almost half a million dollars in this inspiring program.  This year, the Foundation provided a grant of $85,000 to support the camp, subsidize a reading specialist to provide teacher training and in-class supervision, and fund diagnostic testing for reading difficulties by a licensed clinical psychologist. 

“Brookstone Schools has been a superstar in our portfolio of grantees ever since I met Suzanne back in 2012,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “They continue to lead by example. Families and children who have benefited from their holistic approach to education have been extremely fortunate.  All that to say; Brookstone is never satisfied and is always looking for new ways to support their families and to improve. With the addition of John as the most recent head of school, I think Brookstone’s future is more promising than ever.” 

Wilson is grateful for the support, “The Mebane Foundation’s strategic philanthropy has been a game-changer for Brookstone over the years. The funding for programming and training has enabled Brookstone to develop a strong reading program, one that is producing excellent, sustainable outcomes year after year.”

Brookstone Schools Camp Contributes to Student Confidence & Fluency

Camp ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., June 14th through July 15th. Mornings were devoted to three hours of focused reading instruction with the goals of: 

  1. Giving rising kindergarteners a jump-start on learning to listen and early reading skills such as letter recognition, phonemic awareness, and writing their name.
  2. Strengthening students’ reading fluency to improve their comprehension and boost their overall ability to see themselves as confident readers.
  3. Offering children who have had limited opportunities for interacting with books, a literacy-rich classroom in the summer to encourage them to read good books.
Brookstone Schools’ kindergarteners design bridges for the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Instruction for elementary-age students centered on building early reading skills such as phonemic awareness, decoding phonemes, words, phrases, and reading age-appropriate text. Teachers of upper elementary and middle school classes helped students practice fluency, comprehension skills, and strategies. Time was allotted daily for silent reading and spelling practice.

Afternoons included an additional hour of academic support and a variety of enrichment activities. Local churches provided Vacation Bible School and volunteers offered a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, music, and outdoor games. Middle school students participated in Mission Possible, a Christ-centered program of mission and outreach to the urban community.  This summer adults served alongside young people to help those in need at The Harvest Center, Bright Blessings and Dove’s Nest. 

“What a beautiful thing it was to see how our middle school students gave back to the community this summer,” said Wilson. “This is the eighth summer that Davidson United Methodist Church has led a service-oriented program for teens in our camp. Brookstone kids learn firsthand that even if your resources are limited, mission work is not impossible. You can still give the gift of your time and your heart to help others.” 

More Than Academics

Brookstone’s new incoming students are required to attend the summer camp, free of charge, which introduces their families to both the benefits and the rigor of the program. 

“Summer camp allows the families to have some “skin in the game” and gives our teachers an opportunity to meet new students and begin to assess their needs,” explained Head of School John Murray, who joined the school in July 2020.

Those needs are often more than academic. During his tenure, Murray has expanded the school’s whole-child approach to education, including adopting a trauma-informed teaching approach, which factors in how trauma impacts learning and behavior. This has been particularly timely considering the negative impact COVID has had on families’ stability and well-being. 

“Trauma can slow down or completely stop our ability to learn. Kids experiencing trauma are more likely to fall behind in class or get in trouble for behavior issues,” said Murray. “Our students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs must also be met in order for them to learn.” 

Research has shown that children with adverse childhood experiences (ACES) struggle more with learning and participating at school, with language development, communication, attendance, and excelling academically. They have a higher likelihood of dropping out early or choosing not to pursue higher education.

Last year, all of the teachers took ACES training to help them better identify the signs of distress in children and to give them strategies to address those needs in the classroom. 

Additionally, the school received a grant to provide trauma therapy and counseling services through Christ-Centered Community Counseling (C4), an urban counseling & mental health awareness practice. If needed, counselors also provide families with referrals to organizations that can help with rent, utilities, and food. They had a caseload of 33 by the end of the first month. This year the school will also add a nurse to the staff. 

“Over the past six months, we have witnessed numerous students’ lives changed for the better through the important work of C4,” Murray shared. “With the addition of a full-time nurse, as well as our partnership with the Mebane Foundation, we look forward to watching our students grow spiritually, socially, academically, this coming school year.”

Judy Brooks’ 4th graders read Judy Blume’s Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing.

About Brookstone Schools

Brookstone Schools is a non-profit Christ-centered school serving urban children and families since 2001. Brookstone offers an opportunity for parents who want a choice in how they educate their children but are unable to afford private education. Students learn not only facts but how to use this knowledge for future lives of leadership and service. Brookstone is located in Uptown Charlotte (301 South Davidson St., Charlotte, N.C. 28202). All gifts made to Brookstone Schools are tax-deductible. For more information, please visit or contact Suzanne Wilson, director of major gifts, at (704) 392-6330 or

Congratulations First-Year Teacher Grant Recipients!

By Jeanna Baxter White

Rebecca Boyles likes to say she was born to be a teacher because her birthday typically falls on the first day of school.

Kelly Mathewson reads with her student, Jazlynn Griffin.
Kelly Mathewson reads with her student, Jazlynn Griffin.

“I became a teacher because I believe that every child deserves an adult that will never give up on them and understands the power of connection between a teacher and student. I knew that I could be the caring adult that never gave up on students in my classroom, while also teaching them to have a lifelong love of learning.”

Kelly Mathewson has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.

“I remember teaching my stuffed animals on my bed, doing worksheets and math problems, and making my big sister sit down to learn math and literacy. There have been a lot of teachers in my life that made a great impact on me, that I still keep in touch with to this day; and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”

Supporting Young Teachers

To support passionate young teachers like these, the Mebane Foundation offered $50,000 in classroom grants for the 2020-21 school year to first-year teachers in North Carolina teaching kindergarten through 3rd grade. Boyles, Mathewson, and 22 other teachers received a one-time grant of up to $1500 to furnish their classrooms with reading/literacy support materials or to receive literacy-related professional development.

“Setting up a classroom is expensive, and young teachers straight out of college entering their first classroom have to purchase their own supplies, everything from books to learning stations to visual aids for the walls — before receiving their first paycheck,” said Foundation President Larry Colbourne.

“We hope that these $1500 grants will give enthusiastic young educators the opportunity to practice innovative approaches to literacy they may have learned in school or to explore their own ideas without struggling to pay for the supplies. It was inspiring to read their thoughts and ideas in their applications. Who knows what exciting new techniques may be born!”

Building a Classroom Library

“When I applied for the grant, I made a long list of items that I thought would be nice to purchase for my classroom, and ultimately decided that I would use the grant to expand my classroom library,”  said Boyles, who teaches 2nd grade at Park View Elementary School in Mooresville where she did her student teaching and worked at the literacy camp for three summers. “Now more than ever, kids need a real book in their hands. They need the chance to look at the pictures in front of them and turn the pages on their own, rather than having a computer do it for them. My students have been attending school in a virtual format since March 2020. I knew that having more books in my classroom library would be beneficial to my students this year, and my students in years to come,” explained Boyles. “I decided to purchase book packs from Scholastic so I could have a variety of books in my library. My college reading courses at Appalachian taught me that students need to have books that they can see themselves represented in.”

“Books act as mirrors, showing the child a character that they can relate to in a book, and books act as doors that allow children to see others that are not like them. Of the ten book packs that I purchased, the diversity book pack helps meet my goal of making sure that all students can see themselves represented in my classroom library.”

New Teacher, Rebecca Boyles

“I would not have been able to purchase these items on my own. I knew that a large classroom library was out of reach on a first-year teacher budget while I was still paying off my college student loans.

Before receiving the grant, I had a small classroom library started. Throughout college, I constantly went to book sales and collected old books from family members, friends, and neighbors. When holidays and special occasions came around, I asked family members to purchase books for my classroom library.”

“My first few days of teaching have been exhausting but very rewarding. If you would have told me that I would start my teaching career as a virtual teacher, I would have called you crazy. But, it is a great learning experience.”

“I believe that before any learning can happen, a relationship must be established. I will always remember my favorite teachers throughout my K-12 schooling who never gave up on me and understood the power of connection. It has been difficult building relationships with my students virtually because we are not having the in-person, hands-on experiences that we would typically have the first week of school, however, my district has an amazing technology department that provides each student with a device to use for virtual learning. I have tried to build relationships the “old school” way by sending my students postcards and birthday cards in the mail to let them know that I am still thinking of them.”

Idris Solano Del Rio

“My favorite part of my first week has been taking my students on a tour of their classroom and showing them their classroom library. I love watching their eyes light up and their smiles get bigger as they see all of the books that they have to look forward to when we return to school. We have started reading a few of the books in the library, but, I don’t want to ruin the surprises that await my students in our classroom library.”

Creating a Welcoming Environment

Mathewson, who teaches 1st grade at Fred L. Wilson Elementary in Kannapolis, where she also did her student teaching, learned about the grant through an email from her advisor at UNC-Charlotte and thought, why not? 

“When I found out I had been selected I was really, really excited. I didn’t realize just how much it would cost to set up my classroom until I started purchasing the items I needed with the money I received. I could not have done it by myself and I am so thankful for the Mebane Foundation grant.”

Although the school provided math manipulatives and things needed for basic literacy like anchor chart paper and writing paper, and a few books for her classroom library, there were still many things she needed to make her classroom a warm and welcoming environment for her students. But the most important thing on her list — books. 

In her application, Mathewson wrote, “The students in my future classroom would benefit from a vast amount of books that are fit for their individual reading level as well as a whole group reading time. I would love to purchase books for all parts of the day to get my students excited about being a reader including books for shared reading, guided reading, and read-aloud. . . With this grant, I would be able to expand the classroom library which allows my students to have a great choice into what books they are reading and what interests them. In turn, this would lead to better engagement and success in literacy amongst my first graders. As research shows, the amount of time students spend reading a book that interests them greatly improves their overall knowledge and academic skills.”

“I would also love to purchase books for myself to read and learn from as a literacy teacher to expand my knowledge of literacy techniques to also help with my students’ academic growth. I would be able to share this knowledge with my grade level team as well as the instructional coach and teachers in other grades, impacting the whole schools’ improvement with literacy teaching.”

Riley Thompson

She started at Goodwill and thrift stores to make the most of her money. In addition to books, Mathewson purchased lap desks and floor cushions for flexible seating, fidget bands for chairs, and classroom supplies and decorations.

“I also purchased Velcroed “sit spots” that you stick to the carpet so that students know where they sit, which has ended up being especially useful this year because I have been able to put them six feet apart.”

Mathewson has two cohorts of students for at least the first nine weeks of school; nine students that she has in class on Mondays and Tuesdays and teaches virtually on Wednesdays through Fridays, and six students who receive virtual instruction all five days.

Although the coronavirus has made the start of the school year challenging, Mathewson said the first couple of days in class went smoothly. “They are adjusting to mask-wearing and staying far apart but it is going to take a lot of practice particularly since they are only in the classroom two days a week.”

“I could not have done this year without this scholarship. My principal actually let me come into the building all summer to prepare my classroom. Being in the classroom and thinking of the things I needed and knowing that I had the money to buy them was crazy helpful and I am so grateful for that opportunity.”

Grant Recipient, Kelly Mathewson

2020-2021 First-year Teacher Grant Recipients

Rebecca BoylesPark ViewMooresville
Stephanie BrooksFred L. WilsonKannapolis
Sydnie CannadaUnion Preparatory AcademyIndian Trail
Kayla CarterEnochvilleChina Grove
Sarah CavanaghSugg BundyFarmville
Hannah ChampionWinecoffConcord
Heather DaywaltCornatzerMocksville
Abigail DoyleWM IrvinConcord
Jessica FosterSouthMooresville
Emily HiettGuilford Preparatory AcademyGreensboro
Summer HulsSummersillJacksonville
Julieta IsolerGovernors Village STEM AcademyCharlotte
Megan LawsParkway SchoolBoone
Kelly MathewsonFred L WilsonKannapolis
Hillary PruetteHickory RidgeHarrisburg
Chressy RayfieldSouth NewtonNewton
Rebecca RiggsThomasville PrimaryThomasville
Belle RoseLaurel ParkApex
Libby RoseCove CreekVilas
Tequila ThompsonPearceGreensboro
Chandler WhittenEasternGreenville
Brittni WillisSouthwestJacksonville
Sarah WomackUnity Classical CharterCharlotte
Jana YountValle Crucis SchoolSugar Grove
Rebecca Boyles with some of the 300 new books she was able to purchase with her Mebane Foundation first-year teacher grant.
Rebecca Boyles with some of the 300 new books she was able to purchase with her Mebane Foundation first-year teacher grant.

Davie County Students Enjoy Summer Enrichment Camps Thanks to Mebane Foundation

By Jeanna Baxter White

Madison Sandy builds a lego car during the robotics on-site field trip by Bricked. 

Sitting cross-legged on the library floor, Madison Sandy carefully examined the blueprint on the iPad in front of her before selecting the corresponding legos to add to her remote control car. Soon the rising 5th-grader was gleefully maneuvering it in a circle in front of her, experiencing that math and science are fun. 

Flexible Funding Means the Learning Doesn’t End

School may have been out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean that learning in Davie County ended. More than 180 rising kindergarteners through 5th-graders attended summer programs funded by a $122,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation located in Mocksville.   

“Students missed months of face-to-face instruction this spring due to coronavirus restrictions and are heading into an uncertain school year this fall,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation. “It was important to the Foundation to support enrichment opportunities to help reduce learning loss. Normally those funds supplement state funding for Davie’s summer Read to Achieve Camp; but since the Department of Instruction canceled that requirement for this summer, the money was available to fund other programs.”

Overcoming Limitations to Provide Engaging Summer Enrichment Camps

Davie County Schools (DCS) reallocated the funds towards five-week summer enrichment camps for rising 1st through 5th graders at Cooleemee and Cornatzer, since they were the sites of the summer feeding program,  and kinder camps for rising kindergarteners at all six elementary schools. 

Jennifer Lynde, DCS chief academic officer, appreciated the Foundation’s flexibility. “We are in very difficult times that require us to adapt and make decisions, unlike any in the past. The support of the Mebane Foundation allows us to make decisions better aligned with the needs of children and not strictly funding.”

“Between North Carolina’s Covid-19 guidelines and minimal time to plan, we didn’t think we would be able to have any kind of in-person camp this year. Most districts around us were only able to offer virtual camps.”

Colbourne put her in touch with Imprints Cares in Winston Salem, which offers kindergarten readiness programs for children ages birth to five and expanded learning programs, including summer enrichment day camps, for elementary school students. Since Imprints Cares already had a curriculum in place for its summer camps in Forsyth County as well as social distancing and cleaning protocols developed through offering crisis childcare, he thought they would be the perfect partner to operate an enrichment camp in Davie County.  

After meeting with Claudia Barrett, executive director, and Betty West, director of expanded learning services, DCS officials hired Imprints Cares to provide all logistics including hiring, curriculum, before and after camp care, and day-to-day management.  

With only three weeks to prepare, DCS instructional coaches quickly assembled lists of students they felt would benefit from the camp. Then it was opened up to all rising third and fourth graders. 

Neither camp ended up filled to capacity. Lynde attributed it to the camp being optional, the school system not being able to provide transportation due to coronavirus restrictions at the time, the short notice and parents already making other arrangements, as well as some parental concerns about face-to-face interactions. 

Partnership Allows Teachers to Focus on Students

Imprints Cares handled the hiring, offering the positions first to RtA Camp staffers and then to other interested  DCS staff. Twenty-five DCS employees worked at least one week of camp. Imprints Cares staff members Brigett Quillen and Kelly Hudnall served as site supervisors to handle daily operations so that the teachers could focus on the students and academics.   

No one entered the building without first being pre-screened and having their temperature checked. All adults wore masks, although students were not required to do so based on the state’s childcare and summer camp guidelines. A strict hand washing policy was enforced and areas were deep-cleaned after each group of students rotated through. Everyday items like hula hoops and pool noodles were used to demonstrate safe distancing. 

“We had a lot of great lessons on how to integrate children back into the classroom safely,” Shannon Heck, Imprints Cares director of development and marketing said.

Half of the day was devoted to academics – math, writing, reading, and phonics using Heggerty, a phonemic-awareness program that aligns with the science of reading.  Each week had a different theme: The Not So Secret Life of Pets, Full STEAM Ahead, Where the Wild Things Are, Goin’ to Carolina in My Mind, and Survivor. 

The other half focused on STEAM-based enrichment activities incorporating math, science, reasoning, and logic, which were aligned with the week’s topic such as an egg drop design contest during Full STEAM Ahead.  

Additionally, campers were treated to three onsite field trips: Birds of Prey from Allison Outdoor Wilderness Center, a robotics camp by Bricked where students assembled and maneuvered Lego-based remote-controlled cars, and an outdoor fun day complete with a drenching courtesy of the Cooleemee and Cornatzer fire departments. 

“We wanted there to be good social-emotional interaction, the academic piece, and just some good old-fashioned summer camp fun,” Heck explained.  

Crystal Phillips, a 1st/2nd grade teacher’s assistant at Pinebrook Elementary, taught math at Cornatzer. She considered the camp to be extremely valuable for the students who participated. “We all know that children tend to backslide in the summer months from one grade to the next.  I feel these kids and most of the others at home may experience more learning loss this year than prior summers because of the last quarter being taught remotely.  I’m not sure I’ve taught anything new but I do hope I have rekindled the information they already know and made it fun for them in class. Imprints Cares was wonderful. We all have our individual responsibilities but we all filled in where we are needed any given day.  As they say, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work.’”  

Lynde echoed her sentiments. “Imprints Cares was wonderful to work with. They were very professional and responsive and open to working with us on the curriculum. I was particularly impressed with the way they handled Covid guidelines to ensure the safety of both students and staff.” 

Acclimating Little Learners With Kinder Camp

While the enrichment camps sought to decrease summer learning loss, the kinder camps had a different set of goals — teaching rising kindergarteners how to social distance, wash their hands, treat others the way they would want to be treated, and most importantly become comfortable with the school setting. 

Colbourne and I stopped by Pinebrook Elementary to observe.  As we entered the building, kindergarten teacher Julie Holt was teaching an important life lesson. “Are things always going to be our way?” she asked. The nine little campers responded with a resounding “No!” Holt went on to explain the Golden Rule saying, “You have to treat other people the way you want to be treated.” 

“The purpose of kinder camp is to get the children acclimated to school,” Holt explained. “They get the chance to learn to get along and to socialize which benefits them a lot. They also learn how to get around the school so that they aren’t scared. We talk a lot about what the first day will be like so that they will be more comfortable with it. If they are more comfortable with it their parents are going to be more comfortable with it.” 

“Although I do at least one academic activity each day, I focus more on getting them socially ready to enter the kindergarten world. If you can get them socially and behaviorally ready, the academic piece will come.”

As we followed the children to the classroom, Holt had them swing their arms back and forth. “If you can touch your neighbor you are too close,” she admonished. 

Back in the classroom, Holt told the students that each of them was special and unique and had their own name which was made up of letters. Pointing to a white bearing each name, she helped them count the letters. Then they traced their names on paper using bingo daubers.  

“Kinder camp gives us the opportunity to bond with our students and to instill in them the love of learning and a love for school. I think it is a fabulous thing that we can offer this camp and we appreciate it,” she told Colbourne with a smile.

Book Babies Launches Virtual Visits to Continue to Meet the Needs of Families

By Jeanna Baxter White

Although Book Harvest’s Book Babies team can’t visit families in person right now, that doesn’t mean they’re not keeping in touch, shared Ginger Young, the Durham-based organization’s founder and executive director. 

Launched in Durham County in 2013, this groundbreaking evidence-informed home visiting program provides 20 new age-appropriate books to participating children every year starting at birth, ensuring that they have a home library of more than 100 books by the time they start kindergarten. Home visitors from Book Babies partner with the parents of 376 enrolled children ages 0 to 5 in two locations in North Carolina: Durham County and Forsyth County. Together, Book Babies parents and home visitors set literacy goals for each enrolled child, mark their progress as they prepare for school, and help ensure that the entire family starts kindergarten ready to learn. 

These collaborative activities have always taken place in families’ living rooms and at their kitchen tables. But in March, as concerns about the coronavirus began to spread across the country, Young and her Book Babies colleagues realized that they needed to find another way to provide their services. 

On Friday, March 13, the same day that the Mayor of Durham issued a state of emergency declaration for the city, the Book Babies team wrote the protocols and curriculum for virtual home visits. The first virtual home visit occurred only three days later.  

Adapting to Meet the Needs

Since March 16, the Book Babies team has completed 84 virtual home visits, using a variety of different platforms, including Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and phone calls.  

During the transition to virtual visits, team members also called every current Book Babies family, as well as the 59 alumni/ae of the program, to ask them two questions: “How are you and your family doing?” and, “What do you need right now?”

“This process helped us gather information about our families’ basic needs,” said Young. “We discovered that for at least 10 to 20 percent of our families, some aspects of connectivity are a challenge, which means we have families who are unable to conduct a virtual visit. And more than that, there are older children in the household who are unable to connect to online learning opportunities.” 

Young acknowledges that the program is “living a beta test right now.” Of course, Book Babies is not the only program that was thrust into a virtual world without the benefit of time to research and develop best practices; many organizations have spent the past few months scrambling to figure out how to continue to support children and families during the pandemic. 

The Silver Lining – Opportunity

“It’s not just us; a lot of visiting programs are doing the same thing. I think it is fascinating to see how we are each adapting day to day, week to week, and incorporating improvements as we go. Ten weeks after we transitioned to virtual visits we are still using parent feedback each week to refine and to change based on the needs of our families.”  

“If there is a silver lining to this terrible time we are in, it’s that we are getting the opportunity to ask some of the tough questions we’ve always known that we needed to ask,” Young mused. “The pandemic has presented us with a call to action. We’ve had the opportunity to step up and to be very nimble with these tools and open to learning new things for the sake of families whose success we are committed to.” 

She referenced the comprehensive North Carolina Early Home Visiting Landscape Analysis released by the UNC School of Social Work’s Jordan Institute for Families in 2018, which revealed that there is a vast untapped need for home visiting in our state. According to the analysis, only 1% of the families who could benefit from home visits in the early childhood phase are getting them. “By redefining home visiting to include virtual interventions, we could possibly take that 1% to 10% because of the ability to reach a greater caseload,” suggested Young. “Potentially, for the same amount of money, all of us in this field could go further and provide the benefits of home visiting to exponentially more families.”

While the transition to virtual home visits is very much a learning process, the Book Babies team reports that it is seeing good results so far. “I have absolutely loved doing virtual visits!” shared Book Babies home visitor Kenitra Williams. “It has been a wonderful opportunity to see families during this time of staying at home. I have continued to be able to check in with caregivers to talk about how reading is going and discuss possible solutions to any reading struggles that they may have.

“I think caregivers have enjoyed sharing the milestones their children have reached and knowing that they have someone to brainstorm with them possible solutions to problems and to share ideas,” Williams continued. “The children enjoy participating in the call and some are excited that I have some of the same books they do. For those 30-45 minutes, I think all of us appreciate the opportunity to focus on their child and reading — a break from the craziness that is the rest of the world right now.”

Young explained that she believes the transition to virtual home visits is working because the Book Babies program was built on a deep commitment to meeting parents where they are. Over the past six years, Book Babies home visitors have done their work sitting on families’ couches, holding their babies at their kitchen tables, and engaging with them in the place where they are most comfortable: their homes. Virtual home visits became the logical next iteration of the program at a time when families are unable to welcome visitors into their homes in person.

The Transition is Working Due to Relationships

“Even before the pandemic we were conducting home visits on the parents’ terms,” explained Young. “The good news is that we have been able to deliver this collaboration and to continue promoting pathways to kindergarten readiness even during a pandemic when we can’t sit side by side. Our pre-existing relationships of trust will carry us all through this challenging time. We are still telling parents, ‘We really want to connect with you, do a check-in on your child’s literacy progress and find out how you are feeling and what you need.’ Going into this virtual adaptation, we already had the infrastructure in place to communicate with families in the ways they preferred.” 

Book Babies Team Leader Meytal Barak notes that virtual home visits are fundamentally different than in-person visits. “If we don’t let go of the notion that a virtual visit is the same as an in-person home visit, then we will definitely have a tougher road. There are some benefits to virtual that we can’t get in person and vice versa. It’s not that one replaces the other. It’s simply a different way of engaging. This experience is going to leave us all better and stronger.” 

You can learn more about how to enroll in Book Babies here.

The Mebane Charitable Foundation has supported Book Harvest’s Dream Big Book Drive and the Book Babies program since 2018 and appreciates the passion and vision that is making a difference in the lives of these young families and children.

Kindergarten Readiness Showing Promising Gains in Davie County

By Jeanna Baxter White

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

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

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

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

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

Table – DIAL-4 Kindergarten Readiness Data

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table – PreK GOLD Assessments


Domains Assessed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DavieLEADS gives Cooleemee Elementary a boost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another tool you’ll see in classrooms is Letterland. This is a phonics-based program that aims to teach students aged 3 to 8 how to read, write, and spell. Letterland has characters based on different letters that live together in Letterland. Stories featuring the letter characters explain phonics to children in a way that’s more entertaining than your typical lesson, and thus sticks in the minds of students.

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Letterland. Alex Granados/EducationNC

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

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

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

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

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

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


Authors in Schools are Getting Winston Salem Kids Excited about Reading!

By Jeanna B. White

“Hello, how are you? May I PLEASE have a cat? — A tiger’s your reward for asking like THAT,” read Author, Kyle Webster, to the gasps and giggles of 90 delighted first graders at Moore Magnet Elementary School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Webster was reading his book, “Please Say Please!” to the students as part of the Authors in Schools program presented by Bookmarks, a Winston-Salem-based literary arts non-profit that fosters a love of reading and writing in the community.

At the end of Webster’s presentation, each student took home an autographed hardcover copy of the colorful picture book, and the school’s library received $1000 worth of award-winning and diverse fiction and non-fiction picture books that also included bilingual titles.

According to Literacy Company statistics, more than 20% of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level, far below the level needed to earn a living in today’s society. Forty-eight percent of young children in the U.S. are not read to daily. More than 13 million children under the age of 5 go to bed without a bedtime story. Bookmarks hopes to improve these statistics by bringing more authors into schools and by inspiring students to read and write.

Bookmarks provides these visits by local, regional, and nationally-known authors, illustrators, and storytellers at no cost to the schools. The program has reached 40,000 students since 2010 and has grown from 1,000 students per year to 9100 in 2017. This outreach is funded through donations and grants from individuals and other organizations with a passion for literacy.

Webster’s visit to Moore and four other Title 1 elementary schools was funded by a $25,000 grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation, based in Mocksville, NC. The grant provided books for the 500 students who participated in the reading as well as more than 60 books each for the library collections. These students will also receive a visit from Stacy McAnulty and a copy of her book, “Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years,” later this year.

“I know what a difference it makes to have an author come into a classroom and to feel a book, touch a book and be able to ask questions of the author,” said Ginger Hendricks, Bookmarks executive director. “I still remember visits authors made to my classes in school.”

It’s great to be able to say that we served 9,000 students last year, but what the Mebane Foundation is allowing us to do is two visits with the same children this spring while also placing new books in the school libraries,” Hendricks said. “It excites us to be able to build on these students’ experiences. In addition, the grant allows us to give the children a hardcover book by the visiting author. Each book has a plate for the student to write his or her name. For many, this will be the first book they will own.”

Bookmarks’ Authors in Schools program fits in well with the Mebane Foundation’s mission of preparing children for life through literacy.

“One of the experiences I remember most vividly from my early years in elementary school was the opportunity to buy books at our school book fairs, and then the anticipation of waiting for them to arrive,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “If the Mebane Foundation can create that same love and anticipation for books and reading that I had as a child, we’ll have met our mission. Bookmarks has been a fantastic partner!”

When visiting authors interact with students, they answer questions about writing, the process of creating a book, their writing life, how to get ideas and write them on paper, and the importance of reading in their lives. These experts in the field of writing serve as role models and offer children goals for them to aspire to.

An accomplished illustrator who has drawn for The New Yorker, The New York Times, NPR, TIME, and hundreds of other distinguished editorial, advertising, publishing and institutional clients, Webster explained the illustrating process by showing the students how to draw the little girl in his book, or any other drawing, using circles, triangles, and rectangles.

He encouraged the students to try writing and drawing on their own, saying, ”No one is born with talent. Talent means that a person spent a lot of time doing what they loved and got really good at it. If you keep doing something, you will get good at it, and people will say you have talent.”

Webster was all smiles after answering questions from students and passing out the books. “I have so much fun doing this,” he said. “I just want to leave a positive impression. Even if just a few walk away and think ‘I can do that’ then it was well worth it.”

“Writing this book has definitely been the most enjoyable project I’ve worked on, and it has been the most satisfying because I continue to get to visit schools, read, and connect with these kids,” he continued. “None of the other work I’ve done has had that type of reward. Getting to put my book in each student’s hands and make that connection is a really great feeling.”

“Students need a purpose to read,” said Adam Dovico, Moore’s principal. “If that purpose is ‘Hey, I know the guy who wrote this,’ I’ll take that as a victory. Reluctant readers need that hook or buy in. Meeting the author presents a very good reason to want to read. As the kids were walking up the hall a few minutes ago, half of them had their books open looking at them.

Rachel Kuhn Stinehelfer, education and program specialist for Bookmarks, was thrilled to hear that and said, “One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to see children excited about books. Teachers and media coordinators share the success of these author visits with us — stating that the children check out more books from the library written by visiting authors and are more excited about reading after an author visit. We have also seen our participation triple from 2009 to 2017 in our Young Readers Central area at our Festival which further shows us that we are reaching and inspiring students to read and write.”

“By getting our youngest citizens involved in the literary community at an early age,” Hendricks said, “they will hopefully stay involved and continue reading throughout their lives.”

Bookmarks began as a book festival in 2004 as a project of the Winston-Salem Junior League. Over the years, the organization has evolved into the largest annual book festival in the Carolinas and has added programs including Authors in Schools and a summer reading program. In its 13 years in existence, Bookmarks has brought more than 750 authors, illustrators, and storytellers to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Last July, Bookmarks opened a nonprofit independent bookstore and gathering space at 634 W. Fourth St. For more information, visit

Awesome Summer Activities and Reading Programs for Students at Davie Library


by Jeanna White

As school ends and summer begins, thoughts go to trips to the beach, splashing in the pool, or a little rest and relaxation.

But summer is also a perfect time to boost your child’s developing literacy skills and  love of learning. Studies show that reading just 4-5 books during the summer can prevent a decline in a child’s fall reading scores.

The Davie County Public Library has a number of fun, educational, age-appropriate summer programs that encourage kids to keep reading even when school’s out. And best of all, they are free!

child-readingBuild a Better World
According to Youth Services Librarian Julie Whittaker, better known as Miss Julie to Pre-K and elementary school students across the county, the Davie County Public Library is ready to welcome youth for the Summer Reading Program of 2017, “Build a Better World.”

“We have 8 weeks of events and programs to engage people of all ages in activities that keep academic skills sharp, foster a “Better World” and prevent boredom during the summer months,” she said.

Sign-up for the “Build a Better World” reading incentive program begins on June 19th and is ongoing through August 7th. The purpose of incentive programs is to encourage reading everyday/regularly throughout the summer. Participants choose between two programs; the easy timed reading Build a Better World Easy or the Build a Better World Challenge with activities. Age is not a consideration; rather the reader’s ability and desire determine which program is best for each individual. The Easy Record is based on reading / listening to at least 15 minutes of literature each day, enter the number of minutes read on the sheet. Prizes are based on reading or attending a program each day of the week earning small prizes and free books when goals are met. Build a Better World Challenge involves completing four tasks and recording the number of minutes read each day, then returning the reading record to collect noted prizes. As a guide, 40 min a day, 5 days a week over 8 weeks equals 1,600. Opportunities to earn 2 free books are available.

Programs Available Daily – Some Require Pre-Registration
There are different programs almost every day of the week, but some require advanced sign-up.  The following list of activities can be found at Those requiring advanced registration are highlighted below. Please download a printable calendar of events.

6:30 pm– all programs are available to the public regardless of SRP registration. Consult DCPL’s web-calendar for program specific details.

M 6/26 & 7/24 only 2-5:00 pm – Teens Paint the Wall for Middle and High School artists or interested in art, see Tuesdays for description.

10:30 am:  Elementary Build It: Planned for elementary students; participants will consult books on the day’s Build It Activity and then build. 2 MAD Science Workshops are scheduled with limited seating, patrons must register to participate in these free workshops for elementary aged youth, and registration opens for these events on M, 6/19 for 6/27 and 7/17 for 8/1. All others open with free general admission.

2-5:00 pm: Teens Paint the Wall: For Middle and High School teens who would like to use their creativity and artistic talents to help paint 2 wall scenes in the Multi-Purpose Room. Mentored by volunteer Bruce White of Wild Mountain Designs & Art. (4th Tuesdays are Blood Drive, so this activity will be offered on M 6/26 & 7/24) Also available on Thursdays from 10am -12 pm. 

11 am Munchin’ at the Movies-rated PG usually less than 2 hours.    

1 pm Snackin’ at the Cinema-rated PG & PG 13 usually 2 hours. 

Participants are welcome to bring lunch or snacks, blankets & pillows; the library will  provide a big screen showing of a recent release or theme related film, floor space, chairs and trash cans.  Parents are responsible for deciding if movie content / ratings are appropriate for their family, and can check on  A movie list  is available on the DCPL’s calendar.

10am-12pm- Teens Paint the Wall

Reading & Code Clubs Brochures / flyers with specifics and registration are available at DCPL and on the library  website. Please note these bulleted programs are not ‘drop-in’, as participants prepare in advance to read or discuss the selected book and equipment and space is limited. Register at DCPL’s Youth Services Desk or email

o   11 am-12 pm Reading with Ranger- any age participant may sign-up for a 15 minute time slot to read to Ranger, a live Golden Retriever certified by Therapy Dog International. No drop in, registration 2 days in advance.

o   1-2pm-Next Chapter Book Club-for adults & teens with intellectual differences, see brochure for info.

o   2:15 pm Reader’s Clubs –Middle School and Young Adults enjoy snacks while discussing a common read. See brochure and calendar for alternating dates, and meetings with extra time for movie viewing.

o   3:30-4:30 Coding Club- Ages 8-14- SIGN-UP REQUIRED available 1 week in advance of class. 10 seats with 5 waiting spots. See program flyer for details of weekly lessons.

3:15-5:15 Games & Legos: the Lemoncello Game & Robo Lego carts will be out for families to engage in creative building or gaming as they wish. Parents are strongly encouraged to play with and supervise their children and friends during these opportunities for good quality interaction between kids and adults. Please supervise an orderly clean-up of materials used.

Pre-K Story-Time- 11 am- is planned for and focused on the youngest patrons.  Siblings and older folks who enjoy the magic of stories, rhyme, rhythm and song are welcome. Ellie, Miss Julie and Mrs. Archer alternate hosting story time throughout the year.

11am-12pm Reading with Ranger- any age participant may sign-up for a 15 minute time slot to Read to Ranger, a live Golden Retriever certified by Therapy Dog International. No drop in; 2 day advance registration.

New NC Kids Digital Library is Free!
Families can also take advantage of the NC Kids Digital Library. The new NC Kids eBook collection is targeted just for children, pre-K through elementary school. Children can enjoy a variety of both ebooks and audiobooks. Many of the selections for younger children can also be viewed as a video.

The Davie County Public Library is located at 371 N Main St, Mocksville, NC 27028 and  can be reached at (336) 753-6030 or The library is open Monday – Thursday 9:00 am – 8:30 pm; Friday 9:00 am – 5:30 pm; Saturday 9:00 am – 3:00 pm; and Sunday 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm.


The library’s Cooleemee Branch is located at the Cooleemee Shopping Center on Highway 801 South. It can be reached at (336) 284-2805 and is open Monday – Friday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; closed Saturday and Sunday.