Rotary + Head Start = Building Early Literacy

“There is nothing like an “I know!” It can come from a child or a teacher, but the smile, the joy, the power in that moment is magic. Such arrival points happen in an endless stream when we train for Souns…both with the children and with the teachers. I thank Rotary for providing Souns early literacy materials to so many classrooms, making a difference for so many people, and building possibilities for so many children. The following documents two projects; but, sadly, words cannot express the glee that comes with the engagement that unfolds as a result of those projects. For example, the image below is a Souns child teaching new teachers how to use the materials. Our children are our best teachers.


What a collaboration! Dedicated teachers supported by the engaged hands and hearts of Rotary are making a difference for children in Head Start in Puerto Rico and Georgia, USA.

Head Start teachers from Southwest Georgia Community Action Council (SWGACAC) and the San Juan Municipality Head Start program are familiar with Souns, as some of their classrooms have used the program for several years. They were so happy with the results that each requested help to provide Souns materials to all of their classrooms. Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation have supported that request.


For Puerto Rico, there were two Matching Grants from Rotary District 6990 (RC Ft. Lauderdale South) and Rotary District 7000 (RC Rio Piedras) in support of the Head Start program in the San Juan Municipality. The first grant provided materials for half of the classrooms in the program, and the second and most recent grant provided materials for the remainder of the classrooms in the program, together serving 3000 children. Training of new teachers for implementation of Souns  and distribution of the second round of materials was January 9-10, 2014. We trained 127 teachers in two days. The training trip was particularly successful as we also trained Souns trainers to help teachers as they progress through the program. Sustainability requires a program grow legs, and that is what is happening in Puerto Rico with the Souns program.

sounsGAtraining1-14 amy

For Georgia’s SWGACAC Head Start program, The Rotary Foundation supported a Global Grant between Rotary District 6900 (RC Peachtree City) and Rotary District 7000 (RC Rio Piedras) providing materials to fully equip classrooms reaching 2500 children. This is a three-year grant and 2014 is the first year. We trained well over a hundred teachers on January 3rd and distributed materials to each of the classrooms. It was a fantastic experience, as Rotary Club of Peachtree City members delivered the materials personally to the teachers and participated in the training. It is so much fun to share the joy. During the three years, follow-up trainings are scheduled and visits by Rotary clubs in the area that support this effort are planned. Rotarians love to engage with projects, as that is the essence of Rotary.

Perhaps We Have It All Backwards


     A preschooler building a word by listening to the sounds in it.

This past week I was surrounded by incredible people – parents, teachers, administrators, and friends – all grappling with the huge need to better prepare preschool children for success in school. One administrator’s comment, “Our kids are well prepared for kindergarten, except they do not know their letter-sounds!” gives critical direction for the litter-strewn path to reading and writing. Our culture insists on prioritizing the 26 letter names, of which only 5 are used for reading and writing. On the other hand, all 26 letter- sound associations are directly linked to reading and writing. Why do we have it backwards?

Monsters – marketing, fear of failing our children, crippling schedules, and rigid curriculum – invade every discussion, home, and classroom. The front line of education, reading and writing, has been engulfed in a dense, blinding, consuming fog. We can’t see the hand in front of us! We can only hear the shouting voices from every direction. Which do we follow?  Which voices are serving our children?  Which are serving political or financial agendas? The child waits, holding on with complete faith as we scramble to find our footing for the next step.

Such a cacophony can “blind” us to the obvious?  Perhaps we should not be leading the child! Perhaps the child should be leading us! Children are the experts about how they learn best. Research confirms how rapidly the brain is developing between 0-5 years of age. The young child is uniquely programmed for language learning, and, if introduced incrementally, reading and writing fits comfortably and naturally along side language learning. In education design, preschool, not kindergarten, is the time for learning to read and write. That is not the case now. It seems we may have that backwards, too?

Head Start Meets Rotary


A visit to San Juan for Rotary District 7000’s Foundation Seminar highlighted beautiful people doing remarkable things for children in Puerto Rico! There was a reveiw of literacy projects based on the Souns program involving Rotary Districts 7000, 6990, and 6900. This included one Matching Grant recently completed, the beginning of a second Matching Grant, and a plan for a Global Grant. Totally inspiring!

Visiting Head Start sites in the project demonstrated the power of the young preschool mind when given tools of print through engaging hands-on activities that build letter-sound knowledge. So far, the Rotary literacy project has provided Souns materials to 135 classrooms in San Juan and, through a second grant, will extend materials to ALL the Head Start classrooms in the San Juan Municipality program within the year. With site visits several times each year, we are able to see the progress, hear about the progress, and move forward with teacher training.

This August visit, just a few days into the school year, confirmed children came back to school with retention of letter-sound knowledge (and that new children were quick to pick up the information). Given the gift of a Souns writing mat, the group of learners were able to hear a word and build that word by listening to the sounds in the word. This is only possible if the child is confident with letter-sound knowledge. What a positive environment and developmentally appropriate materials can do for early literacy! Working as a team, the children built four words. The last word, feo, presented a surprise, as a new child was quietly persistent as she kept pointing to the second letter – e (eh) – when the others were pondering the sound. It was a very special moment for everyone…particularly that little girl who knew she knew!.




Today ends our federal review. We came out excellent. We talk to federal about SOUNS and [they] were delighted.” A note from Head Start in San Juan about our project in Puerto Rico with 4000 children.

“Our club is giving Souns to a large center near us!”  from the President Elect of Rotary Club of Bainbridge in southwest Georgia. That is the largest center in the SWGACAC program and they have been using only two sets of Souns for 13 classrooms. Now, thanks to Rotary D6900, they will be fully supplied with Souns.

A note from South Africa:


Data Shows Progress for Head Start Students

Promising data comes out of a Head Start Center piloting the Souns program. The center is part of the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council (SWGACAC) Head Start Program overseeing 18 counties.

This is the second year the Lester Street center has implemented Souns – thanks to the Rotary Club of Thomasville. Recently, the rising kindergarten students had a mid-year (January 2013) evaluation of letter-sound knowledge learned through the Souns program. The following graph compares end-of-year (2011/12 – N=60) results with the mid-year (2012/13 – N=38) results showing percentages of students demonstrating letter-sound knowledge in SounsⓇ sequence. The graph confirms a story of learning for everyone .


It will be quite interesting to visit Lester Street again in May to get end-of-year data for 2012/13. The teachers and administration have been so loyal to this program. It is clear everyone is more comfortable with Souns this year. Good practice is building. As familiarity with this deceptively simple program develops, the results will compound until children are able to sound out phonetic words prior to entering kindergarden. That is a very attainable goal for typically developing children using Souns as designed.

It is also helpful to see certain similarities in the two evaluations, especially which letter-sound associations children find more difficult to learn.

Team Literacy – Rotary and Head Start


Building little readers in Puerto Rico

Collaboration between Rotary and Head Start builds a better future for pre-school children in Puerto Rico. Rotary Districts 7000 and 6990 initiated a literacy project that has been supported by The Rotary Foundation to provide Souns® literacy materials to 135 Head Start classrooms in the San Juan Municipality.

This yearlong literacy project included a distribution of materials in October 2012, and concluded with a distribution in January 2013.  The total of 135 sets of materials are currently in the classrooms, with each teacher participating in training for the use of those materials.  Enthusiasm is typical with teachers implementing the Souns program, as it is hands-on, engaging, simple, and effective.  “Children love it!” is an exclamation heard often. When asked, “Why? Because they are actually learning!”

It is estimated that the Souns materials distributed thus far will impact 2000 children each year, as there are no expendables in the program.

This is a good start, but the goal is to reach all Head Start children in Puerto Rico. Most immediately that means supplying the remaining 90 classrooms in the San Juan Municipality with Souns materials. Following that will be an effort to expand the program into other Head Start programs in Puerto Rico as funding is secured.

Rotary and Head Start celebrate the positive results seen from the classrooms receiving the Souns materials in the first stage of the project in October. The teachers are excited to see their children reading ready with letter-sound knowledge.

One Leap For Literacy

What can eight months do for literacy in a Head Start Center? Combine a furiously determined Center Director and a local Rotary Club and children will read! The Rotary Club of Thomasville, GA, and their local Head Start Center have joined in the work of literacy.

Nine classrooms – including three Early Start classrooms – began training in the Souns program in October of 2011. Several follow-up visits occurred between October and May to observe how the work was going. During the last week of school, each of the students age-appropriate to be graduating into local kindergartens were evaluated to see progress made. The results are below. It is not surprising that they reflected a direct link between those who followed the program and those who did not. The teacher is the magic that makes any program work.

This center has an abundance of remarkable teachers working with their children. After this year’s success, we expect all the teachers will see the value of this simple program for their children. It is understandably difficult to accept a program that is counterintuitive. We have been so steeped in teaching letter-names first, that the idea of teaching letter-sounds first causes resistance. Thanks to those teachers who stepped outside the box in Thomasville, children will read. The results are quite clear. Consider the data at this year’s end, when those little four year olds who are going into their second year with this program are evaluated.

We smile with tears in our eyes at what is happening in southwest Georgia. Determined people working together can make a difference. Thank you, Rotary!

Every – Yes, every – child will read.

Building Literacy / Touching Families

There are compelling changes taking place in the world. We are learning about children. What we saw as a little human waiting to grow big is really a voracious, rapidly developing brain inside a slowly, but more visibly developing body. The young brain grows at an unparalleled rate, but we can’t  s e e  it like we can see the body grow. The body explores the world to feed the developing brain, as, interestingly,  the brain must progress ahead of the body in order to safeguard the survival of the child. There is such beautiful logic, so much of which we don’t see by casual observation. Look intentionally, and you will!

Understanding the learning potential of young children can change the world in dramatic ways. It can ensure peace or exacerbate war. That little brain is going to adapt whether it means pulling a trigger or planting a seed. Peace Corps and Rotary International are powerful organizations dedicated to a peaceful world. One of the avenues to that end is literacy. If children are able to read, they will be more informed and can make decisions for themselves. People who can read are more able to take charge of their lives and are less likely to be victimized.

“I will help you learn to read!” Beyond health and love, there is NO greater gift for a child or the world then literacy. Collaborations between organizations such as Rotary International and the Peace Corps in South Africa are reaching thousands of children in rural communities. Urban populations in South Africa and in Puerto Rico are involved in literacy projects funded by The Rotary Foundation. The world may turn a little more smoothly for these children thanks to such globally minded literacy efforts.

On a smaller – but no less important –  scale are individuals who are equally driven to help children. SenseAble Learning’s Della Palacios in Florida, USA, and Nikolai Pizarro in Puerto Rico with her publication Ring the Alarm are examples of the many hands reaching out to children. Della and Nikolai know the power of the young, developing mind. They know our tomorrows are defined by the experiences offered a child today.

Another hand reaching out and a thread that runs through each of the efforts mentioned above  – Souns for literacy – is designed in response to the way children learn best. Souns breathes life into the tools of print, w h a t e v e r   t h e   l a n g u a g e. In the hands of children, Souns leads naturally and incrementally to letter-sound knowledge which leads incidentally to reading. Reading leads to success in school; and success in school leads to a more independent life. The result of an independent life is the ability to see beyond oneself, a necessity if we are to ensure peace. Many hands or the hands of one can make a difference – Every child wants to read.

Unfortunately, even with Rotary, Peace Corps, committed individuals, and so much information about how children learn, building readers remains a global challenge. We construct schools, hire fabulous teachers, stock libraries, give books; but, in the end, the parent who is with the child during the most formative years holds the key to reading. We must empower parents from the ground up if we are to impact literacy in a global way. All efforts, large or small, must touch the family, acknowledging parents as the real unit of change!

Birth To Three Institute in D.C.


What invigorating conversations with beautiful, passionate people were enjoyed at BTT Institute, June 12-14. Souns is committed to making a difference in early literacy for children, and open hearts and like-minded educators at this event were like a stream running through it without end. Another wonderful BTT Institute, another year toward a better world for children learning to read and write.We learned and laughed together as we played being the child for a bit! It was a very good thing. (1066 and all that)