From-the-Field in Puerto Rico

 

CamyZoe B. Agosto

It was very thoughtful of you to write this in English. Whatever the language, you are doing wonderful work, CamyZoe.

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After becoming familiar on how to use Souns with my two daughters of 1 and 4 years old during the summer, I started using “Souns” in my classroom on August 2015. I’m a Special Education teacher from Lares, Puerto Rico. I work with 13 students ranging from 14 – 22 years old with moderate and severe cognitive disabilities. Before Souns, none of my students were able to recognize any letter. They were having lots of problems remembering letter names and sounds. By this month (November 2015), my students are showing progress through letter-sound association and recognitioPRcamy2n. I am astonished how this program is working with each one of my students. This has given them a boost to their self-esteem. Parents are so grateful, because they never thought that at this stage, their children were able to learn sounds and recognize letters the way they are doing it. The process is slowly but steady, growing each and every day. Now they loved to help each other, and help one to another when someone is struggling with a letter sound. Moreover I am learning a lot during the process and acquiring great knowledge about the fascinating link between the hand and the brain.

(The Souns materials for this classroom were provided by a Global Grant from Rotary International – RD6900 and RD7000. Thank you, Rotary!)

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Coding to Encoding to Decoding

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Are we there yet?

We recently returned from a visit to three Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. This message is in response to what we saw: Teachers are doing a great job with Souns. The missing piece is an understanding that children are ready to build words before you think they are. We asked teachers if they had begun building words, and the answer was “No, not yet!”

In each classroom, with the “No, not yet!” response, we asked for two or three children who knew through the /u/ sound. In each case the children who were selected eagerly listened to the sounds in simple, phonetic words, and built the words. The teachers were so excited, as were the children.

The picture above is one of those moments. Look at the joy on the children’s faces as they apply what they know about letter-sound associations to real words….building the words from sounds only (remember, no spelling)! For us, for the teachers, and for the children, it was a beautiful experience. Such activities are particularly inspiring for the children observing, those not yet to the /u/, as they see their efforts have a purpose.

Certainly it is important not to set a child up for failure, so I appreciate being slower than faster for this second stage in Souns – building words. However, there is a way to be relatively sure the child is ready to listen to sounds in phonetic words and build each word – one sound at a time.

When you reach /u/ in the sequence of Souns letters, it is the time to move forward into building words for children three to four years of age. Go slowly – no more than two to three words at any setting – and have fun. Look at the delight as the children around the table in the photo discover who has the missing sound in “peso.”

When you reach /u/ in the sequence of Souns letters, it is time to build words.

Rotarians at Work in Puerto Rico

A Great Trip! RD6900 Visits Early Literacy Project in Puerto Rico with RD7000

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Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Peachtree City and the Rotary Club of Henry County visited Rotary District 7000 in Puerto Rico, the site of a Global Grant for teaching basic literacy skills to preschoolers attending local Head Start programs. This project is an extension of a relationship between RD6900 and RD7000 that began in November of 2011 and has involved two Matching Grants and two Global Grants. Recipients have been in both Puerto Rico and Georgia, altogether reaching over 10,000 children.

Our visiting group of nine from RD6900 spent four days with Rotarians from clubs throughout Puerto Rico – RC Rio Piedras (Host Club), RC San Juan, RC Junco, RC Manatee, RC Mayaguez, RC Ciudad Del Turabo – attending Rotary Club meetings and visiting Head Start sites where the SOUNS program is being implemented with materials provided by the GG. The grant was a result of the efforts and financial support of Rotarians in both districts, lead by RC Peachtree City and RC Henry County in RD6900, and RC Rio Piedras in RD7000.

Rotarians going to work (in a school bus)! Pictured are President Russ Heil, PP Ed Outlaw, and Amy Matusek of RC Peachtree City, PP Laura Crumbley and husband David, PP George Siggins and wife Mary Jane of RC Henry County, and Antonio Santos of RC Rio Piedras. Taking the pictures: Peachtree City Rotarian Brenda Erickson and husband Norman Hough.

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prrusspedro15During the trip we also attended several English and Spanish-speaking Rotary Club meetings, providing us the opportunity to exchange club banners and interact with many Rotarians. The Rotarians of District 7000 and their District Governor, Jesus A. Vivas, could not have given us a more welcoming and enthusiastic reception.

Pictured are RC Rio Piedras President Pedro Watlington and RC Peachtree City President Russ Heil. Exchanging banners and conversation was a constant for the trip. Engaging eight Rotary clubs across two Rotary districts makes for a jovial time!

We visited nine classrooms in the three Head Start programs – San Juan, Caguas, and Mayaguez – talking with administrators, teachers, sponsoring Rotarians, and children. We were very impressed with the facilities, other teaching materials, and the professionalism of the staff. Imagine where these preschool children will be as emergent readers entering kindergarten when they are five years of age. The children in the image are building “peso” and have discovered who has the /o/…. playing to learn to read. Go teachers!

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Below are Laura Crumbly, George Siggins, David Crumbly, Mary Jane Siggins, Brenda Erickson, Ed Outlaw, and Amy Matusek.

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To sum up the trip, it was a great experience for the nine Rotarians and spouses from District 6900. It gave us a chance to see with our own eyes how the grant was successfully benefitting young children from difficult circumstances and to meet Rotarians from another country who have a real desire to build a better tomorrow for their children. Beyond that, our team got to know and enjoy each other while engaging in the hands-on work of Rotary!

 

 

 

 

 

Rotary/Head Start Working Together in PR!

Municipio de Mayaguez Head Start were joined by RC Mayaguez.

Municipio de Mayaguez Head Start were joined by RC Mayaguez for the training.

Souns training – June 29 to July 1 – in Puerto Rico was a model of engagement and promise for both Rotary and Head Start. I SO love round tables and interactive groups. Play is the best teacher at any age. If teachers, assistants, Rotarians and Rotaractors engage with one another with the Souns materials, laughing and learning, they will understand the child engaging with the materials.

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Fun with RC Rio Piedras, Rotaractors, and Head Start teachers learning why Souns works.

One training day for each of the three Head Start programs, with two three-hour training sessions each day, prepared the teachers and assistants in 90 Head Start classrooms to implement Souns. Thanks to Rotary, each classroom has Souns materials, and the teachers have time before school begins to “play” with the materials, becoming comfortable with the hands-on, letter-sound approach. I celebrate that in each training there were Rotarians attending from local clubs (RC Mayaguez, RC Junco, RC ciudad del Turabo, RC San Juan, and RC Rio Piedras) to learn about Souns in order to support this project in their communities. The Rotaractors participating in the training expect to be involved as interns with Head Start classrooms. Indeed, it was a miraculous three days!

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RC Junco and RC Ciudad del Turabo joined Fundación Desarrollo Hogar Propio Head Start training in Caguas.

The success of this training trip had much to do with relationships established in previous Souns projects in Puerto Rico. This early literacy work began five years ago when District Governor John Richardson, Rotary District 7000, championed the Souns program for the children of Puerto Rico. PDG Richardson has continued to be the pathfinder for this work. I am so grateful to him for his energy, insight, loyalty, and determination.

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Hector, his wife Nivea, and PDG Richardson

Another strategically critical voice that surfaced years ago in Puerto Rico is Head Start teacher, Hector Rivera. Souns was a natural for Hector. He implemented Souns with Head Start in San Juan Municipality, our very first Rotary project in Puerto Rico. I am glad to share with the world that he is now a recognized Souns trainer. Hector volunteered to do the training for this extension into three new Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. He is excellent at communicating with peers, sharing his classroom experience with the program, and ensuring others are prepared to implement Souns in their classrooms. In the challenging world of benevolent projects, Hector confirms a path to sustainability.

One more H U G E  thank you is in order: The current Rotary District Governor of RD7000, Jesus Vivas, has been actively supporting Souns since PDG John Richardson’s year as governor, five years ago. We received the utlimate compliment when DG Vivas, on his very first day as the official District Governor of RD7000, attended the entire morning training for Souns. He is an amazing man with a Rotarian heart! And his Rotary year has just  begun!

DG Jesus Vivas honors us with his presence!

Rotary DG Jesus Vivas honors us with his presence!

This early literacy project is GG1523886 sponsored by host RC Rio Piedras (RD7000) and partner RC Peachtree City (RD6900). The Rotary grant funds the Souns materials only. Souns advocates and Rotarians volunteer to do the teacher training.  In the photo below, RC Peachtree City Rotarian, Brenda Erickson, demonstrates the joy and ease of the Souns program. Magically, round tables and a few minutes with a real child make a great learning experience for Head Start teachers, assistants, and Rotarians!

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“Quiero leer!” “Puedo leer!”

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Rotary and Head Start are working together for basic literacy.

“I want to read!” is the dream – the expectation – of every child. In Puerto Rico, thanks to a collaboration between Rotary and Head Start, “I want to read!” is being turned into “I can read!” Those words are the inspiration for an early literacy project potentially reaching 4000 children per year in Puerto Rico. The Rotary grant is for three years and provides Souns for literacy materials to 200 classrooms within three programs reaching Mayaguez, Caguas, and Santurce. Souns will be distributed as teachers opt into the program and are trained. This is a three-year project, so there is time to progress in a responsible and controlled way to best ensure sustainability after the life of the grant. Children want to read, and the minds and hearts of those at the table in this project intend to make that dream possible.

This is the third Rotary/Head Start collaboration in Puerto Rico. The first two provided Souns to the San Juan Municipality Head Start program, with each project being one year in duration. We celebrate that Rotarians and Head Start teachers from those projects continue to work together to ensure growing success past the life of those grants. The gentleman in the image is from the San Juan Municipality program and is assisting in the planning for the current project with New York Foundling Head Start. Also included in the new project are the Head Start programs Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico Municipio de Mayaguez and Fundación para el Desarrollo del Hogar Propio, Inc.

Rotary District 6900, Rotary District 7000, and The Rotary Foundation have supported the project initiated by host club, RC Rio Piedras (D7000), and international partner club, RC Peachtree City (D6900). Across Rotary Districts there are, to date, four clubs joining RC Rio Piedras and RC Peachtree City to mentor the program in Head Start classrooms: RC Henry County, RC Mayaguez, RC Ciudad del Turabo, and RC San Juan. Rotary International is committed to building basic literacy, and these clubs are demonstrating Rotarians at work for literacy.

Success with a project requires strong leaders like these from RC Rio Piedras: (right) District Governor Elect Jesus Vivas and Mrs. Vivas, and (left) President Elect Peyo Watlington and Mrs. Watlington. I am grateful to represent my club, RC Peachtree City.

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Rotary / Head Start In Puerto Rico

Giggles, smiles, engaged hands and minds of children were common denominators in our review of the Souns program in Head Start classrooms in San Juan Puerto Rico. The children in San Juan are making dramatic steps toward literacy with the Souns materials provided by Rotary Districts 7000, 6990, and The Rotary Foundation. This review celebrates comments such as these:

“I have 19 years of classroom experience, and I have never seen a program like this….it really works.”  

“Three of my students were able to read last year because of Souns. In my 13 years of teaching preschool, that has never happened before.” 


Beautifully, the conclusion of one grant can build to the beginning of another. With 4000 children in this pilot project in San Juan, it is the wish of Rotary District 7000, this time in collaboration with Rotary District 6900, to expand the program to as many Head Start classrooms in other regions of Puerto Rico as funding will allow. A Global Grant proposal is the next step. One classroom at a time is the road to change for these children. Rotarians from both districts join hands on the ground in Puerto Rico to make this happen. Head Start and Rotary are promising partners for literacy.

Rotary Clubs of Peachtree City (RD6900) and Rio Piedras (RD7000) are leading this effort to build support for a project that will reach from 150 to 300 more classrooms in strategic Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. If you are interested in joining this project, comment with contact information to this blog .

Thank you Rotary Clubs of Smyrna (RD6900) and Fort Lauderdale (RD6990) for initiating the pilot project in the San Juan Municipality. These four-year olds are reaping the harvest as they build words by listening to the sounds in them. They have learned letter-sound associations through Souns.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.