Rotarians at Work in Puerto Rico

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


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.


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!


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


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!






Difference Between Ownership and Guardianship


    A preschool learner using Souns builds an isiXhosa word – isele – by listening to sounds in the word.
This is Part III of our Souns training trip to South Africa.                                                                                “It’s ok if others take our ideas as long as they build upon them.” Simon Sinek

photo-241During my recent trip to South Africa, I visited an organization I have worked with for many years, implementing the Souns program. While in their office I saw a letter m similar in font and size to the authorized Souns letter, but different in material, texture, and color.

What was happening? As I asked for understanding and details, each person passed me off to the next. Eventually I was told the organization intended to create their own program, based on but independent of the Souns program.

What I felt? I was enraged by not being informed of such plans. I was concerned because the quality of any imitation will directly impact the reputation of Souns and safety of children. I was challenged because I must accept that imitation is likely if the program is working.

What matters? Good practice and quality of materials are paramount. Any materials used for the letters must be tested to confirm they are safe for hands and mouths of infants and toddlers. Good practice with Souns is described in the SounsGuide.

What now? Take the infraction, the disappointment, and grow. Expand this opportunity to ensure children will read. Let those aligned with the Souns program demonstrate transparency of intentions, so that all can learn from collective experiences and work together.  “He who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Thomas Jefferson

What next? I will design a platform from which Souns-like programs can be identified and acknowledged. The responsibility will be transparency, good practice, and safety in materials. I must take this experience and build forward, guided by my own words: until every child reads! 

FullSizeRender-2 copy 3Shhh!…there is a conversation happening between the hand and the brain!

It Is So Much Fun To KNOW!





From ongoing Linkedin discussion, well worth visiting.


To add to the discussion, I would like to share an experience this past week with a young child of three who has learned her letter-sounds as incidentally as she learned the doll or cup she was playing with at the time of this observation. She was role playing and was teaching her doll how to build the word “cup” by teaching her to listen to the letters in the word. I have had many say why teach a child letter sounds when they should be playing with dolls and cups and I find great frustration at not being able to explain successfully that the child was playing with knowledge she had of the world around her. She was so happy with what she “knew” about the world. She knows cups, dolls, and letter-sounds. After all, how many cups and baby dolls does a child see in a day compared to the number of printed letters. If the system could shift just a bit…with moms, dads, and caregivers sharing /m/ and /s/ as mmm and sss instead of letter-names offered at the same time as letter-sounds, we would find children building critical associations between what they heard people say and the letter-sounds that represent what their ears hear. I know I am the developer of the Souns program and this could be seen as a marketing moment…but I was a teacher of three decades before Souns and it is the child who led me to the logic of it. It is the child who wants real tools and if we could just offer the most useful tool – letter-sound associations – there would be no need for Souns or 70% of the intervention programs exhibited in conference halls. Rant over! 

Thank you for your ears and your hearts and your talents and your permission to share. Those little minds are ready and we are not ready for them.


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!.


The Power of “Working Alongside!”


I am in a van on the road to Peace Corps Inservice Training (IST) in South Africa. Such beautiful hearts and minds sit with me. Grace, courtesy, warmth, and enthusiasm are constantly present in this organization’s efforts to better the world. I have been on this same trip to different sites on several occasions to train volunteers to implement our Souns for literacy program. I find it an equally positive experience each time.

PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers) have an energy and a flexibility that are bound to make a difference for their communities as their terms progress. One volunteer on this trip is doing what so many do, extending their term an additional year. PCV’s are making a difference and they feel it and often do not want to end the experience. The other side of the story, of course, is that the volunteers are learning more about themselves than can be measured on a calendar. The lessons will affect them for a lifetime. I think of it as tracking their future. Each of us has a gift already in place, but it is only discovered and confirmed through experience.

In the words of one PCV:

“Working alongside people who struggle to put food on the table, yet who have welcomed me into their lives and hearts has allowed me to see the great potential in the rural areas, and has motivated me to extend my service beyond the usual two years.  As I work to teach new skills, I am learning what it means to be part of a global community that transcends culture, ideologies, and language.”

Tomorrow I will be “tracking” my future, doing what I love most (next to doing a walk-about in my mind along a warm beach somewhere) – I will be introducing PCV’s to the Souns program. Those who find it compelling will be trained and will receive sets of Souns provided by The Rotary Foundation through a Global Grant project sponsored by RD9400 and RD6900. PCV’s are reaching thousands of children, making a difference one child, one village at a time. What a pleasure it is to be wrapped around with such purpose.

photo-199 copy

 And it was so much fun!

Building Words – A Bridge to Reading

photo-191One way or another we learn letter-sounds and apply that knowledge directly to learning to read. For the most part it works, but not without notable levels of difficulty and frustration.

One additional step can make a commanding difference in that journey to reading – building words. Consider a 1000 piece puzzle. Putting it together can be challenging for anyone. Taking the completed puzzle apart into its individual pieces to be returned to the box is quite simple by comparison.

Learning to read is like negotiating the loose puzzle pieces of our alphabet, turning a chain of sounds into a word. It is quite challenging and can lead to many failures and much guessing before success is enjoyed.

Consider the ease of taking the puzzle apart. A spoken word is like a puzzle already put together. All the sounds are there in a nice little package called a word. If the child knows letter-sound associations well, listening to the sounds and building the word – one sound at a time – (not as it is spelled) is quite confirming and informative for the child.

This step – building words – bridges code based knowledge and decoding. Children 4 and 5 years old and those challenged as readers need to develop a deep understanding of how words are built. A child who knows letter-sound associations well and who focuses on building words – one phonetic sound at a time – for several weeks to a month often transitions into reading words seamlessly.

Reading becomes the next natural step for the child who has built words by listening to sounds in words first. This has been the magic of the Montessori-minded Souns program. IT is a direct link between sound and symbol, bypassing letter formation, which is another skill altogether.

GET SET With Souns in Colorado Springs

sounsgetsetco1-13 Chart1

The graph shows progress in the GET SET preschool in First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, CO. There are 31 children in the preschool and they began implementing the Souns program at the beginning of this school year – 2012/2013. The preschool serves children 4-5 years of age from economically challenged environments.  GET SET’s goal is to ready their students for success when they go to public kindergarten. The teachers are exceptional and the environment is a model for others to follow. In September as the children entered GET SET’s classrooms they were evaluated for letter-sound knowledge. That demonstrated knowledge is on the graph in green. The lavender is demonstrated letter-sound knowledge from a mid-year evaluation. The teachers should be proud of their progress, particularly since they are in a learning curve for the program as well. Imagine the possibilities at end of year and in future years as Souns becomes a natural part of their environment. What a grand step forward for the children they serve. Ready, GET SET, Go!

Looking at the results of the Souns program is SO much fun. The video is of a Rotarian volunteering at GET SET and a young student building a word by saying the word, listening for the individual sounds in the word, and identifying the letters that make each of the sounds. Building words or encoding is stage two in Souns. The first stage is the learning of at least 12 to 15 letter-sound associations. The third stage is decoding, or sounding out words, which happens after much experience building words. You can see the enthusiasm that comes from suddenly realizing, “I know that sound!”

Oh, those telling eyes!

And the stories behind them…

They come in various sizes and attitudes – dressed, buttoned, tied, and tucked with hopeful fingers  – walking to school on barefoot paths. Children from the townships in South Africa live in extraordinarily challenging environments, yet they convert those challenges into creativity wrapped in endless smiles. Each has the raw potential given any child at birth. Every face confirms that potential, building a world out of whatever they have  – able to play and laugh and dream without limits. Their imaginations surpass their realities.

The appetite of the children I have encountered in the crèches and grade R classrooms to learn is heart rending and without agenda. Every moment, every bit of information is taken in with relish – smiles filled with I CAN DO THIS! The life given to a mark in the sand or on a chalkboard when it is from the hand of a child writing a word by sounding it himself or herself is magical. That spark slices right through the moment revealing eyes exploding with, “I AM ABLE!”  There is little that can match that look.

From preschool (left) to Grade 1 (below), Souns is working for these children. This Rotary literacy project between D6900 and D9400 is doing wonderful things for South Africa township children. One week of working with teachers and children from a range of crèches differ only in venue. Each opportunity was met with eager teachers and enthusiastic little people, ranging from 2 to 5 years of age. Most of the children referred to here began working with Souns last March. In those eight months they have beautifully achieved the target goals: letter-sound information for children to three; building words by listening to the sounds in spoken words for children who know their letter-sounds, usually four year olds; reading words for children five years plus. I can’t wait until our next visit in March.

Each of these children is a promising story unfolding, and the ability to write and read is a critical building block for their undiscovered dreams.

Where Is The Dirt?

What is a kid without mud pies?  What if there was no dirt for digging holes, building ramps for little bridges, making designs, or planting a seed. It is so sad to visit preschool sites and train for Souns, suggesting the teacher write letters in the dirt on the playground, only to receive that vacant look that says, “There is no dirt on the playground.” Not even a spot of dirt.

A child’s construction! Tomorrow’s yurt builder or city planner.

Literacy began on a cave wall and progressed with playing in and with the dirt. We may live in different times and wear different clothes, but children are quite the same. They need to use their hands to move and shape and create worlds from their imaginations. Dirt is the natural medium. Creativity is, indeed, being stripped of its roots.

Our lives are so busy and our children are captive in our harried schedules, spending their days on playgrounds that are plastic coated, shrink wrapped, and stamped “sterile.”

Children need a spot of dirt to dig and play and build their world!