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!

 

 

 

 

 

A Souns Journey . . . . On Course In SA

This journey is a small portion of a Rotary global grant sponsored by RD 6900 and RD9400 which is making a dramatic difference for early literacy. As one teacher said, “The children in this program will change the future for South Africa.”

We left Johannesburg just before 10 in the morning, heading north to work with the Peace Corps on a literacy project using Souns. Today is our day to comfortably drive the 5 hours. I have done this trip before. This is the training site where we came without Souns materials once, showing teachers how to do the program with materials at hand….just paper and markers. There were 65 teachers trained, all eager and so glad to have a way to help their learners. I wonder – hope – we have some of those teachers in this training, since now we have Souns to give them.

The drive is beautiful. Expanses of brown grass spotted with low thorn-bush trees. At times it seems you can see forever, soft rolling terrain framed in the distance by a blue strip of hills – koppies. There are occasional cows seen feeding in the grass. There are other animals too…but none spotted yet.

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About halfway to our destination we approach the bank of “koppies” and the trees are more varied in color, texture, and height. The thorn bushes hug the ground between taller trees. We just passed a sign for the municipality of Molemole (sound every letter)…..I just love the African languages – they are so musical.

Arrival day brought with it an adjustment to a cold shower and a search for dinner.  On Monday morning we went to the local Wimpy for a rendezvous with those in charge of the training, sharing data on the specific training sites to be visited.

The day was as I hoped…eager teacher minds, children to work with, and all in a typical preschool setting. We worked with the classroom of 4-5 year olds. The initial impression of the room was informing…so many plastic square tables and chairs that there was no floor space left. There were no shelves and no materials except for the stack of workbooks and containers of crayons and other supplies for table work. Several charts were on the wall at adult height…something we all discussed later. The teachers and the administration were bright, passionate people wanting to create an excellent school.

We began by working with the children. The classroom had not yet been given Souns materials. The Peace Corps volunteers (PCV’s) gave lessons to the class with their Souns materials each week and  asked the teacher to use paper and marker to support the work in between their visits. I began by asking the teacher to do what she would typically do for a whole group lesson. She did the usual – holding up a paper and asking the children to identify the sound written on it. While this is not suggested Souns practice, it was quickly obvious she had been working on teaching the children letter-sound associations, and they were learning.

IMG_0124I asked to see a small group of children. We used the paper, as they were most familiar with that method. Then I used the actual Souns letters with the children in a typical small group lesson. They each had learned at least two sounds well, and several knew the first four. The teacher was very conservative introducing new letter-sound associations…..very typical of someone new to Souns. We introduced two more sounds – /p/e/. Then I kept two learners and demonstrated building a few simple words on a line. It was a good moment as the learners clearly wanted something harder than they already knew how to do. I suggested learners at this age and with comfort in approaching 10 letter-sound associations needed to build a word each day. As usual, the teacher was surprised at what they could do!

The day progressed with the children going outside and the adults rounding up to discuss good practice with Souns. I chose to use a new guide booklet to set the pace. This simple version was appreciated by everyone. There was vibrant discussion around several of the pages, which was a very good thing. I believe it was an effective way to engage the group and assimilate the steps of Souns.

The concluding “happy” was an invitation to help with the room….my Montessori heart just smiled. What fun! Everyone worked to remove, reform, and simplify the environment. When we finished there were two plastic “work” tables each with four chairs, an art table against the wall (two plastic tables on top of which was placed a door, previously stored in the adjacent bathroom) with five chairs around it. There was excellent floor space for group work or individual work mats. There was a designated construction corner, a reading corner, and a chalk board space low on the wall for children. The charts were lowered to be in reach of little hands. Progress was made, as this photo was sent to me three days later.

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Bidding our farewells and getting a last photo was another opportunity for sharing. We were on the playground in the presence of the greatest chalkboard ever…the red dirt of SA. With children playing freely, I took a little one…one of the two who helped build words and who is a future little “teacher” for the class. We sat on the ground and I drew an /o/ in the soil and gave him a rock to draw an /o/. We were joined by a circle of faces and little hands with rocks drawing “sounds” in the red soil. Many of these learners were not in the class, but were now exposed to letter-sound associations in the purest way possible – child to child. Learning can be so simple…what can we do to unburden the process of learning to read?

FullSizeRender copy 3Training on Tuesday, March 10, was the same but different. We drove down a long gravel road to a village that was a classic in my experience in SA rural villages: tiny round or rectangular brick and clay (sometimes metal) structures with thatched or metal roofs. Little yards fenced with curved limbs from trees pinioned to the ground and each other to define the resident space. Mango trees and other greenery dress seemingly swept dirt yards. Earth red, green, sand, and dried thatch color the expanse of little homes…each framed by the dark, dancing, sticks with shadows from the sun that doubled their curls and twists.

We arrived at the little preschool and were greeted by the teachers and principal. The two PCV’s introduced us all and showed us around the facility. It was a lovely environment. The classroom was textbook perfect: organized, spacious, children’s personal artwork everywhere, as well as words in Tsonga (w lower case letters) on the wall where little hands could touch.

We adults sat together and trained, role playing teacher and learner, covering the highlights and critical points of Souns. Then it was time for children. We gave five of the little ones, probably three years old, a lesson using paper and marker to show them the first four sounds…/o/m/s/t/. We explained that if the teachers demonstrated the Souns program by teaching the first four letter-sound associations this way, we will give them a Souns set from Rotary after that month. That has been a worthwhile arrangement thus far. Giving a Souns set to a classroom and having it misused or placed on a storage shelf is not a good investment of time or funds. I foresee the leadership in this preschool as committed guardians of the program. (Now to drive back to Pretoria)

Wednesday, day three! This day was a treat of another kind: working with an umbrella organization – PEN – overseeing hundreds of preschool/crèche teachers in Pretoria. They speak English and teach in English, which is easier (for training) than a mixed group with several languages. We introduced Souns to thirty teachers…a few were familiar, but most were new to the program. As there were no Souns sets designated for these teachers yet, I demonstrated how to proceed with the program with paper and markers first. They wanted a way to start immediately…so now they can. The presentation was lively, with good questions, responses, and laughter. I can’t’ wait to revisit this group.

Thursday, day four!  We are in Mamelodi visiting two primary schools: one school with four Grade R classrooms and two Grade 1 classrooms using Souns and another school where we focused on four Grade R classrooms. The first school was newer to the program. We visited the two established Souns classrooms and then had a most productive meeting with the two new teachers. These two new teachers were trained initially by colleagues and have done really good work with Souns. Typical of new-to-Souns teachers, the learners were being guided at a slower rate. They had reached about six sounds introduced. We asked for four learners from each of their classrooms and demonstrated how to move forward with more certainty. With two of the more confident learners, I demonstrated building words. The teachers were pleased to see several learners ready for this next stage.

The second school is now in its third year with Souns in Grade R and the experience for me was confirming. I met with two teachers at a time in a private space where we could speak comfortably and uninterrupted. I remember the same faces three years prior obligingly taking on a new program to use on top of others that were not working. Today, the faces spoke a different story. They were leaning forward, eye to eye, sharing their practice (even supporting its value with Souns language), proud of where their learners were so early in the year with their letter-sound knowledge. This was a deeply pleasing arrival point for this work. These teachers were becoming Souns practitioners. Success with the learners built their confidence in their own practice which would grow the legs of sustainability for Souns. I attribute much of the day’s story to good leadership in the schools…teachers need support and these two schools have extraordinary administrative support for their teachers.

At the close of our conversation, I asked each of the teachers if their learners were building words yet. Each exclaimed, “No!” …commenting in their individual ways that they did not think their learners were ready. I suggested that at their age and with 10 sounds known, they likely were. I asked for two learners from each class. The teachers were stunned that the learners moved so quickly to building words. I am glad we visited early in their academic year, a good time to help them know more about the need to keep up with the child. The child will generally move faster than the teacher realizes. They will continue building words – just one or two words each day – and will, no doubt, have some children sounding out words in a few months if not sooner. There are many children in the room ahead of where the teacher thought they were…a very common picture, unfortunately.

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Friday, day five! This is the last day of the first week of training, we are visiting two more primary schools in Mamelodi. In the first there were five grade Grade R classrooms. Two of the teachers were new to Souns, but had been guided by the three who were trained in previous years. We visited each classroom, discussing how their children ended last year and how the new class was doing this year. School years in SA begin mid-January and conclude early December. This visit was toward the end of the of the first term. The learners have had 8 weeks of school to get where they are now…!!! It is an impressive effort by the teachers and the learners. One Grade R teacher said, “The learners for Grade R at the end of 2014 were so clever and I was so excited because during the parent ceremony they already knew how to read Grade 1 books.”

The second school visited this day had three Grade R classes with teachers who were experienced with Souns. We visited to ask about progress last year and with the new classrooms of learners this year. As usual, we asked if the children had begun building words. Again, the answer was an immediate “Not yet!” As before, I demonstrated with two of each of their classrooms that they were, indeed, ready to build words by listening to the sounds.

The final training at the last school this week was with Grade 1 teachers. There were five, three of whom have had experience with Souns. The practice in a Grade 1 classroom is not ideal as the numbers are quite different: there are 50-60 learners in each class with one teacher. The pressure on everyone is tremendous. Small groups are not possible, so our approach is for whole class activities that engage the child in listening to and discerning sounds in words. With such discrimination, they will develop attack skills that will serve them well in writing and reading as the year progresses. We went to one classroom and demonstrated some activities to build these skills. One teacher added that she has found the material to be important for challenged learners, “Letters that they can hold in their hand and move around is making a big difference.”

In conclusion, this first week of training confirmed the value of this effort to build fundamental literacy skills for young learners in South Africa. We introduced Souns to new classrooms, new teachers, reviewed experienced Souns practitioners, monitored progress, and demonstrated to all Grade R teachers that their effort to date was farther ahead than they thought. Teachers need to learn to trust their children to be able….surprisingly able…to move well ahead of expectations.

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When we return in several months, we expect to see learners in each classroom to be engaged in all the stages of Souns, depending on their inherent ability. All will continue to work on letter-sound associations, most will be building words, and many will be sounding out words or reading.

We have one more week of training in other primary schools and preschools in Pretoria. As always, it will be important to glean our own lessons out of these two weeks for future training.

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.

Poster Child for Literacy

The US Peace Corps volunteers in South Africa are a determined lot of people. I am blessed to be able to work along side them for even a brief time as I train for the Souns program. A Global Grant originating in Rotary Clubs, then supported by Rotary Districts, and in turn by The Rotary Foundation provides Souns literacy materials to Peace Corps volunteers who see the program as a benefit to their communities in South Africa. What an impact one Peace Corps volunteer can have. This beautiful, determined smile is going to open doors to reading and writing for children. When a child can read, he or she can have hope. When there is hope, we are a little closer to peace. The volunteers will teach the teachers who teach the children. When they leave their site, they will leave a legacy. These Peace Corps volunteers bring treasure chests of hopes and possibilites to their communities, and they retun home with at least as much as they leave behind.

Thank you, PCV’s! You are the best!

Thank you Rotary Club of Peachtree City in District 6900 (USA), Rotary Club of Pretoria East in District 9400 (RSA), and The Rotary Foundation for all that is being done with this project. The Global Grant provides materials only. All training is provided by Rotarian volunteers. 

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.

“You Are Good For Our Children!”

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When the work speaks!

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For over a week we have been evaluating Grade R and Grade 1 learners in South Africa and reviewing the impact of a Rotary project – GG25244 – based on the Souns for literacy program. The 258 learners from seven classrooms are from three pilot sites: one in Pretoria and two in the township of Mamelodi.

The results are indelibly imprinted! Consider such comments from HOD’s as:

“You may come [to our school] any time you want. You are good for our children.”

“Thank you, Rotary, for Souns. It is helping our children read!”

“Our teachers are crying for this program.”

The children are the miracles: Imagine evaluations that are filled with giggles,  slow, deep smiles of pride, jubilant jumps in the air, eyes glowing with joy that burn into your heart. All this happiness during individual assessments. Children are so excited about KNOWING!

What magic to hear a preschooler saying, “Can I read to you? Can I read to you?”

Then there is the sadness we see with learning issues or lack of support at home that delays progress. If a child does not learn letter sounds in preschool with 38-40 children in a classroom (one teacher), the child will not likely learn them in Grade 1 with 45-60 children in a classroom (one teacher) which is scripted to move much faster. After that we know how the pieces fall.

“Our system is supposed to be designed for the children, but that is not what we are doing.” says one. “Souns is helping us reach our children.”

While we have clearly inspired letter-sound learning through the Souns project for the typically developing child, we have so much to do for those children who are capable but unfold on a different time line. It is promising that one of the schools has begun a conversation to address this issue.  We celebrate this possibility, particularly when the HOD’s exclaim, “Nothing is impossible! We must do what we need to do for our children.” This is change speaking!

Getting people to pay attention to how and when children learn best is the best outcome for any literacy project. This is the stuff of Souns through Rotary in South Africa. It is deeply rich and moving work.

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Thank you to The Rotary Foundation, and Rotary Clubs Pretoria East in RD9400 and Peachtree City in RD6900. 
 

Building Words With Soun(d)s

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A Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa shares her work with the Souns program funded by The Rotary Foundation. What an amazing collaboration between two globally sensitive, benevolent-minded organizations. Thank you Rotary Districts 6900 and 9400!
I had such a great day with the children today that I thought I should share.  I made some “picture cards” earlier this week to help teach new English vocabulary to the children through pictures. 
 
I showed them the pictures, gave them the meanings in Xitsonga and English, and we started to figure out how to build them.  At first the children had no clue what I wanted when I asked “What sound does ‘pot’ start with?”  But after getting a translation, a little boy  whispered “pih pih pih”.  We soon had pot built, and the children took turns saying “pih ah tih” several times.  A few even started saying “pot”.  It was amazing to see the kids take their first step in writing and reading.  I could see the educators who were watching finally get what I was trying to do with the programme, and they began to get excited and more involved with the groups.  They were seeing 3-4 year old children figure out how to write words and read.  
 
I look forward to teaching them a few new words and sounds each day.  

Second day: We work together to sound out the word, and the children are eager to grab the Souns and build the word.  Today we focused on “hat”, “mop” and “pot”.  Right now, the kids are still struggling to separate the individual sounds in the words, but little by little they are getting there.

Some of them are even starting to read the words we build.