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!






Now 6 and Ready to Read to Learn

Oh, such happiness displayed! The confidence, the knowing “I can read!” wraps every word. This six-year-old will be entering first grade this year with a joy of reading that will make learning unfold as it should for young children.

She began Souns as a toddler.  A walkabout through SounsTalk will touch her journey, learning the tools for reading (letter sounds)…one step at a time….playing and exploring all the way! As her mother said, “it was effortless!”

Many thanks to this wonderful family for sharing their experience with Souns.


TEXAS – “Let The Sounds Tell You!”


“Let the sounds tell you!” says the teacher as the child listens to the sound of each letter to find the word hiding there. That little analytical mind is at work and at play all at the same time! Learning is happening.

What a visit I had in Longview, Texas! In each of the follow-up trainings – Longview Independent School District and Pine Tree Independent School District (including Head Start and Early Start), and several independent preschools – it was soon obvious to all that the children were ahead of what their teachers expected. Learners in classrooms were either more ready to build words or more ready to sound out words than thought. Surprisingly, this was true of even those quiet learners who we suspect are not progressing as well.

The teachers in these preschool classrooms have done excellent work helping their learners know letter sounds. The next step was right there, waiting within the child. How fortunate these children are to have such a supportive community of educators wrapped around them.

Our mid-year visit was perfectly timed. Now the teachers will finish the year giving their children the greatest opportunity to flourish in this work, to know “I can!”  What a step up for success in writing and reading when they enter elementary school. We were delighted to have a kindergarten teacher sit in on the training and share her enthusiasm for what she saw unfolding for these children. She is excited to get some of these children in her classroom next year. We can’t wait to follow the story.

I acknowledge this amazing community for taking such a united stand for literacy. I also want to thank Claudette Jones for her relentless determination in supporting these teachers and the young people of her community in this effort to build readers. Souns is a great idea, but it takes willing and dedicated people to make a great idea turn into reality. The following comment from a teacher of three-year-olds makes it all so worthwhile:

Since implementing Souns in our classroom, my children have not only grown in their knowledge of letter sounds, but their self-esteem has sky rocketed! When they see the Souns their eager faces light up with anticipation.

I was surprised at how organic the whole process was and how naturally the children began to visually recognize and physically represent the Souns. After introducing a new sound, I can just sit back and watch them teach themselves and each other. It has been nothing short of remarkable!


Through The Hearts Of Teachers

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Teaching the teacher (parent or caregiver) about Souns initially takes about two hours.   The Souns program – focusing only on letter-sound associations – is the most natural, developmentally appropriate route to reading for the young child. Teachers love this simple, logical, effective tool. After the introduction of the program, we observe the teacher teaching the children (below).

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The result, often in three to four months of learning letter-sound associations, is the building of words (below). This “writing” by listening to sounds in words lasts for several weeks or a month. Taking the puzzle of a spoken word apart, building it with symbols is fun! This understanding of the structure of words leads to a seamless step into sounding out printed phonetic words.

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Soon, the magic of decoding – sounding out words – appears spontaneously in the classroom….one little person at a time. The five-year-old in the image below is reading a sentence I wrote. She sought us out to share something she had read in the classroom. I wanted fresh material for her, so I created a short phonetic sentence, which she read with no hesitation.

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Are we making a difference in South Africa? Absolutely! Rotarian volunteers teach the teachers in the implementation of a program that is provided by a Rotary Global Grant.  In a country with 11 official languages, Souns focuses ONLY on letter-sounds, most of which are the same across all the languages. Letter-sound associations are the most direct link to writing and reading. These children will walk a better path toward success in school; they will read!

“Thank you!” to The Rotary Foundation for your support of this Global Grant 25244 literacy project initiated by the Rotary Club of Pretoria East in Rotary District 9400 and the Rotary Club of Peachtree City in Rotary District 6900.

It Is Happening!

“The baby is watching them dance!” is English translation of the last sentence child reads.

One step at a time. These children had Souns in their Grade R (kindergarten) classroom last year. This mid year of Grade 1. They are well ahead of their classmates who did not have the Souns program. One child at a time – one gentle, encouraging step at a time – we will build readers in South Africa. Thank you, Rotary! You are making a difference.

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.

Even Start Family Literacy Program

A school year has spun by so quickly since we began Souns with the Even Start Family Literacy Program in Georgia. Five counties participated, with one center in each. The centers ranged from childcare settings which met daily during the week to centers with once a month visits by families. Almost every site included home visits by Even Start teachers.

From my experience, the people involved in ESFLP are an inspiration and such a positive reflection on the efforts to build literacy in Georgia. Each site is unique in its style and population. I have delighted in the eagerness of a parent watching her four-year-old child demonstrate letter-sound knowledge while she, herself, was on her way to a classroom to study for the GED. She is determined her child will have a head start in school. A home visitor shared the success she was having with a family whose child was not succeeding in school because of reading issues. There are abundant anecdotes of how Souns made a difference for children and their families. One teacher bemoaned the fact that the Even Start Family Literacy Program did not have Souns until this year, saying it would have made a tremendous difference had they had it during previous years.

We also learned about the conditions that make it harder for Souns to succeed. Souns works best when a child has regular exposure to the program. Souns once a month does not give as positive results as Souns being taught each day. Home visits were successful where the family supported the program between visits. Children who miss many days of school are clearly in jeopardy of not progressing as well as their classmates who attend regularly. The teachers voiced this frustration many times, “The program works if the child is here.”

Souns is an early literacy program that teachers love and children love if we can get the teacher, the material, and the children together on a regular basis. An exceptional academic program and great teachers are two critical legs of a stool that will not stand without the third leg – the child, supported by their family. The issues that challenge families who qualify for Georgia’s Even Start Family Literacy Program are clearly issues that are not easily remedied by the best of intentions or the greatest of programs and teachers. We must find a way to intercept families earlier and in incidental ways that adapt to the needs and schedules of very determined parents with complicated daily lives. How can we reach the most predictable teacher for a child  – the parent – with the right information to build literacy at home? This hope I gained from this year. That is our goal, and I thank the Even Start Family Literacy Program for giving us such a clear direction for helping children. Every parent wants their child to read!

Souns/Peace Corps – Seeds Sprouting!

 Souns Approach to Learning Phonetic Sounds without Souns symbols.

This is the Souns program through the words of one Peace Corps volunteer as he is helping teachers around him build a more literate world for children in South Africa. He is introducing the Souns program across environments. Children will read in South Africa thanks to the collaborative effort of  the Peace Corps and Rotary Districts 9400/6900.

I.  Introduction

Children often have a difficulty with reading because they learn words through rote memory of high frequency words.  These children have difficulties when coming across unfamiliar words.  If children are exposed to individual phonetic sounds at an early age, such as the cretche age, they will be a more balanced reader, able to read with fluency and decode.

II.  An Approach

There is a program called Souns that utilizes hard plastic representations of phonetic sounds and a progression of phonetic sounds that allows a young child to learn high frequency sounds first.  The progression is as follows:

o  m  s  t  p  e  i  h  a  f  u  b  w  n  d  j  l  c  r  g

Learners are introduced to the first four sounds “o  m  s  t.”  Groups can be from 1-8 learners.  The preferred method is to be seated on the floor.  The teacher has the four sounds in a bag and pulls out one sound (the plastic representation of the sound) and says “o.”  The learners will repeat “o.”  Then the teacher goes from learner to learner, saying “o” and allowing each learner to touch and hold the sound.  After all learners have touched and said the “o” sound, lay the sound on the ground and repeat with “m” and then the rest of the four sounds.

After all 4 sounds have been introduced and laid on the ground in from of the learners, repeat the sound and give one to each child.  Now that each child is holding a sound, ask, “Can I have the “o”?”  The child with “o” will hand you the “o” and you will place the sound back in the bag.  Say “thank you” and ask for the “m” and so on until all the letters are in the bag.  Give each child a “high five” and say “thank you”.

III.  Notes on the Approach

Each session should last less than 15 minutes and done only once a day.  The sessions should focus on being fun and not dispensing of knowledge.

A teacher should never say “no.”  If a learner says a sound incorrectly, such as “o” when the sound is “m”, say, “This is “m,”” and continue with the session.  If a learner points at a sound, such as “m”, and says it incorrectly, say, “This is “m,”” and allow the child a chance to say it correctly.  If they continue to struggle, say “Good job,” make a note, and continue with the session.

It is important that each sound is not drawn out too much.  If the learners are learning “t”, make sure the learners say “t” once and not “t, t, t, t”.  If they are learning “s,” make sure they say “sss” and not “sss, sss, sss”.  This is because the child will soon be reading and they need to learn how the sound sounds naturally when read.

Never add vowel sounds to the end of consonant sounds.  If teaching “s”, it is never “sa” or “se” or “si”, it is “sss” and only “sss”.  This will help the child break words down and be able to learn other languages that do not follow the Bantu word formation of every syllable ending in a vowel.  “sa”, “se”, “si”, “so”, “su” is a helpful approach for reading intervention and can be done at a later stage, but it is not beneficial when a child is first learning phonetic sounds.

When showing the learners a sound, be sure to display the sound in a way that it is proper for the child viewing it.  This way they do not confuse the sound.  This is especially imperative when doing b, d, p, and q.

IV.  An Amended Approach for LEAP 5 and Local Cretche

Working with the plastic representations can be substituted by drawing with a stick in the dirt.

Each LEAP learner could work with a group of 4 or less.  I suggest 4 or less so the cretche learners receive equal exposure.  You can adjust this if need be, of course.  Here is a suggested process:

1.  The LEAP learner will take their group and a stick to their designated spot in the yard.  In this case, they will sit down in a line with students beside the teacher. Greet each student, ask a simple question, and say something to get them excited, such as, “Ready to have some fun?!”  Be sure the learners can each see the patch of dirt in front of them and the LEAP learner.

2.  They will go through the introduction process, as mentioned above, but instead of displaying a plastic representation of the sound, the teacher will slowly write the sound in the dirt in front of the learners.  Form the letter slowly, so the child is able to watch how the letter is formed.

3.  The LEAP will point to the representation of the sound drawn in the dirt and say it to each learner.  After saying it to one learner, allow the learner to attempt drawing the sound in the dirt also.  As noted under “Notes on the Approach,” be sure to not say “no”.  Just allow the learner to try their best and move along, keeping their excitement high.

4.  By the end, you should have 4 sounds drawn in the dirt, facing the learners.  Go through each sound saying, “Can someone touch the “o”?” and then erase after choosing one child to touch it and then move to the “m” and so on until all sounds are erased.

5.  Give each learner a sign of congratulation such as a “high five” and end the session.

V.  Resources

Please visit and read more about souns.  Then go to souns Resources on the left hand column.  Once on the souns Resources page, click on the souns Tracking Sheet and start one tracking sheet for each cretche learner that is kept track of by their LEAP learner.

                   *Mastered, shading in the whole box, should be filled in only when you draw the sound in the
dirt, and without any prompting or prior teaching that day, the individual cretche learner say the
correct sound.

VI.  Activities to Add to the Approach

If learners are having difficulties with sounds, it often helps to change your approach.  Here are a few suggestions to make learning even more fun:

1.  Get a marker or pen and lightly write the sound on the hand of each learner.  Be sure to write the same letter on the same part of the palm.  This will allow you to write four sounds (2 on top of each hand and two on the bottom of each hand).  Be sure to sit behind the learner and slowly write the sound, allowing them to see how the sound is formed.  After this, you can ask them to match their sound to their friends’ same sound.  It is a fun way for them to take their learning home and show their parents what they learned that day at school.

2.  As a review, draw each sound apart from each other in the yard.  Say a sound and have the group run to each sound, look at it, and shout it out.  This is a good way to get them excited about the sound and can even be done individually as a way of review.  Be sure to demonstrate first.

3.  Get large representations of sounds already learned and spread them out in your learning area.  Ask learners to find the different sounds on the paper and/or have them show you the sounds.  This will be a pivotal step in their understanding of how sounds connect to the world they live in.

4.  Once learners attain the first 8 sounds, it is a good time to create some words.  From the first 9 sounds, in Tshivenda, you can say the words mme, ita, sita, sema, and many more that I don’t know.  Say the word normally and then say it slowly, making sure the learner hears each individual sound.  Ask the learner what that word means and if you have a physical representation of the word, show it to the learners.  Allow the learner then to do say the word normally and then slowly.  Say it again together, pointing out the first sound, and then you or, if able, the child writes the sound in the dirt.  Do the same for the next sound.  When the entire word is written, sound out each sound and then say the word again normally.  Congratulate the learner and tell them they built a word.  This will be a big step for the learner and should be used only with sounds mastered.

VII.  Final Note

This is an easy concept that will be great for the LEAP learners to share with the cretche learners.  It will be most beneficial when mixed with reading of stories, singing of songs, and playing of games.

© 2012 by SounsⓇ All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Souns.

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)



Rotary / Head Start – Literacy in Puerto Rico

What a memorable Souns training trip.  It is exceptional to find as supportive a combination of teachers, supervisors, and administration as I have experienced in Head Start in the San Juan Municipality. As a Rotarian engaged in a collaborative early literacy effort between Rotary Districts 7000, 6990, and Head Start, this work seems scripted as if by the angel on each child’s shoulder.­­

This training trip is one of several and will add to the growing list of classroom teachers prepared to implement Souns in their classrooms at the beginning of the coming school year. Additionally, we had a training session for Center Supervisors.

In early training for Souns, it is best to demonstrate how the symbols are initially presented with children in the classroom. While our teacher training was held in a Head Start Center open in June and not yet implementing Souns, the Supervisors’ training the next day was held in a facility where no children were available Fortunately, a mother volunteered to bring her child for the demonstration. The child was one from a class whose teacher has had Souns for a month. As my planned initial lesson was not possible, I chose to present a simple Souns evaluation. What a delight to see the ease with which this three-year-old child demonstrated her confidence with the five letter-sound associations I presented to her. She has only been exposed to Souns for one month. Imagine this young person’s future as a reader.

The training also included a serendipitous testimony – the unscheduled visit of an Early Start teacher who has had Souns materials for several months and wanted to share her students’ progress as they graduated from her class. “These children were building words with Souns like mama and papa and stop by listening to the sounds in the words,” she said. This teacher was so happy with the skills her departing three-year-olds had gained through her implementation of Souns.

The future is waiting for many, but not for these children and not for these teachers. Teachers with the support they are getting in San Juan Municipality Head Start are teachers who go home feeling like they truly have made a difference.

Thank you Rotary and thank you Head Start of San Juan Municipality! Because of you we all celebrate this moment of success in a world that needs to know how simple it can be for Every – YES, EVERY – child to read!