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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In SA – Time to Build

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This is Part II of our Souns training trip to South Africa where classrooms have Souns materials thanks to Rotary International Global Grants. Clubs involved in this literacy work are RC Smyrna (RD6900), RC Peachtree City (RD6900), and RC Pretoria East (RD9400). Many thanks to the Rotarian volunteers from both districts who propel this project forward in so many lasting ways.
 

The second week of training has been most informing: with Souns, children learn faster than teachers expect! Hands-on activities make such a difference in learning.

When, in school after school, you hear the same doubting comment each time a particular question is asked of the teacher, and the children prove the doubt is not merited, there is a lesson for all. Such information defines a focus point for our training and confirms learners are almost always ahead of where the teacher expects them to be.

Good practice with Souns suggests teachers focus Grade R (kindergarten) children on letter-sound associations beginning the first day they walk into class.  With consistency in daily, short, engaging activities, building words by listening to sounds in spoken words will be happening in their classrooms by end of first term or early second term. Many learners will be ready to sound out words by third term, if not sooner. All three stages of Souns should be present in a classroom by beginning of fourth term: continued learning of letter-sound associations, building words, and sounding out words.

Our visit was exciting because in every case the children were on course. This is the end of their first term in South Africa, but the teacher had not introduced building words yet! “It is too early! They are not ready!” Well, the children were ready! It was a delight to demonstrate for the teachers how ready the learners were. The teachers and the learners had done such good work to date. Now it was time to trust the learners and move on. Those ready learners will show the path for others in the classroom who are on their way. Young minds are always watching and always learning.

With two to three schools a day and from two to four classrooms in each school, this training week was intense and fulfilling. It has taken the first few years of this work for teachers to see the possibilities with Souns. Now the training is more about the steps the teachers need to take in order to build patterns in classroom practice.

A few sites included work with toddlers and adult learners. Building readers in South Africa – across language, circumstance, and age – is a reality for Souns. Thank you, Rotary, for putting Souns materials into the hands and minds of so many.

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Part III in the near future: surprising results of this good work in other Souns sites

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.