Investing in Forsyth County’s Future

Kernersville resident Susan Choplin is one of just six North Carolina teachers handpicked to lead a Kindergarten Demonstration Classroom. Each year, she hosts up to 100 instructors from across the state to visit her class at Walkertown Elementary School and observe first-hand how she engages her students, creates a supportive learning environment, and provides Forsyth County’s children with the tools they need to succeed through high school and beyond.

Last year, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust began strategically investing in Forsyth County’s youngest residents as part of the Trust’s Great Expectations initiative. Great Expectations is poised to become the cornerstone effort of the Trust’s Poor and Needy Division, with investments focused on ensuring the County’s youngest children, especially those from financially disadvantaged families, have the foundation to be successful in school and life by the time they complete kindergarten.

“We know that birth through age eight are crucial years for a child’s development—necessary brain structures are being created, particularly a child’s oral language skills, which lead to literacy development,” said Susan Choplin, “In addition, the social and emotional growth during these critical years sets pathways for later development and learning. There’s a trajectory. It’s really hard after the early years to change the trajectory. But if you put children on the right path from the start, it gets them on the right track for a successful future.”

As a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Susan became interested in human development, especially how children grow and learn. She was fascinated by the amount of development that occurs from birth to age eight. Susan went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree and then a Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies in Education & Child Development, which led her to teaching. She’s taught Kindergarten at Forsyth County’s Walkertown Elementary School for 14 years.

Susan was selected to lead a demonstration classroom by the North Carolina State Office of Early Learning, which is governed by the State Board of Education’s Division of Public Instruction and is part of the state’s Power of Kindergarten initiative. In her classroom, Susan hosts guided observations, during which teachers visit for up to a full school day. Afterward, the teachers review best practices and research, and have the opportunity to discuss necessary supports and enrichment.

To ensure that Susan and teachers like her have the tools and resources necessary to successfully guide their students, in 2013 and 2014, the Trust sent 175 and 215, respectively, Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten educators from high poverty Title I schools to a two-day professional development conference in Raleigh. The North Carolina Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NCaeyc) annual conference attracts teachers and administrators from across the state. The Trust granted $213,000 in 2013 and $236,500 in 2014 to cover Forsyth County instructors’ travel, lodging and registration fees, as well as a reimbursement for meals. In addition, the Trust hosted a dinner reception for these teachers on the first night of the conference.

“The Trust recognizes the importance of early childhood education. Very few of these teachers would have been able to attend the conference without support from Kate B. Reynolds. We value being treated as professionals and getting the recognition we deserve,” said Choplin. “We want to build on our professional knowledge, but we don’t always have the opportunity or the resources to do so. Hosting a dinner reception is just one example of how the Trust acknowledges how hard we teachers work and what we strive to do for the children and families in our schools.”

Many NCaeyc conference workshops are designed specifically for Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten teachers. Teachers are introduced both to the newest research and methodology of early childhood education, as well as given practical strategies to apply in the classroom that are relevant to the work they do every school day.

As part of Great Expectations, the Trust also provided teachers with resources to purchase materials and tools for the classroom, which are often not funded by public school districts due to budget cuts. And, most Title 1 schools do not have well-funded PTAs (Parent Teacher Associations) to provide this type of support.

“We have so many new expectations of what our youngest students need to learn and achieve. Kids are active learners and we have to value that part of their development. Being able to give them interactive materials to better support learning has significant impacts,” added Choplin.

The Trust is also helping schools send teachers to visit demonstration classrooms, as districts often have limited resources to ensure visiting teachers have a qualified substitute teacher in their classrooms back home.

And in partnership with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Trust is funding an innovative evaluation tool that provides teachers with a ‘snapshot’ of a typical day in their classrooms. UNC observers visit classrooms to help teachers recognize how they spend time during the school day, with regard to the style of learning, as well as content. This reflective tool gives teachers a clearer understanding of the instruction students receive and what can be improved or tweaked to better engage children.

“The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is committed to the children of Forsyth County and ensuring they have what they need to succeed in school and in later life. Great Expectations is investing in early childhood development because research over the last several decades has shown that a child’s formative years are critical to success later in life,” added Joe Crocker, director of the Poor and Needy Division at the Trust. “By investing in educators, the Trust is investing in the future of Forsyth County.”      

The Trust will host an event this summer to announce the Great Expectations activation plan, which will lay out how the initiative will unfold and next steps for investments, programming and partnerships in the community in order to improve early childhood education in Forsyth County.

Above: Susan Choplin leading an attentive audience