back to school
President’s Message I always think the beginning of a school year feels as much like a celebration of new beginnings as January 1. While there is always a poignancy to watching our beautiful Vermont summer come to a close, the promise the season holds for learners is right up there with the extraordinary color show the leaves will put on for us soon.

As you will read, we had a great summer at the Stern Center. We had 171 students attend a variety of instruction programs to bolster their academic and social emotional skills. Also, 480 teachers and school leaders attended a wide array of coursework to extend their expertise in the science of learning. Camp Compass, a four-day activity-based experience to promote social learning in children ages 7-12, was in such high demand this year that we added an extra session.

What are the buzzes for the new school year? Surely, one is how technology is transforming learning. Just one look at the cover story of “The Economist” from July 22-28 and it is clear. Luckily, we are joining in on the buzz, as we were honored and grateful to receive a gift from a private donor to offer eLearning to students at a reduced rate. It is inspiring that Stern Center services can now be available anywhere, any time!

And, our BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LITERACY® Online Course in partnership with Champlain College is well on its way to launch in early 2018!

MindPlay’s Comprehensive Reading Course Online, which I am coauthoring with Nancy Mather, Marilyn Varricchio, and Janice Sammons, should be available later that year as well.

Early childhood instruction and its role in leveling the playing field so that all children enter kindergarten ready to learn is another example. In Vermont, we held our first Early Childhood Summer Institute at Castleton University in July with 14 agencies collaborating to deliver 9 courses at reduced cost to 160 enthusiastic participants.

The Stern Center’s table at the 2017 Castleton Early Childhood Summer
Institute provided informative and valuable resources for participants.

The white paper on equity released this past spring is powerful and continues to reverberate. We are pleased that our Trauma of Poverty course has been well received as a means to addressing some issues of inequality.

Our ongoing collaboration with Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center has remained strong this year! We have provided 1,100 hours of instruction to the vulnerable student population enrolled at Woodside, through federally funded Title I Literacy and Math Intervention, as well as the Canaday Family Foundation Grant. We are pleased that student gains in reading and math compare favorably to national norms for students in similar programs for similar duration.

The Cynthia K. Hoehl Institute for Excellence (CKHIE) is home to our Professional Learning programs that promote implementation science. We are deeply proud of the project outcomes realized since our last newsletter.

Our first long-term study of how increasing teacher knowledge leads to improvements in children’s outcomes is particularly exciting. I remain inspired by Mark Seidenberg’s book “Language at the Speed of Sight” for its call to action on behalf of reading research. We are witnessing response to that call in Vermont.

Enjoy reading more, and happy new year!

Blanche Podhajski President and Founder
Blanche Podhajski, Ph.D.
President and Founder


Celebrating the Teachers and Leaders of ONSU

June concluded the fourth school year of our Professional Learning partnership with the Orange North Supervisory Union (ONSU). This longitudinal study of children’s reading outcomes secondary to a school-wide commitment to research-based literacy practices is a beautiful exemplar of successful systems change. Not only were expanded literacy gains realized across school achievement measures using the district’s assessment Track My Progress but, strikingly, there were no special education referrals for reading in grades K-5 at Williamstown Elementary School, a school that had seen six referrals the previous year.

This carefully customized collaborative effort blended district strengths and goals, as well as identified capacity needs, with the knowledge and expertise of the Stern Center. Frequent, ongoing, and focused communication, immersion in each other’s contexts, and mutual professional regard were at the cornerstone of this project. Results in terms of student achievements, systems capacity, and saved funds all illustrate the powerful impact of such work.

We want to express our great appreciation to the teaching team at ONSU who immersed themselves in learning how to implement what 35 years of brain science have told us we must do to advance reading outcomes. Kudos as well to the leadership that chose to invest in teachers. We look forward to continuing our work together during the new school year, addressing youngsters who still struggle to read at the middle and high school levels. It is never too late!

Click here for more information regarding the Orange North Supervisory Union Professional Learning outcomes.


Early Literacy and the Arts Collaborate in New Jersey on Behalf of Our Youngest Learners

A creative collaboration with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) of Newark, New Jersey to improve early childhood literacy outcomes was completed this spring to rave reviews. This Professional Learning initiative was made possible by funding from the Turrell Fund, an organization dedicated to supporting at-risk children and their families in Vermont and New Jersey. This grant helped us combine NJPAC’s Early Learning through the Arts: Wolf Trap program with our BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LITERACY® program. This resulted in a highly-regarded and well-received professional learning experience for NJPAC teaching artists and educators, not to mention a high-quality learning opportunity for preschoolers at The Little Schoolhouse in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the pilot site where participants taught.

“The students were very enthusiastic and through the program’s multisensory approach were able to grasp concepts and make connections through the enrichment of music, performance, and art with literacy and other subjects.”

-Teacher at The Little Schoolhouse

The seven-week artists in residency program began in early March and resulted in six Wolf Trap residencies at The Little Schoolhouse, having a positive impact on the early literacy development of approximately 120 preschool children ages three to four. Stern Center’s Peggy Price mentored artists via video conference calls, successfully bringing digital coaching into the classroom. At the conclusion of the residencies, The Little Schoolhouse teachers and NJPAC artists provided a family workshop at the school to encourage the community to engage their three- and four-year-olds in literary learning through the arts.


Collaborative Paves the Way for Pre-K – K

For years it has been common knowledge that a majority of reading problems can be prevented in preschool and the early grades (National Research Council, 1998). To help educators build birth to age 8 frameworks that meet Vermont Early Learning Standards, the Stern Center staff is helping communities build systems that prepare all children for successful entry into kindergarten. This approach is encapsulated in our BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LITERACY® program, which is at the core of this new Pre-K-K collaborative in Rutland County.

One example is our newly created collaboration with the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union (RNESU). The goal of the Pre-K–K Collaborative Design will be to develop a common early literacy language between pre-K and kindergarten professionals and to engage in collaborative dialogue to establish a pre-K‐kindergarten transition process. We will also work to clearly identify common assessments for BUILDING BLOCKS instruction, looking at print knowledge, phonological awareness, and definitional vocabulary based on a hierarchy of skills acquisition. We will be delivering BUILDING BLOCKS Birth-5 to 14 teachers within RNESU and offering mentor training as well as the opportunity for parent workshops. We hope that this collaboration will become a model for similar efforts throughout Vermont and the nation.



BUILDING BLOCKS and Head Start: A Powerful Partnership

We are pleased to announce that the new school year will bring BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LEARNING® training to early childhood educators through various state Head Start associations across the country. A long-standing philanthropic partner passionate about the importance of early literacy continues to advocate for and support expanding BUILDING BLOCKS training at Head Start centers.

BUILDING BLOCKS follows recommendations from the National Research Council and the 2009 National Early Literacy Panel and focuses on the areas of early literacy research, language development, executive function, shared book reading emphasizing vocabulary, phonological awareness, and speech-to-print connections including alphabet knowledge. Trainings began this summer with a three-day statewide summer institute in Washington State in June. We have also launched a year’s training calendar that will bring BUILDING BLOCKS to each of Vermont’s seven Head Start regions.

In Vermont alone, that means 300-350 educators will enhance their early literacy skills as they work with roughly 9,000 children. We are pleased that ongoing outreach with other state directors will further result in expanded trainings in up to three additional states. Additionally, the funding supports training for new hires in the subsequent year, a predictably significant number given historical turnover rates in the early childhood education field.


eLearning Enhances Stern Center Service Delivery!

Thanks to a generous private donor, we have been offering students and their families online eLearning at a reduced cost of just $49/hour throughout this summer. This special reduced rate will continue until donor funds have been exhausted.

Students in grades 4 and up through college will receive the same high-quality instruction as in person via our online platform!

To learn more about Stern Center eLearning, review our flyer.


Raves Continue for Reading and the Brain

Our Reading and the Brain course returned for a second summer and was embraced by an eager and highly-engaged group of teachers, reading specialists, special educators, evaluators, and literacy coaches.

“This course reinforced my philosophy that systematic, explicit literacy instruction improves reading, writing, and spelling, and I learned research that supports that! I wish all the teachers in my building would take it.”

– Summer 2016 Participant

This 35-hour course sold out early and was attended by 28 participants, tripling the number of individuals who attended last year’s course. Taught by Peggy Price, Director of the Orton-Gillingham Institute at the Stern Center, this course is designed for educators who wish to learn about the neuroscience of reading and how research and knowledge of the English language improve classroom instruction.

Participants gained an in-depth understanding of the brain during reading, common neuromyths, phonological awareness, phonology, reading and spelling development, reading fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, and written expression. Participants left with practical strategies they could immediately implement with their students and a broad array of research articles and video lectures for further study.

“What I enjoyed the most about this workshop was how applicable the content was to what I do with my students. The brain research presented was fascinating and helped to clarify misconceptions to avoid so I can better support all of my students.”

– Summer 2017 Participant

A particularly exciting feature of this class was that this session included educators, approximately half of the class, who earned Orton-Gillingham Associate Level certification through the Stern Center’s Orton-Gillingham Institute. They took Reading and the Brain as part of their two-year Orton Gillingham Certified Level training, and plan to begin a 200-hour practicum this fall.


Boys and Girls Club Collaboration Expands

Plans for the new school year include continuing to offer comprehensive learning evaluations and student reading support through Mindplay Virtual Reading Coach®, an online program co-created by Stern Center staff.

Untangling Math Instruction,” which presents best practices in math through a course and coaching element and a three-part series with coaching on social-emotional learning: “Managing Anxiety” and “Improving Self-Regulation,” “Visual Methods for Exploring Social Understanding,” and “Best Practices in Autism” will be two new elements in the coming school year.

Speaking on behalf of the Club’s education team, Education Director Dottie Dearborn spoke to the benefits of this ongoing collaboration:

“We will be working with our new knowledge and tools to do skill breakdowns, develop explicit learner profiles, and dissect and plan to explicitly match resources and practices for each youth.”


Woodside Project Enters Year Two

We continue with our collaboration with Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center where our two Stern Center instructors provide 27 hours a week of intervention (13.5 for reading, 13.5 for math) with Woodside students. Three of the five days are federally funded by Title 1 and the remaining two days generously funded by the Canaday Family Foundation Grant.

We are very proud that test data have now been analyzed and demonstrate very nice gains overall. Specifically, when looking at students who were pre and post tested over approximately 5 months, gains were found as follows:
    • 8 month gain in their word recognition ability
    • 1 year gain in their ability to comprehend sentences in reading
    • 5 month gain in their spelling ability
    • 1 year gain in their ability to compute solutions to math problems
We are delighted to work with the students and teachers at Woodside. Together, we make a difference.


Brewster Pierce Initiative Renewed

The new school year at Brewster Pierce Memorial School will see a continued collaboration focused on Professional Learning in mathematics and will for the first time include literacy knowledge and practice. This work, entering the third year, is made possible by private philanthropists committed to the educators and children of Huntington.

In math, Dr. Anita Long will continue her work providing ongoing coaching to reinforce and advance current practice with a focus on lesson plan modeling and strategy planning in response to student performance data. She will also continue to encourage family involvement through the school’s monthly Math Blog for Families, which provides information and tips about how to most effectively engage children with real-world math opportunities.

In literacy, Stern Center experts will work with Brewster Pierce faculty to develop a common language and conceptual understanding for the foundational literacy skills that extend across the curriculum. Four modules will be designed to broaden teacher knowledge necessary to support student access to the curriculum across all grades, with the goal of deepening reading comprehension and critical thinking.

Deep knowledge of phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and grammar will support teachers in the implementation of their core Guided Reading program. This will support their differentiation of instruction required for improved student outcomes.

Goals for this year as identified with the school team are to improve student achievement in reading through three primary initiatives:
        • Understand the structure of the English language and how spelling supports reading and writing
        • Identify how fluency, syntax, and vocabulary enhance reading comprehension
        • Collaborate within and across grade-level teams with a focus on student learning, assessment, data-based decisions and practices, to positively impact student learning
We look forward to the beginning of the upcoming school year so that we can continue this very important work with Vermont’s youth. All of us at the Stern Center are passionate about the promise of this project and others like it and thank you for being part of the journey.


We wish you a happy and healthy new school year and look forward to sharing more exciting news in our Winter eNewsletter, coming your way in January 2018!

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