Accelerated Readers Reach New Heights by Christina Spivey


Teacher and reader

We all know reading is an important life skill….but it’s so much more….

Reading can take us anywhere in this world and beyond. It can introduce us to some of our best beloved characters, help us dream of far away places and encourage us to create our own characters from our own imagination. To this day, I can barely remember my mother reading to me, only because she was such an amazing reader that each and every book she read played out like a movie in my head.  I still have the books she read to me and each turn of the page lifted the characters and they became lifelike through her voices and intonations.

As an educator, my greatest goal is to instill a love of learning and a love of reading in each and every child.

At the beginning of the school year, we decided to promote reading using the Accelerated Reader (AR) program through Renaissance Learning.  Each child in third through fifth grade had a reading goal set for each nine week grading period based on their individual reading ability. We also shared that they would attend a “Mystery Trip” at the end of the school year if they reached their AR reading goals 3 out of the 4 nine week grading periods. At the end of each grading period we also rewarded students who reached their goals with a celebration including a rich literature read aloud. We have also placed books in the hands of our students from the many wonderful and generous volunteers who have donated books throughout the year to help support this program.

I am happy to announce that 53 third through fifth graders will attend our “Mystery Trip” to the United States Space and Rocket Center! I believe our numbers will continue to grow next year as they have grown each grading period this year. We even had 35 Kindergarten students pass an AR test as well as over 90 First Grade students. And, all of our 2nd graders are working toward reading goals also! The “buzz” is about reading, creating students who are taking initiative for their learning and striving to reach their goals. I am so proud of our students!


I would also love to thank 100X Church and Village of Promise for their support!


Christina Spivey

Assistant Principal

University Place Elementary 

Be Careful What You Cut by Marian Wright Edelman

Mrs. Edelman will be our speaker on October 3, 2013. Save the date! Marion Wright Edelman

Anyone despairing that Congress can’t get anything done should note last week’s swift vote to get furloughed air traffic controllers back to work. Congress can move very quickly and efficiently when it wants to and when their own comfort and that of constituents well-off enough to fly was affected. Reduced unemployment benefits, children dropped suddenly from Head Start programs, poor mothers and babies losing food supplements, teacher layoffs, and cancelled meal deliveries for seniors didn’t move them—but airport delays as members headed out of town for their April recess were apparently unacceptable. Poor three- and four-year-olds denied the early child development services that can help them succeed in life may not be able to call Congress, but we need to speak out for them to stop those cuts too. We know that eliminating a child’s early education investments now will increase his chance of going to prison later by 39 percent. And paying for that prison will cost all of us nearly three times more a year than it would have cost to provide him a quality early learning foundation to get ready for school. So I hope parents and grandparents and all of us will tell our members of Congress to “be careful what you cut” because some cuts create scars that last a lifetime and public costs that drive up budget as well as human capital deficits. When Congress flies back next week they must stop the unjust across the board cuts imposed by sequestration. And the needed fix isn’t just moving around cuts from one part of a federal agency to another as Congress did with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Sequestration is dangerous policy that is hurting many children who are homeless and hungry, the unemployed, seniors, and others across the country. This slow death by a thousand indiscriminate cuts is hindering our still sluggish economic recovery. And while the jobs numbers released this week were better than expected, millions of Americans are unemployed and have been for long periods of time. Much greater improvements are needed with greater urgency. Sequestration must be repealed so that people already suffering in multiple ways from economic downturn are not hit further while they are already down. The Coalition on Human Needs and others have been keeping close track of the impact of sequestration in local communities and have provided just a few examples of sequestration’s harmful effects: In Michigan, $150,000 in projected federal cuts to the Head Start program in Menominee, Delta, and Schoolcraft counties are forcing the closure of the program up to three and a half weeks early for 254 children and their families. College Station, Texas’s Head Start and Early Head Start will eliminate a 20-day summer instruction program because of a $99,000 sequestration cut. They will also reduce staff training, field trips, and food and eliminate child care for parents participating in training sessions. In Kentucky, the Jefferson County Public Schools are losing about $6 million in federal funding and projected cuts to Title I programs for low-income, special education, and Head Start children which could affect 300 teacher and staff positions, including reading tutors and other intervention specialists who help these children catch up. The Lebanon school district in Pennsylvania has a $334,000 shortfall from federal funding cuts for Title I schools even after the state provided extra funding to make up some of the sequestration cuts. School officials expect to lay off 20 elementary school teacher aides and will not fill vacancies for a literacy instructor and a 5th grade teacher. These cuts are on top of 22 positions eliminated in 2011. Starting April 28, about 400,000 long-term unemployed workers in California received a 17.7 percent cut in their federal unemployment benefits because of sequestration. The average weekly unemployment check of $297 in California faces an average payment cut of $52 a week. In February, California was tied with Nevada and Mississippi as having the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 9.6 percent. Faced with a nine percent sequestration cut, the Henry County Senior Center in western Illinois has shortened its transportation services for seniors by two hours per day, making it harder for them to schedule doctor appointments and food shopping. Worse, the Center will need to cut back on some meal deliveries to homebound seniors according to Cassandra Schmoll, the center’s executive director. In New Orleans, a 17 percent decrease to the housing services budget meant the city was forced to rescind about 700 recently awarded Section 8 housing vouchers. According to officials, there were already 13,250 names on the waiting list. Approximately 3,400 AmeriCorps volunteers are expected to be cut including 600 of the 8,000 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, the service program designed to fight poverty. More than 1,600 seniors will lose Senior Companions who help prepare meals, drive them to medical appointments, and fill in for family caregivers. And 9,000 children will not be helped by Foster Grandparents who receive small stipends for mentoring youths in schools and juvenile justice and other community facilities. These cuts are being or will be repeated in communities, counties, and states across our country along with cuts to legal aid societies, services for individuals with disabilities, and more. While needlessly hurting those who need assistance most in this challenging economy, sequestration is also needlessly harming our national economic health by cutting benefits and jobs and causing furloughs. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan arbiter of budgetary impacts, estimated in February that sequestration will reduce gross domestic product growth in 2013 by 30 percent compared to what would have happened without the indiscriminate cuts. This is expected to cost the nation 750,000 jobs. While today’s jobs numbers help assuage fears of a sharp economic slowdown, the fact is that with 11.7 million Americans unemployed in April of 2013 and an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent—the 52nd consecutive month of unemployment at or above 7.5 percent—any policy that cuts jobs is a policy we cannot afford. Our Congressional leaders need to make better choices but enough citizens must demand they do so. Don’t we want to remove more people from the unemployment rolls? Don’t we want to prevent more children from falling deeper into poverty and further behind? Instead of indiscriminate cuts under the guise of deficit reduction, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes a mix of investing in job creation and early childhood development and learning supports; tax increases for the wealthiest; and spending cuts to non-vulnerable groups to help strengthen the economy and meet the needs of children today and prepare for tomorrow’s workforce and military and future economic growth. Tomorrow is today, so contact your Representative and Senators and urge them to repeal sequestration, get about the real business of strengthening our economy, and to be careful what they cut!

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund, whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post. 25 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001 Tel: (800) 233-1200 Children’s Defense Fund© 2013 All rights reserved.

The Children’s Champ by Dwight Campbell

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Teachers Are Terrific! program that supports and highlights the dedication of the teachers in our neighborhood.

It’s a gloomy overcast day with a severe weather alert less than three hours away. Nonetheless, the Village of Promise co-founder showed up on time, and professionally dressed in brown suit and contrasting handbag. Although the sky was dark, the moment “Professor” Gloria spoke of the kids her face began to glow like a jack o’lantern at Halloween.

“Children first” may be a figure of speech or a catchy phrase to some, but for Ms. Gloria Batts “children first” is a way of life. For nearly 40 years she has dedicated herself to the children of Huntsville, Alabama. Her passion for children in poverty to get a good education drives everything she does. Gloria is on the ground every day at University Place Elementary working with children and their families to help them in any way possible to succeed in school.

Ms. Batts is a native of Huntsville and is one of five children; she grew up in the 50’s and 60’s during segregation. Although the south was experiencing a cultural shift at the time, Gloria recalls that there was a stronger bond in the community back then and the neighborhood did all it could to ensure the children’s well being was primary.

Ms. Gloria is a major advocate for education and encouraging children to attend college and graduate. Gloria graduated from Alabama A&M University and has a Master’s in Biblical Counseling. So it is no wonder why she practices what she preaches. In addition to her community endeavors she has taught Christian education in her church since 1985.

Gloria always has been a champion for children. While serving as the local President of the Cancer Society, her administration began an anti-smoking campaign for children. Furthermore, they requested a children’s trust fund to be set up which would be funded by a proposed $.25 cigarette and tobacco tax.

After failing to gain enough political support for the tobacco tax, Gloria bravely decided to run for the Alabama State Senate. Her slogan, unsurprisingly, was “children first”. Gloria went on to win the Democratic nomination, but lost in the general election by less than a percentage point.

Ms. Batts spoke of a Geoffrey Canada speech where he said “No one’s coming to save your children, Huntsville.” I believe she took these words personally. Ms. Batt’s passion starts and begins with children, there is no question that this woman will go through hell fire for our young people. This is why I nicknamed herTeachers Are Terrific Logo “the children’s champion”.

“It’s all about the children” Ms. Gloria explains as she embraces her iPad. In the past 2 years, Gloria Batts along with childhood friend Ms. Bobby Bradley founded Village of Promise, a non-profit organization that puts children first and nurtures children in a pipeline of services from the cradle to college. She was an inspiration to me.

Arts Are the Key to Learning by Briana Figeroux

Kid with Violin“Music is the Key to Learning” Plato once said, “ I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy, but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the key to learning.” Through the program Strings that Sing, Village of Promise embraces Plato’s philosophy on music and education.

Through this program, the University Place Elementary students are reaping the benefits of learning the violin and they love every minute of it. According to First Lady Michelle Obama, “Learning through the arts reinforces critical academic skills in reading, language arts and math, and provides students with the skills to creatively solve problems.” Studies show that art education can help the brain rewire itself to make stronger and more plentiful neural connections, and can help build memory skills. In Lynda Resnick’s article “Why Art Education Matters”, self-discipline, intuition, reasoning, and imagination are other benefits of an art-filled education, especially for primary school students.

I was privileged to observe the students who are a part of the Strings that Sing program. Ms.Angela Gigler, the instructor from The Huntsville Symphony Orchestra teaches the six students who advanced from the introductory level. These 3rd grade students knew each note on the violin and played along with the music. As Ms. Gigler helped the students individually, it pleasantly surprised me to see the eagerness of each student as they showed Ms. Gigler that they remembered where the note was located on the violin.

Obviously, while learning how to play the violin, the students also learn to read music. Ms. Gigler pointed out that the students learned the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. I witnessed how Village of Promise’s programs at University Place have impacted each student. Through the violin lessons, their memory improved and they are enthusiastic to learn more. It is evident that the organization stays true to their mission on helping children from underprivileged neighborhoods escape poverty by providing them enrichment programs, such as Strings that Sing. It truly helps each child succeed and strive for a better future.

Rasuli Lewis of Harlem Children’s Zone Comes to Village of Promise


Earlier this month, Rasuli Lewis, Director of Harlem Children’s Zone Practitioners Institute came to Huntsville to conduct a day long workshop. The workshop began in the morning with our board members  and the afternoon session included the staff and many of our partners.

Rasuli, a big man in many ways-physically and emotionally, was candid about the successes and challenges of Harlem Children’s Zone. We have been more than blessed to share a relationship with Geoffrey Canada and his organization. As such, they have always been responsive and helpful to Village of Promise. Rasuli was no different.

A lot of what Mr. Lewis focused on was the culture that exists at HCZ. Simply put, it is a culture of excellence on all levels from top to bottom because the stakes are so high. Like Village of Promise, Harlem Children’s Zone is dedicated to eradicating generational poverty by providing a pipeline of services to insure that every child is college ready. We consider HCZ the model for Village of Promise. Lewis stated that their children deserve the very best from  teachers, staff and personnel. Rasuli called it a “grab a mop, can do, whatever it takes mentality” to raise the quality of life for all children in Harlem. Whatever needs to be done, even if it is not in one’s job description, WILL get done.

He suggested that those who could not perform needed to find another line of work because anything short of graduation from college was considered a failure at HCZ. Harlem Children’s Zone currently has 843 students in college.

When pressed, Mr. Lewis told our staff and partners that they were the only ones who could determine how much of an impact that they are having in Huntsville. He stressed that they are the ones that must keep the bar high and never let up striving to do better for the children.

Rasuli told us many stories of young kids who got their first tattoo in juvenile detention, went to Rikers as young adults, and then came home to command a block in Harlem as a drug dealer. That was the only way that they saw economic advancement and status in Harlem. Harlem Children’s Zone is committed to changing that pattern, and again, doing “whatever it takes”.

After a session of questions and answers, I was reminded of this quote by Aristotle “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” We thank Mr. Lewis for giving of his valuable time and inspiring us all.

How to Smile in 2013-Volunteer at Village of Promise by Bernadette Williams

bernadetteTypically, this is the time of the year that many reflect on the past year and make plans or resolutions for the upcoming year.  So I thought, “why not, I’ll try it too”, at least the reflection part.

I have been on the staff of Village of Promise since February 2012.  It is very exciting to become involved with a new non-profit.  A part of my job as Director of Volunteers is to develop a volunteer program, to develop policies and procedures for our volunteers, and to recruit volunteers for our various programs and projects.  I came from an organization with over 2000 volunteers!  In February of 2012, Village of Promise had approximately 25 volunteers who tutored children at University Place Elementary.

We are beginning 2013 with over 100 volunteers at University Place alone!  These are individuals who volunteer as tutors, as Bible study teachers, as Bible story tellers.  They also volunteer in the teachers’ resource room and for events such as the school wide Christmas party.  We have numerous other volunteers who assist with special events, with administrative tasks, with camps and special programs for the children of the University Place area neighborhoods.  As with most non-profits, Village of Promise relies heavily on our volunteers.  We have volunteers who are retired teachers and engineers, college students, parents of students at UP, stay at home moms and dads, and working men and women who take time out of their day to help a child who is struggling with math or reading.  We value our volunteers; we appreciate them and we will never be able to adequately express our gratitude for their service.

So why does one volunteer?  Ask ten people this question and you will probably get ten different answers.  I believe most volunteers will agree though, that they receive much more than they give.  I also believe that many who volunteer, not only see a need that needs to be met, but have a need within them that can only be fulfilled by giving back to others.  Such as the feeling I get when I walk in a classroom and all the kids smile at me and wave and tell their classmate her special friend (tutor) is here.

Tutoring and volunteering with children will do that to you.  It can bring tears to your eyes but most often puts a smile on your face.  We want to give to these children.  We want to tell them that they CAN be anyone that they want to be.  We want to help them become that person.  I am not sure that the volunteers at UP realize what an impact they make on the lives of the children they spend time with.  I hope they do.  I am not sure that the volunteers who assist us with Village of Promise programs realize how much they are valued.  I hope they do.

Maybe I will make a New Year’s resolution after all.  It will be to insure that every volunteer knows that their time and talents are appreciated and that their acts of generosity do not go unnoticed.

Happy New Year,

Bernadette Williams

Director of Volunteers


Giving to Honor

I spent an hour  or so this week with the employees of G.W. Jones and Sons Consulting Engineers. They had collected food items to honor their bosses Ray Jones, Mark Yokley, Mike Patterson, and Raymond Jones, Jr. by giving to a needy family. As it would happen, they chose  a deserving Village of Promise family. Made up of 14 employees, this small generous army has collected food for 10 years as a way to honor by giving and giving to honor.

Our family chosen to receive the food consisted of 4 children, ages 14, 11, 7 and 5. Their single mother had a face as wide and open and pretty as can be. Her house was small, but spotless and she was thrilled to see boxes of food being brought into the house with care. They arrived with everything for a Christmas dinner, a turkey, canned goods, paper products, stockings and lots of chocolate!

It was a joy to see the strapping men of G.W. Jones bring in the boxes and place them in a bare kitchen. They truly honored their bosses in many ways-by their gifts, but also by their quiet respect and concern they showed our Village of Promise mother.

They told me stories from over the years about walking into one person’s home to deliver Christmas food and all that was in the refrigerator was a gallon of milk. Another recipient had just a container of Tide on the countertop. How we all forget how blessed we are to have a full refrigerator-something that most of us take for granted.

We are inspired by the employees of G.W. Jones and hope you will be inspired to honor by giving and give honor to others in the process. As we continue to battle poverty by encouraging the students of University Place Elementary and in our neighborhood to strive to excell in academics I am reminded of Mark Twain. He said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Take the time to give to others less fortunate.

Merry Christmas to all and thank you G.W. Jones Consulting Engineers employees!

How Parents Can Help Their Children Get Ready For School by Cathy Puett Miller

Today’s parents have lots of challenges with their young children today.  Learning disabilities seem to be on the rise, more parents are working full time and making arrangements for someone else to care for their young child, educational publishers taunt families with “the latest, greatest” quick fix that will make a child perfect.

Many parents are asking:

How do I know what to trust?
Which is a sales pitch and which is valid
How do I tell the difference between truth and misinformation, facts and hype?

What is my role as a parent in helping my child get ready for school?


Where are the answers?

Madison County’s Early Care and Education Community

Parents can start by asking a professional preschool teacher  Look for someone you know who has up-to-date training credentials or a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Early Childhood Education are the best sources.  Don’t be afraid to ask about these qualifications.  Reach out to the teacher and director at your child’s preschool or child care center.


Visit a Alabama Office of School Readiness classroom (see for a complete list) to see what learning through play looks like.  They are examples of some of the best preschool experiences in the county.  See what the State of Alabama recommends for each stage from birth through age five at

Find local support groups/programs like United Cerebral Palsy’s Play Group ( and Healthy Families North Alabama, a voluntary home visitation program that supports overburdened, first-time parents. Families can participate in the program from the birth of their baby until the child enters kindergarten.  There are many more.



United Way of Madison County works on the issues of education and the early years, ages zero to five, are a focus.  With partners like the Village of Promise, right here in our community, this unique organization can serve as both a pipeline to answers to parent questions AND a means to support the work of early childhood and family advocates right here in our community.


For example, did you know that any citizen in Madison County with a child aged 1 month to 5.5 years is able to complete a simple Ages and Stages Questionnaire?  This simple tool can will help families know if a child is developing in just the right way, gain access to extra activities to help a particular area, or referrals to organizations who can help determine what challenges a child may have and provide support to help that child reach their potential.


The Madison County Children’s Policy Council Early Care and Education Committee has created a simple brochure called “To My Parents” which gives families simple activities they can do to help their child grow, every year along the way from birth.  Copies are available from United Way of Madison County or online at (choose “early learning link on the right of the page).


One of the most pressing questions is:  What can I do to make sure my child is happy when he goes to school?   Behaves?  Is he/she going to be successful?  How will I know if MY CHILD IS READY FOR SCHOOL? 

Thanks to generous funding from Boeing Corporation, a group of local early childhood experts, public and private school representatives, and those interested in supporting families with young children (more than 20 organizations represented including the Village of Promise), guided by a representative from the state of Alabama Partnership for Children, Madison County has one kindergarten readiness checklist for everyone.  Finally everyone will be speaking the same language when we talk about being ready for school.  You can request a copy at any public school, United Cerebral Palsy, or through United Way’s Education Impact Coordinator.




Content provided by Cathy Puett Miller, Community Impact Coordinator for Educational Programs at United Way of Madison County.  256-536-0745 or