Growing SEEDS in district and charter schools: RISE Community School

An OUSD student at Allendale Elementary. (Photo by Stephanie Secrest, provided by the Rainin Foundation)

Three in five Oakland children enter kindergarten without the social, emotional, language or literacy skills they need to succeed. In 2014, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation launched SEEDS of Learning, a professional development program that provides educators with a structure, strategies and tools to build social, emotional, language and literacy skills in young children. SEEDS is an acronym for the five tenets of the program: Sensitivity; Encouragement; Education; Development through Doing; Self-image Support.

SEEDS has helped more than 4,000 Oakland students make double-digit gains towards school readiness. “I think they really think about the whole child, and the strong foundations it takes to develop a child,” said Jennifer DeMara, the Early Literacy Coach and a former K-1 looping teacher at RISE Community School. “I really like how everything about a child’s needs is thought through, and the way they approach it so teachers and tutors can all be successful in applying it with students.”

SEEDS is now at more than 30 Oakland public schools, district and charter. In this post, we visit two schools: RISE (a district school) and Learning Without Limits (a charter school) to observe SEEDS in action, find out why educators love it and see how students are learning.

RISE Community School

The morning is winding down, lunchtime is approaching, and the bright RISE Community School kindergarten/transitional kindergarten (TK) classroom is buzzing with energy and activity.

Most of the students are reading and playing in small groups. On the carpet, teacher Stephanie Kott and a small group of students are working on reading exercises. In another corner of the classroom by the door, there’s another quiet area where class tutor Vickie Truong is holding literacy intervention cards and leading groups through targeted skill interventions and activities.

She is as energetic and animated as the students, and maybe even more excited. Students are grouped together based on what the pre-literacy skills they most need to work on. Truong also tracks and monitors their progress and meets with Kott to analyze the data and plan. This group is an alliteration and sounds group. “Strawberry and snail,” Truong says, overemphasizing the “S” as she leans over the table towards the students. “Is that the same sound? What sound?” The students quickly respond (some leaping to their feet) “Sssss”!

The next group to join is working on rhyming. (“Car. Stop. Do these rhyme?” “What about mall and tall?”) She keeps encouraging students when they struggle: “I know you can do this.” When they get it right, she gives them high-fives and tells them, “Oh my goodness, you are super smart.”

OUSD students at Allendale Elementary. (Photo by Stephanie Secrest, provided by the Rainin Foundation)

The extra adult support in the classroom, co-funded through the Rainin Foundation and the district, has a major impact on the students, Kott says. “It’s so nice to have someone else so I can still do groups,” she says. “And (Truong) knows the kids. They’re getting that small interaction with a teacher every day. The impact that it has in their development is unquestionable.”

Kott is in her fourth year teaching TK/K at RISE. Jennifer DeMara, now RISE’s Early Literacy Coach, used to be a K-1 looping teacher at the school. She remembers how confident the kindergartners who had completed TK and a year of SEEDS were on the first day of her class. They helped other students get acclimated to school. “They were comfortable, had a sense of self, they were very aware,” DeMara says. “They were actually ready to start school, whereas kids who were coming straight from home or preschool have some skills, and also definitely a lot of fears and anxiety.”

That confidence came from mastering the skills they were expected to in TK. “They were definitely on grade level,” DeMara says of those TK students who experienced SEEDS. “They came in knowing all their colors, their letters, their shapes. They could write their name. They really came in with a lot of different skills.”

This is also the fourth year of SEEDS at RISE, so Kott has used the program each year she’s been at the school. DeMara says the TK/K classroom is like “a ray of sunshine” and is set up in a systematic way that is “very thought through what her students will be doing and what she needs to provide.”

Along with the support from Truong, a SEEDS trained coach visits Kott’s classroom every few weeks to observe, support and give direct feedback. “It’s so nice to have someone in your classroom who gets it and is kind and patient,” Kott says. “They understand the full scope. They’ll model for you. They’re willing to come in and do it themselves.” Materials like literacy cards, books, vocabulary cards, tracking sheets, and songs even are all provided through the SEEDS program as well. “As a teacher, you really just have to fine-tune your own craft,” Kott says. “You’re given all the materials, so it’s more about you getting good at it or figuring out when to use it.”

Along with other SEEDS teachers, in both district and charter schools, Kott participates in ongoing training. Kott says that as a new teacher, she really valued how practical the trainings were and easy to take back to the classroom. “Everything is so relatable,” she says. “They really validate teachers: we’d practice the songs in PD, and they’d ask all the teachers there if anyone else has a different version or does it a little bit different, and generate different ideas you can immediately take back to your classroom.”

Which, she adds, really helps students enter kindergarten “ready to go.”

“Her students from Day 1 are trained to be self-sufficient little citizens,” DeMara says, “capable of doing anything.”