Donna Born, Meigs MS, Named Florida Middle School Reading Teacher of the Year 

Donna Born, Meigs Middle School’s Intensive Reading Teacher and Digital Educator, has been named the Florida Middle School Reading Teacher of the Year.  This award, presented by the Florida Reading Association (FRA), is given to an individual who has made significant contributions in the teaching of middle school reading.

To be nominated for this award, a person must make a positive impact on student reading; apply innovative reading techniques in a classroom setting; promote reading outside the school; have advanced study in reading (college courses and/or in-service workshops); and has published articles, or made presentations (in-service workshops and/or conference sessions).

Donna has a long resume of professional, leadership, and recognition awards including being named Okaloosa County Middle School Reading Teacher of the Year, and receiving the Achieve3000 Outstanding Educator and Achieve3000 Excellence in Education Awards.

As a middle school teacher with an elementary background, Born tends to compare herself to “Mrs. Mallard in the Caldecott Medal-winning book, Make Way for Ducklings.  As in this classic tale, I utilize my community resources to provide a safe loving environment to protect my brood while learning. When we are met with imperfect conditions I strive to provide a sense of confidence, encouragement and belonging while each child prepares for the future.  We become a family of lifelong learners supporting each other along the way.”

As a trained Florida Digital Educator, Donna is committed to improving the middle school intensive reading program by integrating various technologies for educational purposes.  “A few years ago, I wanted to enhance my curriculum by implementing and promoting 21st century learning to include diverse and engaging technology that is already familiar to most students.  I wrote a grant titled, ‘Born2Read and Succeed with a Digital Need.’ After much research and planning, I won first place and received $21,100 to continue project based learning by putting technology in the hands of my struggling readers.  I incorporated the use of FLIP cameras, digital cameras, and eReaders to help meet the needs of individual students while differentiating my curriculum.  At that time, the iPod Touch was at the forefront of handheld technology so I made it a priority to record and sync over 500 high interest stories to make available for each student at their individual level.  Educational technology continues to provoke these students to raise questions, enter debates, form opinions, engage in problem solving and critical thinking, express their knowledge in different ways, and work with peers in a familiar non-threatening way.”

Believing each student has the potential to achieve success, Donna’s hope is that her students become confident and realize the unlimited possibilities that are achievable.  “Painted across the wall in my classroom in school colors with the wildcat logo, is the title, ‘Welcome to the Wildcat Reading Den:  Where if you BELIEVE it, you can ACHIEVE it!’   In addition to being reading endorsed, I have attained my ESOL and gifted endorsements.  While my student population consists of all subgroups with varied levels and little confidence, I challenge myself to meet each student where they are so that I can individualize and differentiate to best meet each child’s needs according to the data.  But I also demand fun and humor!”

“The thing about Donna is that she finds a way to connect with kids where they are,” said Principal Dr. Lee Hale, “She is very clearly becoming a model classroom for reading teachers especially with the Achieve 3000.  She figures out a way to provide incentives to kids that make them want to do well.  The Intensive Reading program across the district traditionally has not been one that kids want to sign up for but she has made it attractive.  She makes it engaging for kids.”

Donna challenges her students daily with a brain teaser acquired through her gifted classes, which requires higher order thinking skills.  “It is amazing to see “the wheels turning” once my struggling readers realize they can think critically to solve the puzzle.  Simple quick activities as such, empower students to recognize their abilities.”

“She figures out a way to get kids comfortable with their deficiencies, and by comfortable, I mean, knowing what they are so they can attack them head on,” said Hale.  “She creates competition with it and provides incentives for the kids.  It is the effort that she gets that is what is truly amazing.”

Integrated research based strategies during instruction whether students are learning as a whole group, small groups, partners, or independently is also a key element to Donna’s strategy. 

“I apply research based strategies during various presentations that I have facilitated as well.  Recently, I was asked to do a presentation at a multi-district Leadership Symposium, showing how I implement Achieve3000 into my reading program of balanced literacy.  I created a 20 minute video showing my students in action titled, ‘Engaging the Reluctant Reader.’  In the video, one student explains how I recognize that each student is different.  She also states that I am very enthusiastic and that I have the “magic touch” to motivate everybody to want to be successful!  Another testimonial explains how the collaboration she now experiences makes her feel unthreatened and has increased her interest in reading.  She is referring to activities where I have students grapple with text to analyze it while integrating pre-, during-, and post-reading strategies with close reads and graphic organizers. For me, these unprovoked comments validate the thought that I am a dedicated teacher and feel passionate about making learning memorable and engaging for all of my students while pushing them to exceed expectations.”

The activity the students were engaging in the day of our visit is called RAFT. 

“The R is for Role where they become the Milton Bradley game designers,” said Donna.  “The A is for Audience and that is for each other so that it is playable by their peers; F is Format where they have to design a game that 4-5 players can play; and T is the Topic which is the novel we just read Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick.  We did a huge unit on cancer because we realized that one of our students has cancer.  We have read several newspaper articles, articles on Achieve 3000, and we culminated with this novel that we pair all of the text together with.”

 “We are making our own game piece that coordinates with book we just read, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie,” said Tanner Chechak, a 8th grade student.  We are getting in-depth with what this book means – for examples, the feelings, the characters, and the authors. We are just really trying to understand the book in detail.”

“We are having to write the information and details about the book and write questions about what happens in the story, their moods, what they do, what the setting is, what types of things they are doing and where they are,” said Jelani Estes, a 7th grade student.

“The way this project is being graded is based on how well the strategies and questions that we came up with are and that there are level 1, 2, and 3 types of questions,” said Tristan Cadle, 8th grade student.

“Once all of our games are done,” said Tanner, “we will switch each group’s game pieces and we have to read the directions and play their games.  The games have to be workable and winnable.”

As an educator, Born believes that it is important to not only make herself available to all students to not only impart knowledge, but to also continuously provide guidance and support while preparing kids to be college and career ready. 

“I set high yet attainable goals for my struggling readers, and they are fully aware that I believe in them with all my heart, even when the expectations seem unreasonable.  I remain grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids, especially those who struggle!” 

To learn more about Donna’s teaching strategies, please contact her at BORND@mail.okaloosa.k12.fl.us and/or view the following videos:

Donna Born's IR Classroom and Achieve 3000: YouTube Part 1
Donna Born's IR Classroom and Achieve 3000: YouTube Part 2

To view a complete photo gallery of Donna and her classroom, visit the OCSD Facebook page.