2006 PFIG Recipient Sarah Perkins

Career Administrator

Sarah Perkins
College of Arts & Sciences
American Studies and English Major
2007 Graduation Year

Internship: Core Knowledge Foundation

Notes on the first week

I just finished my first week interning for the Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville and already I am finding it to be a fascinating and rewarding experience. In particular, I am working with the Reading Program for the early elementary age, K-2. The program is developing a new and innovative curriculum for teaching children to read and I get to help with the final stages of the project.

So far, I have been learning a lot about Core Knowledge principles and how the program fits in to traditional and current education methods in America. As I am not in the Education School, learning about different educational methods and processes has been extremely interesting to me. Much of my time this past week has been spent researching everything from how to properly hold a pen and form a letter to the best methods for teaching children to differentiate their left and right. As I am learning, tasks that seem second nature are often the most difficult to teach but certainly crucial to a new reading and writing curriculum.

In general, the Reading Program has two major projects — developing a child’s core or background knowledge through nonfiction stories read aloud by their teachers and then generating simple stories in “decodable” language for children to read themselves. I will primarily be working with the later half of the project. Since I have started, I have even been able to write a few short stories. I have found writing these stories to be very challenging, as I must work with an extremely limited vocabulary and, during the earliest stages, words like “he” or “as” are not even in the Basic Code. Finding ways to work around such limitations has been difficult, but fun. Writing these stories has just gotten me thinking about language in an entirely new way.

One of the things that excites me the most about this internship is just how enthusiastic my bosses are about the program and the progress being made. I feel like I have come at just the right time. Just this past week, I have watched, and been able to help, the Reading Program reach some major milestones. They have just finished coding and sequencing a database of thousands of words and outlined each particular phase in depth so that we can now begin to generate word lists, worksheets, lesson plans and simple stories for the children to read. The pace is very fast and I can already tell this will be an extremely productive summer for the organization and an incredible learning experience for me.

Midway

I have been working at Core Knowledge for over a month now and still I am finding it to be a wonderful experience. Each week, I spend a good chunk of time just writing new lesson plans and stories for each day of the curriculum. The stories in particular still take a good deal of critical and creative thinking (not to mention time!), but they have certainly gotten easier with practice.

One of the things I have worked the hardest on in the past few weeks is helping to create some profiling software for checking stories and just this week we were finally able to run our first successful tests! The program we have created can now diagnose each story we write based on its “decodability” (ie insure that each story is comprised only of words that have sound-to-spelling correlations that the children have already been taught) on any given day, or phase, of the curriculum. This is very exciting (as it is not easy to check stories manually) and will be extremely helpful to us in the weeks to come. One of my next projects is to go through online databases of children’s stories in hopes that I can find some that fit into various stages of our program or are at least easily “translatable” as such.

In addition to my work with the Reading Program, I have also occasionally been able to help with other programs within the organization and learn about their projects. Core Knowledge’s biggest focus this past year has been an African-American Cultural Anthology called Grace Abounding. As the project neared its completion, I spent an entire week helping to copyedit and index the textbook, which are both new and valuable skills for me. Not only did working with the anthology really open my eyes to the world of publishing, but it was also wonderful to read through all the cultural texts and descriptions and study the way the book was put together and organized. I am very excited about this textbook and think it will be a great tool for schools nationwide.

Final Reflections

This summer has flown by and I cannot believe that my internship is already over. For the last month, I continued to stay very busy writing lesson plans and stories. I helped format worksheets and edit other writers’ work. I was also able to fine-tune the profiling computer program and spent a few days compiling our kindergarten database of decodable stories. One of my favorite things to do was help with the planning period for publishing. I got to participate in many brainstorming meetings where they were deciding things like the layout for student chaining folders or picking art styles for the first series of decodable readers. There was always something new and interesting going on and I think the Reading Program is going to have many valuable materials to offer schools when it comes out next year.

Working at Core Knowledge Foundation has been a huge learning experience and much more fun than I would have ever expected. I certainly feel lucky to have been given this opportunity. I was given the chance to not just witness a nonprofit organization but to really get involved with its programs and apply its principles. I got to participate in so much of the idea-building that I now feel a part of the Reading Program and even plan to continue writing and working there this coming year.

Most of all, I was just inspired by the atmosphere and attitude of the organization. All summer my bosses joked that when people asked about my internship I ought to profess that I was spending the summer “fighting illiteracy” or “closing the knowledge gap” and perhaps that is a bit presumptuous and over-the-top, but those ideals certainly seem to be the driving force of CKF. I spent the summer surrounded by really passionate and principled people and found their enthusiasm wholly contagious. It is certainly something I could see myself doing in the future and I am so glad to have discovered it now.