Introducing the NCECF Science of Reading Fellows

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Right along with the new school year, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s (NCECF) inaugural Science of Reading fellowship started in September and will run for the 2023-24 academic year. We are focusing on North Carolina educators serving students in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

This is in response to the challenges that educators have expressed about implementing the principles of the Science of Reading. NCECF aims to illuminate their need for support by creating an opportunity for collaborative learning and professional development. The implementation lessons learned during this fellowship will be shared with NC educators across the state.

We are excited to introduce the diverse cohort of eight educators from across NC participating in our Science of Reading Fellowship. 

Patricia Albornoz
Photo: Patricia Albornoz

Patricia Albornoz is a third grade teacher at Mel and Zora Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill, NC. She is proud to be a leading Core Literacy Teacher for Orange County public schools. Patricia received her M.Ed. in Literacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She holds The Wilson Reading System® Level I Certification. Patricia’s experiences as a public school educator include core literacy instruction and reading intervention. In addition, Patricia was previously a dance educator with Wake County Public Schools. She currently teaches with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.


Photo: Tiara Baker-Sellers

Tiara Baker-Sellers was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. After graduating from high school in 2004, she moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. Tiara attended Bennett College for Women and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education in 2009. She began teaching in Guilford County Schools in 2013 as an Exceptional Children’s Resource Teacher at Jamestown Middle School. Two years later, Tiara changed paths and became a Kindergarten teacher. For the past 8 years, she has helped build the educational foundation for countless children and families. Her favorite part of kindergarten is the “ah-ha” moments when the learning clicks and the students finally “get it.” Over the past two years, Tiara has been taking the LETRS course and it has opened her eyes to the why of teaching reading. She is looking forward to all that she will learn through this fellowship so that she may continue to help children grow to love reading, starting at an early age. A quote by Maria Montessori is one that guides her teaching mantra, “The goal of Early Childhood Education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.”


Alesa Falcone
Photo: Alesa Falcone

Alesa Falcone was born and raised in Brunswick, Maine. After finishing high school early, she attended the University of Rochester in New York and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Alesa later received a Master of Arts degree in Elementary Education through UNC Charlotte. She has been teaching for eight years in the Charlotte area and now teaches kindergarten at Socrates Academy. After completing LETRS training last year, Alesa became passionate about the Science of Reading and growing thriving readers. She has had the opportunity to present about implementing best practices in literacy instruction at Fresh Take in Davidson, the Charlotte Literacy Summit, and the NCAPCS Annual Conference. Alesa lives in Charlotte with her husband and their labradoodle, Henry. 


Photo: Kiara Felts

Kiara Felts was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. She graduated from Wittenberg University with a Bachelors of Arts in Early Childhood Education. While in Ohio, Kiara taught both first and second grade for three years each. In the year 2017, Kiara earned her Masters, moved to North Carolina and started teaching PreK! Her classroom is a combination of typically developing students and students with identified needs for an Individual Education Plan. Kiara has always wanted to be a teacher and enjoys getting to know the different personalities of her students every year, along with discovering the best way to motivate students. In her spare time, she spends time with her husband and very active two-year-old daughter. 


Rebecca Griffith is a dedicated Structured Literacy Dyslexia Specialist, with a passion for transforming education. With 15 years of invaluable experience in the field, she has made an indelible mark in both international and domestic classrooms. Having taught at prestigious institutions like Colegio Americano in Quito, Ecuador, as well as within the U.S. in D.C. Public Schools, Durham Public Schools, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and at Salem Montessori School, Rebecca’s expertise spans across diverse educational settings. Her commitment to fostering inclusive learning environments, and her adeptness in addressing the unique needs of each student, have consistently driven positive outcomes. Rebecca’s dedication to her craft has been instrumental in shaping the academic journeys of countless students, equipping them with the tools they need to succeed. Beyond her professional endeavors, Rebecca finds joy in quality family time and embarking on adventures across the North Carolina countryside with her loved ones, often in their camper. This passion for exploration mirrors her approach to education – one of continuous growth, discovery and building meaningful relationships.


Photo: Rhonda Grode

Rhonda Grode is in her 26th year in education. She works in the Wake County Public School System at Middle Creek Elementary as the Literacy Coach and Instructional Facilitator. Rhonda received a masters in Curriculum and Instruction: Reading from NC State University and earned her National Boards Certification in Early and Middle Childhood/Literacy: Reading-Language Arts. Her professional goal is to support literacy instruction so that all students to grow in their literacy skills to become proficient readers. Rhonda absolutely loves the role she has in the school now as it allows her to meet her goal by collaborating with individual teachers and Professional Learning Communities, model lessons, instruct learners in small groups and lead professional development on the Science of Reading. Outside of school, I enjoy spending time with my husband and three boys outdoors camping, hiking, boating or at the beach. I also like to spend quiet moments sewing and reading.


Photo: Julia Lashley

Julia Lashley graduated from Murray State University in 2007 with a BA in Learning and Behavioral Disorders K-12. Julia taught English Language Arts (ELA) in eighth and ninth grades in Fairfax County Schools for the first five years of her teaching career. While there, Julia was a critical part of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all learners while working in the inclusion setting. In 2013, she moved to North Carolina and joined the Public Schools of Robeson County as an Exceptional Children’s department chair and teacher at a K-4 elementary school. During this time, Julia collaborated regularly with numerous professionals, writing lesson plans and teaching students systematic and explicit reading instruction daily. In 2021, she became an Academic Coach for the county, where she unpacks new curriculum and practices with teachers daily, coaches teachers on internalizing lessons to fit the needs of all learners, facilitates Professional Learning Community conversations that include the Science of Reading principles, helps guide teachers to adjust their craft to become stronger in their field. Julia is set to graduate from the University of North Carolina Pembroke with a masters degree in School Administration in the Spring of 2024.


Photo: Melissa Richards

Melissa Richards is an International Jamaican teacher. She brings 19 years of teaching experience to the Science of Reading cohort. Melissa has a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and Assessment and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She believes that every child can learn. 



The Science of Reading and Pathways for Grade-Level Reading

A guiding framework for NCECF, The Pathways for Grade-Level Reading initiative, aims high and is driven by a bold vision:

All North Carolina children, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, are reading on grade-level by the end of third grade, and all children with disabilities achieve expressive and receptive communication skills commensurate with their developmental ages, so that they have the greatest opportunity for life success. 

Visit the info page to learn more about the Pathways Action Map and consider adding your work! Share it with others in your network and community, whose work you think should be spotlighted. We want to utilize the Map as a resource to build awareness of innovation, make connections, and identify gaps and opportunities that can help guide policy making, advocacy, funding, and capacity building.

If you have any questions, or would like a guided tour of the Pathways Action Map, please contact us. We’d love to hear your ideas on how to continue to utilize this tool to support the success of all North Carolina children.

Keep in Touch with NCECF and Support Our Work

Please be sure to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter and consider making a donation today to continue a strong 2023 by helping us transform the lives of North Carolina families, from their earliest days, while also supporting a small growing, family-friendly team. 

The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.