Our History

2019-20 NEWS: In recognition of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church’s generous caring and support through programs anchored by Vickery Meadow Summer Reading Academy and McShan Reading Homeroom , DISD named PHPC Outstanding Faith-Based Partner for 2019-20.

VMSRA-MRH Founder Dalene Buhl began this journey in March 2010. Reading in the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church bulletin of McShan ES students needing help to pass TAAKS, Dallene appeared in the McShan Front Office and was immediately guided down the hallway to a third grade ELL class. Dalene was first given three students to help, then six, then finally twelve Spanish-speaking third graders. and after six weeks of tutoring, five of the twelve passed TAAKS.

“That was simply not good enough”, and Dalene approached her VMLC (now Literacy Achieves) tutor colleague, Marnie Wildenthal, asking her help in developing curriculum for these twelve students to attend four weeks over the summer in an effort to reduce their “summer slide”. Under the guidance of great supporting tutors Rosemary Curtis, Barbara Neill, Gloria Valadez and Sue Holcomb, sixteen students attended that first four-week program comfortably housed at VMLC, and Vickery Meadow Summer Reading Academy became reality.

McShan ES is one of the highest poverty schools in the DISD: 98 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged; it has one of the largest refugee populations; and 87 percent of McShan students are English language learners. Many students enter McShan ES having no prior English language training. Since 2010, the student body make-up continues to shift away from Spanish to “all manner of other languages”, and early in this transition, adequate translators, teachers and course materials in various languages proved impossible.

Since 2010, lead by Dalene Buhl and founding sponsor Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, soon being joined by North Park Presbyterian Church, Temple Emanu-El and Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation (our fiduciary partner, offer our four-week Vickery Meadow Summer Reading Academy (VMSRA) for Newcomers First through Fifth Grade. In 2015, Zeljka Ravlijah-Executive Director-DISD Refugee Services, asked VMSRA to include refugee students in three additional Vickery Meadow Elementary Schools. Summer 2015, McShan Principal Dayanna Carson-Kelly invited VMSRA Founder, Dalene Buhl, to develop curriculum, recruit/train and provide on-site coordination for McShan Reading Homeroom for 3rd through 5th graders, and all Newcomers 1st through 5th grades, leading to ninety-two students being tutored by 95 tutors during the 2015/6 school year, where reading improved 60%.

During the 2016/7 school year, over 240 tutors devoted one or more hours each week and 4 hours during each of 15 Saturdays tutoring 146 McShan students in English phonics, reading and writing. Continued assessments using the Hasbrook Quick Phonics Screener and our in-house “Steps Up Individual Education Plan” for each student as guides, 2016/7 student skills improved 93% overall.

In September 2017, having climbed from Academically Unacceptable, McShan was named #1 Elementary School of 150 in DISD in the “school effectiveness index”, a measure of performance of the school’s effect on student outcomes by controlling for differences the school cannot control, such as socio-economic status, neighborhood characteristics, and prior-year academic levels. Dan Micciche, then DISD Board President, said, “One big reason for the school’s success is Dalene L. Buhl and the army of over 100 volunteers, including a large contingent from Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church that she has recruited to be reading tutors at the school. They have worked hand in hand with an outstanding team of educators led by Principal, Dr. Dayanna Carson-Kelly.

In 2017/8, 120 Newcomers 1st through 5th, and 1st and 2nd grade students guided by more than 125 weekday tutors collaborated to secure 103% improvement. In 2017/8 an average of 40 youth and adult tutors also dedicated 4 hours on 13 Saturday tutoring an average of 30 students, bringing total McShan Volunteer Hours to 7,600+ for the school year.

In 2018/9, 141 adult and youth tutors combined to tutor 163 first and second graders and all Newcomers first through fifth grades each school day in basic English phonics, reading, writing and reading comprehension, and another 88 tutors served during 6 four-hour Saturday school for a total 7,070 volunteer hours to date, to secure 80% improvement.

In March 2020, when we could not return from Spring Break to in-person classrooms due to pandemic shutdown, McShan Reading Homeroom immediately converted to a virtual distant learning concept, tutoring 22 of our 120 students in an experiment to familiarize both students and tutors with how to connect, what curriculum to use, and to refine our practices in preparation for VMSRA2020 in July. We were successful in tutoring 85 students initially in July, with the help of 93 tutors/subject matter specialists, and continued our online tutoring through Labor Day weekend, when the school district reopened. Beyond September 8, we supported McShan staff and faculty, virtually tutoring our 105 Reading Homeroom First and Second Graders online, and will continue virtually until McShan reopens to in-person community support. We look forward to supporting McShan’s Principal Joseph Henry Medaris and Faculty in every way we can for the students of McShan.

One-third of the world eats with their hands sitting on the floor, one-third with chopsticks, and one-third with knives and forks. In 2013 when the now Reading Homeroom Coordinator was the only McShan Newcomer tutor, Dalene Buhl, observed that McShan Newcomer students’ eating habits varied dramatically from western culture. One particular Malaysian student brought lunch from home to Dalene’s daily tutoring session–rice and a chicken thigh, first eating her rice, then the meat of the chicken thigh, then proceeding to eat the gristle off both ends, and chomp down on the bone, which crackled as she worked til the bone was gone. Asked why she ate the bone, the student replied, “In my country, all I got was the bone, and Mom told me I was eating the best part, because it has the most nutrition.” Dalene shared this observation with Principal Kelly, asking if McShan could start a western etiquette class for girls. By 2015, Principal Kelly assigned the school community liaison to work with Dalene to develop a combination volunteer/after school program, promoting personal hygiene, proper attire, bullying, self-esteem, how to be a houseguest, dining with forks and knives and china, cellphone etiquette, etc. A PHPC volunteer team prepares a lovely meal and joins in Friday luncheons as table hosts demonstrating buffet, family style and formal dining using china, linens and western tableware. “Girls in Pearls” has grown to be a highly valued Fifth Grade experience each year. Fifth Grade “Guys in Ties” was added the following year lead by the men of PHPC and McShan Faculty. Students culminate their Fifth Grade year with a dress-up, linens and china luncheon complete with Conrad High School mentor/speakers at an off-campus location. This Program is scalable and recommended for all DISD elementary schools.

Having adopted McShan at its opening, Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church also provides back-to-school supplies, teacher appreciation gifts and luncheons throughout the year, testing breakfasts and luncheons for faculty/staff, field trip chaperones, the end-of-year staff/faculty celebration luncheon, and undesignated funds for special school needs as identified by the Reading Homeroom Coordinator.

In recognition of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church’s generous caring, DISD named PHPC Outstanding Faith-Based Partner for 2019-20.

Publicity: McShan Reading Homeroom/VMSRA received Dallas Morning News front page attention December 2016 [https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2016/12/26/at-this-dallas-school-it-takes-a-village-to-help-refugee-kids-learn-to-read/], and were prominently featured in a 2014 cover story by the Dallas Morning News neighborsgo.com/Lake Highlands/Richardson August 1, 2014, [https://www.dallasnews.com/news/2014/08/01/reading-program-targets-vickery-meadow-students/] complete with a two page spread of photos and a great story of our history and learning objectives