The Hill Center and Mooresville Graded School District: A Winning Partnership

by Jeanna White

In a continuing effort to ensure that ALL school children are given the opportunity to read and succeed, the Mebane Foundation has invested $1.9 million into its most exciting partnership to date; a collaboration between The Hill Center and the Mooresville Graded School District, which  is recognized both nationally and internationally for its 1-to-1 student technology initiative.

Launched in 2015, this three-year, $8.4 million literacy project unites these two high performing education organizations in a district-wide effort aimed at improving the reading achievement of struggling readers within MGSD elementary and intermediate schools. This partnership demonstrates how districts can leverage high quality professional development and technology to support individualized learning and improve overall reading results, especially for those students who are most difficult to reach – including those with learning differences, ADHD, or English Language Learners.

These two dynamic organizations are now combining their strengths to test and enhance the Hill Learning System (HLS), a digital version of the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP). This new format uses iPads rather than the traditional paper-based intervention, allowing teachers more flexibility in interacting with students in the 4-to-1 setting. The HLS iPad app includes teacher training and support, assessment, implementation, data collection, and the student learning experience. Through the HLS, data on all elements of HillRAP will be captured, analyzed, and delivered in ways that are meaningful to students, teachers, and to The Hill Center as it continues to refine and improve its programs and scalability.  

In 2007, MGSD began a transformation known in Mooresville as Digital Conversion, a process designed to leverage access to technology and digital resources to significantly enhance the level of student interest, motivation, and engagement in learning. This digital transformation was completed in 2015 with the purchase of 1,000 iPads for K-2students. Students in grades 3-12 had received laptops. As part of this transformation, MGSD also invested heavily in infrastructure to ensure high connectivity in and around all MGSD facilities.

The goals of this unique and innovative partnership are:

  1. Significantly increase MGSD reading student achievement in grades K-6 by 2018. This will be achieved through student access to devices and digital resources for personalized literacy learning, expanded HillRAP implementation, Hill professional development for MGSD teachers, and a high quality summer literacy program.
  2. Develop, test and refine the Hill Learning System iPad app and associated resources and supports. MGSD students and teachers will beta-test the HLS app, providing needed feedback for software development. Hill will continue refining the HLS software while also creating a new vocabulary and comprehension curriculum and developing a HLS teacher training and support model.
  3. Establish the MGSD-Hill Literacy Partnership as a model demonstration site for districts and schools. This partnership, and the Hill methodology and HLS app, have been highlighted to hundreds of district leaders from around the world via live radio broadcast and targeted sessions at the MGSD Summer Connection. The Summer Connection is an ongoing, world-renowned conference attended by an average of 350 educators per year. MGSD will host prospective HillRAP districts for site visits, Hill and MGSD will co-present and co-publish their findings at state and national conferences and in co-authored reports.

Results from the first year have been encouraging. Of the 91 MGSD students receiving HillRAP assistance in 2014-2015, 97% improved in overall text reading levels, with 6% improving more than 7 book levels, 44% improving 4-6 book levels, and 47% improving 1-3 book levels. Text reading comprehension results have also been positive with a middle of the year overall improvement of 84% for students in grades K-3 receiving HillRAP.

Feedback on the HLS app from both students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive with 100% agreeing that it is easy to use and 100% of teachers indicating that it saved them time and helped them to implement RAP more efficiently.

Together, The Hill Center and the Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD) have made meaningful progress towards improving the reading achievement of struggling readers within MGSD elementary schools, further developing the Hill Learning System (HLS), and establishing a model partnership and demonstration site for HillRAP and HLS implementation.

For additional details on this exciting partnership, please download the original Hill Center and Mooresville Graded School District proposal and or the report of the first-year results

Read to Achieve Summer Camps Producing Extraordinary Results

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by Jeanna White

As a result of last summer’s phenomenal results, the Mebane Charitable Foundation has approved a grant of $90,000 to support Davie County’s 2016 Read to Achieve summer camp for third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade.

During the summer of 2015, more than 30% of the county’s non-proficient students reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade, while other campers received extra assistance during the school year with another 15% of those students passing the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp.

read-to-achieve-2“While a 30% success rate may not seem extraordinary to people not close to education, and more specifically the Read to Achieve program, that rate is far better than those being reported by the majority of school systems in North Carolina,” said Larry Colbourne, President, Mebane Charitable Foundation. “After seeing firsthand the quality of delivery and instruction at the Read to Achieve summer camp held in Davie County Schools in 2015, partnering with DCS again in 2016 was an easy decision for my board.”

Since 2014, the Foundation has invested more than $225,000 in partnering with Davie County Schools to fund the intensive four-week camp, which this year will also include struggling first and second graders as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction. Based on the state’s funding allotment, Davie County Schools anticipates serving 80 third graders along with 60-70 first and second graders.  

Noel Grady-Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum and Leadership Development for Davie County Schools, attributes the success of the program to the implementation of both Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) sessions and A+ Schools Instruction during the summer program and subsequent school year which created a consistent foundation for student achievement. A student teacher ratio of 8/1, working in small groups based on individual needs,  was also extremely beneficial to the struggling readers.

“With funding provided by the Mebane Foundation combined with state funds, students attending the 2016 Read to Achieve Camp will actively learn through the arts, receive tailored instruction in Hill Center Reading sessions, and work in small groups with literacy coaches during the challenging four weekprogram,” Grady-Smith said.

“Thanks to the continued investment of the Mebane Foundation, this summer our DCS Read to Achieve Camp will build upon the strength of our specialized curriculum taught by highly accomplished teachers to boost reading and achievement levels in third graders as well as selected first and second graders,” she added.

For more information about this highly successful program, please download the original Davie County Schools Read to Achieve Camp grant proposal which also includes results from the 2015 summer camp.

Reading Achievement Programs

HILLRAP I (2003-2007)

As part of our four-year, $750,000 funding agreement, The Hill Center was also charged with designing a continuation of the HELP project to address teacher training for grades K-3 with a similar methodology. The Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) is an adapted version of the Hill Methodology that is more prescriptive, easier for teachers to implement, and more cost-effective to deliver than traditional Hill Methodology delivered at The Hill Center.

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Twenty-six elementary teachers from Davie County’s six elementary schools began HillRAP training in the summer of 2005, and started implementing the intensive reading intervention program when the school year began.

HillRAP includes the five essential components of a successful reading program as put forth in the National Reading Panel Report of 2000. Phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are the core of the daily instructional program that is ideally implemented in 45- to 60- minute sessions five days a week. While students work in small groups of four, each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction in areas where there are demonstrated skill deficits in reading. Small units of information are presented sequentially and practiced daily until a set criterion is met for three to five consecutive days and overlearning is achieved. Mastered skills are reviewed weekly to ensure retention. Classes are designed to maximize opportunities for oral and written student responses and success experiences. All student responses are graphed and charted daily by the teachers and students in order to document mastery before advancing to a higher level skill. Student-teacher interaction focuses on praise and positive reinforcement for correct answers or approximations of the correct response.

When RTI reported impressive results, the program was extended through 5th grade at all six schools. As a result of the intensive nature of the program, often involving a 4-to-1 student-teacher ratio based on the students’ reading levels, reading specialists in the program began forming what are now known as “RAP Clinics.” These interventions included classroom teachers and assistant teachers under strict supervision of highly trained RAP teachers, and provided group support to many more struggling readers in the early grades. Eventually, at least one elementary school used the same RAP Clinic model with community volunteers working under the guidance and supervision of a RAP-trained reading specialist. This approach enabled the schools to provide benefits from these proven reading interventions to many more children.

Davie County Schools found similar results to those experienced by Brunswick County Public Schools (report) and Carteret County Schools (report) in partnerships with The Hill Center between 2008-2012, as reported by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Watson School of Education. Link to the hill site

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HILLRAP II (2007-2010)

On the heels of successful HELP and HillRAP I partnerships with The Hill Center and Davie County Schools, the Mebane Foundation made an additional commitment in 2007 of nearly $1 million for the design and implementation of a reading comprehension program, HillRAP II, for 6th-8th graders. In keeping with its efforts to involve community commitment and participation that ensure long-term sustainability, the Foundation used its funding as a challenge to the Davie County Commissioners, who, in a unanimous vote, approved $1 million to fund the program along with 80 SMART Boards, six more audio-visual (distant learning) classrooms and the last of six pre-K technology-enhanced classrooms.

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Twenty-one teachers from Davie County’s three middle schools participated in a 3-day training offered by Hill Center staff in August 2008. The training included a 1-day training in Phonics Breaking the Code, a 2-day HillRAP workshop, and two half-day follow-up workshops. In addition, training was offered on the Hill Center’s Reading Assessment instrument, which helps create a profile of strengths and difficulties and allows the teacher to start instruction at the most appropriate level for each student. The grant also involved training three Davie County teachers in both HillRAP I and HillRAP II methodologies, providing mentors in the school system to help maintain the project after Foundation funding and external Hill Center training were no longer available.

Implemented in the fall of 2008, HillRAP II focused on middle-school students with reading disabilities and featured an additional reading-comprehension component.

A Duke University study in June 2011 (hill center site) found that HillRAP II improved the reading proficiency of struggling readers and began to close the gap between these students and their peers on a state-mandated achievement test (i.e., EOG) and a nationally-normed achievement test (i.e., WJ-III).

Hill Early Literacy Program (HELP)

As a result of Allen Mebane’s vision to have all students in Davie County reading by age 8, the Mebane Foundation and The Hill Center began a four-year $750,000 partnership in 2003 to develop and implement a comprehensive early literacy and reading program for Davie County Schools, located in Mocksville North Carolina.

Research indicates that children must learn specific skills and abilities during critical developmental years, ages 3 to 5, to allow them to become successful future readers. More specifically, children must develop critical phonological awareness skills, awareness of letter/sound relationships, print awareness, and vocabulary skills.

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Committed to helping young children master these skills, the Mebane Foundation funded the Hill Center in Durham, NC, to develop a research-based, best-practices early-literacy program for childcare teachers serving 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in pre-school.

The Hill Center experts spent approximately 2 years developing the Hill Early Literacy Program (HELP). This comprehensive curriculum involves 36 weekly scripted lessons for 3-year-olds developed the first year and 36 weekly scripted lessons for 4-year-olds developed the second year. Each lesson includes the basic emergent literacy building blocks of oral language, phonological awareness, and alphabet principles.

The Hill Early Literacy Program (HELP) was launched in 2005. It provided 60 childcare teachers from 11 childcare centers in Davie County initial training in innovative methodologies that had already been tested and proven by Hill Center professionals. Hill Center master teachers then made regular follow-up visits to the Davie County childcare centers for additional training, guidance and support. We were all very pleased with early results, and our enthusiasm was underscored by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in 2007 (RTI Report) when the perceived effectiveness of the new methods was thoroughly documented.

Overall, the study found that:

  • Preschool teachers who participated in the HELP preschool teacher training significantly increased their knowledge of how to teach children early literacy skills.
  • Preschool students whose teachers participated in the HELP training “significantly increased their skills” in 1) phonological awareness, 2) print knowledge, 3) definitional vocabulary and 4) receptive vocabulary. Many of these preschool students “increased their skills in print knowledge faster than what was expected of average children their age.”