Mebane Foundation Measuring Progress to Ensure Results: Performance Metrics Will Help Drive Success of Early Childhood Literacy Initiatives

alphabet400Since its beginning in 1998, the Mebane Charitable Foundation has focused on a complex, deeply-rooted problem: literacy. The Foundation resolved to do everything in its power to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, will be reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. Research consistently shows that these children are vastly more likely to succeed in school. And a child who succeeds in school is more confident and more likely to succeed in work and in life.

Over the past 16 years, the Foundation has invested more than $7 million in literacy intervention partnerships. Those partners have included public school systems, traditional public schools, public-charter schools, private schools, and other literacy-focused organizations. While some interventions have worked better than others, all have provided valuable data, metrics and research results.

Realizing the value of being able to quantify the effectiveness of each project, the Mebane Foundation recently developed a series of metrics that will help it prioritize its investments and maximize its impact. This year, the Foundation will begin applying those new metrics to its largest grant to date: $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, explained the new metrics and how they will guide the Foundation’s future endeavors.


Larry-Colbourne-Mebane-Foundation400Q: The Mebane Foundation has made significant contributions to literacy initiatives for the past 16 years and has achieved great success. Although many project results have been anecdotal, why develop specific metrics now?
Through the years we know we’ve partnered in some great work and had good success helping children, but as an organization we felt it was time “to move the needle”. The only way to do that is to measure growth, and without achievable and tangible metrics, how can we know whether we’re truly moving in the right direction? Well-defined metrics will also allow us to tweak our approach throughout the process. If we expect potential partners, like other school systems, foundations and political leaders to someday replicate our work, we need to be sure we can prove how we achieved our success.

Q: What are the performance metrics the Foundation has adopted to assess its work? How did the Foundation arrive at the specific metrics being adopted?
In the fall of 2016, the Mebane Foundation board went through an extensive exercise that led us to a consensus on what metrics we should hold to for years to come. First, we wanted to continue to engage other partners, whether that meant peer foundations and corporate funders, or political and educational partners at the local, regional, and national level. Secondly, we wanted to look at our funding decisions more closely through a financial lens. In order to maximize our impact, our decision-making process will now be driven by the number of children served, the predicted growth, and the program costs. Finally, we decided we wanted to “popularize” what we do with our partners. We see this as a win-win: the partnering organizations get great exposure and we get the opportunity to share ongoing best practices with peers in our educational space.

letters400Q: What do you anticipate the impact of these metrics will be for the Foundation?
For the Mebane Foundation, these metrics put us out there in front of our peers and enable us to share valuable information and ideas. We no longer want to operate in a silo. These metrics allow us to evaluate and validate what we’re doing.

For the grantee organization?
We see the same benefits for our partners. Our metrics also will help them evaluate and validate their success.

For students?
At the end of the day, it’s all about offering every student the best opportunity to succeed. Our metrics are not meant to be intrusive and create more work and tests for our students and teachers. Our main goal is to add support so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. Metrics are a necessity, but they shouldn’t make the task at hand more difficult. On the contrary, the metrics should serve as a guide for our students and teachers.

Q: Why did the Foundation provide such a generous grant to Davie County schools? What does it ultimately hope to achieve?
We have a strong history with Davie County that has been forged over many years through multiple partnerships. This project is a huge undertaking that will require a strong partnership built on trust. With everything we’ve been through together over the last 15 years, and with all the assets remaining intact, we couldn’t think of a better place to tackle these aggressive goals and metrics.

Q: How does the Foundation envision its future? What would it like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years?
Five to ten years from now, I hope to see us funding similar partnerships to the one with Davie County Schools. That would mean it was a success. We will know the number of children served, the growth achieved, and the cost. Armed with that knowledge, I would anticipate that other systems and partners will be willing to take a similar approach. It is our hope that the Mebane Foundation will continue to be a catalyst for excellence and innovation in early education for many years to come.

Mebane Foundation + 4.0 Schools = Opportunities for Educational Entrepreneurs

school4pt0-anchorWhat is the future of school like? What is school for?  How can we help every student maximize their potential?

These are the questions innovators in education are asking and the questions that 4.0 Schools and the Mebane Foundation are trying to answer.

Redefining “School” 
Launched in New Orleans in 2010, 4.0 Schools is an early-stage education incubator that brings educators, entrepreneurs and technologists together to launch ventures that redefine school. To date, 4.0 has launched more than 20 ventures and trained more than 400 in its approach to innovation in education. An average of 10-15 new businesses and schools are started every year.


4.0 Schools

“The world has changed but school hasn’t,” said 4.0 Schools’ Founder, Matt Candler. “At 4.0 we help find the most promising innovators in our country – parents, kids, techies, teachers – and we help them design vital experiments that teach us about what the future of school in our country can be.”


4.0 Schools Fellowships

“4.0 Schools finds, trains, and invests in passionate people solving the most important challenges in education,” he added. “We help build communities around entrepreneurs and their ventures to help them grow their ideas into successful, sustainable organizations.”

Looking for Ideas on the “Credible Fringe”
The organization’s passion for the future of education attracted the attention of the Mebane Foundation, which strives to be a catalyst for literacy innovation in North Carolina and beyond.

“Mrs. Mebane and I visited 4.0 Schools about 5 years ago and we were impressed with the program and the people who were participating,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “But at that point, they were really focused on charter schools and developing different school models while the Foundation was looking at public schools.”

“When they expanded their focus, we decided to take another look,” he added. For Colbourne, that second look involved attending a 4.0 Schools “Community Summit,” a meeting with leaders piloting breakthrough schools, learning spaces, and tools from across the country.

He was impressed with what he found. “The 4.0 Community brings together a community of educational thought leaders that want to improve the way we think about how we educate our children,” Colbourne said. “Here at Mebane Charitable Foundation we like to refer to these great ideas as those on the “credible fringe,” he added. “We want to engage with these innovators because we are always looking for new and exciting ways to support our families and our students.”

To create this engagement, the Mebane Foundation recently gave 4.0 Schools a two-year, $200,000 grant to support Essentials Fellowships, Tiny Fellowships, and to offer start-up funds for promising ventures. Essentials Fellowships assist innovators in delving deeper into the problem they hope to solve by offering training and the feedback needed to help make the venture a success while Tiny Fellowships provide funding to innovators who have received early-stage validation continue to test their ideas.


4.0 Schools Tiny Fellowships

“Funding 4.0 Schools offers us a national platform and gives us access to great educational thinkers across the country,” Colbourne said. “Our goal is to find  entrepreneurs with ideas that align with our mission so that we can become a larger downstream funder in the future. Ultimately, we would like to bring an idea to scale and then bring it back to North Carolina and Davie County.”

“I encourage anyone with a promising idea to look into 4.0 Schools and to consider applying for an Essentials or Tiny Fellowship,” he added. “4.0 Schools is hosting webinars about the programs on May 8th and applications are due by May 14th.”

Mebane Foundation Grant to Fund Five Year Multi-Million Dollar Transformative Strategic Initiative with Davie County Schools to Address Early Literacy

Mebane Foundation Pre-K Student Activity Feature ImageThe Mebane Charitable Foundation has approved a grant of almost $2.5 million to Davie County Schools to support a five-year early literacy initiative to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

“The Mebane Foundation has been funding quality literacy interventions for years, but we felt it was time to find a partner and aggressively move the needle toward kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency by the end of third grade,” said Larry Colbourne, President of the Mebane Foundation. “Over the years we’ve invested heavily in Davie County and many of those assets remain and are alive and well, making Davie County the obvious choice for this long-term and strategic early literacy initiative.”

Davie County Schools has a rich history of academic success and consistently ranks in the top 10-15 percent of districts in the state of North Carolina. But despite the county’s successful academic performance, approximately 30 percent of students do not enter kindergarten “ready” according to DIAL scores (Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning) and 34 percent do not show reading proficiency by the end of the third grade as demonstrated on the NC End-of-Grade (EOG) Reading Test..

The goals of this initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 students each year over the 5-year implementation period.

“Our county leadership and community partners all seem to be working from the same sheet of music, thus we felt the time was right to throw out such a bold set of metrics that if reached, would put Davie County schools at the top in North Carolina,” Colbourne said.

“We’ve been following closely the recommendations of the Business Roundtable, a national group of CEO’s from around the country, led by folks like North Carolina’s own Jim Goodnight of SAS, and at this moment in time we believe, as do they, that kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency by third grade are the keys to the future success of our workforce and our country.”

Initially, this project will be a collaborative effort between Davie County Schools, Smart Start, and the public/private preschools. The grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide professional development, materials, and specialized support staff totaling $2,447,188.00 over 5 years, with additional supplementary funding for the Read to Achieve Summer Camp for at-risk first, second, and third graders who need extra academic support beyond the regular school year. In addition, this project will develop and build the professional capacity of 111 preschool through third grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities. These educators will continue impacting countless students for years to come.

The partnership will demonstrate 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.

Colbourne added, “Through the partnerships created with the Healthy Davie Initiative we feel this five-year plan will only get stronger as we move forward. Initially, I see it heavily involving our partners at Davie County Schools, Smart Start and our county daycares, but as it evolves, we have the ability and county partnerships to make enhancements on the fly. We will do this!”

“Davie County Schools is extremely excited to partner with the Mebane Foundation and other community organizations to make significant improvements in early literacy,” said Dr. Darrin Hartness, the Superintendent of Davie County Schools. “This partnership will be a national model for ensuring early literacy in preschool through third grade.”

“This public-private partnership between Davie County Schools and the Mebane Foundation creates a unique opportunity to provide high quality professional development, strengthen instruction, and deliver the most effective learning experiences for all children in Davie County.  We will focus efforts to ensure our children are developing foundational literacy skills from preschool through early grades.  Research clearly indicates the correlation between reading proficiency by third grade and success in school; equipping our children early with these essential literacy skills prepares them for life.  Through this collaboration, improvements in literacy will open doors of opportunity for students, and our community will be on a path to a more competitive and prosperous future.”

“We want to thank the Mebane Foundation leadership and Board of Directors for their confidence and continued investment in Davie County,” continued Hartness. “Your generosity and support allow us to provide experiences far beyond what can be funded in other public schools.  You have challenged us to dream and to sharpen our focus.  Our teachers and the children we serve are blessed by your intentional efforts to change lives through literacy.”

Mebane Foundation Sticks with Founder’s Goal

Larry Colbourne Mebane FoundationAllen Mebane IV saw the problem early on in his career.

At his first textile company in Alamance County, he had good people as employees. They were able and ready to work.

But there was one problem.

Many of them couldn’t read.

Mebane didn’t fire them. He started a program to teach them to read.

“He knew if you can’t read, your back is against the wall before you get started,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Charitable Foundation.

Mebane went on to make a fortune in the textile industry, building Unifi into  a worldwide textile powerhouse. But he never forgot about that first plant – and those first workers.

In 1997 he started the foundation with one primary goal – to have children reading at grade level by the third grade. Studies had shown that children behind grade level at that age had trouble catching up.

In 2001, Mebane injected $21 million into the foundation. At his death in 2008, another $20 million was added.

With a few sidesteps here and there, the foundation is still focused on improving the skills of the youngest readers. They do it in private and public schools, in charter schools, wherever the board of directors thinks the programs can do the most good.

They’ve been especially active in Davie County. Mebane lived near Mocksville and opened the foundation here on South Main Street. It’s the building downtown with the well kept landscaping. Mebane wanted it that way, Colbourne said.

And although Mebane has been gone for nearly nine years, Colbourne still feels his presence. And he remains dedicated to the same cause that Mebane championed.

“We know we’re doing good things,” Colbourne said. “We’ve seen growth in reading scores. Ultimately, the goal is to meet the literary needs in a school system or a school.”

The focus is changing somewhat. In the past, much of the foundation’s efforts have been to help struggling readers. The new focus, Colbourne said, is to help all young people as they start their reading journey.

The foundation has partnered with The Hill Center in Durham, which started innovative ways to teach reading. Davie County has been at the forefront of the efforts, training teachers in Hill Center methods.

The foundation has also helped fund new pre-schools in Davie elementary schools. It helped pay for technology upgrades. It helped pay for a place for student teachers to live while teaching here.

The list goes on, and according to Colbourne, it isn’t over. The Mebane Foundation has ideas to help Davie students even more.

“The Davie County School System does a great job, with a great return on money. I’ve been across the state, and Davie County is in a great place now. The only way to go is up. For a return on investments, Davie County is No. 1.”

Colbourne spends his time visiting schools, talking to teachers, administrators and experts, attending conferences and board meetings, always on the lookout for a suitable project for the foundation.

“I network and try to find good partners,” he said. “Once we get a partner … I’m constantly talking to potention grantees or to grantees.

The foundation has focused on programs in North Carolina, but has gone to other states, as well. Ideally, projects the foundation helps to start would become so important, the local schools would keep them going when the foundation goes to another site.

There are 150 kids in a Mebane sponsored preK program in Davie County. Some 90 percent are tested ready for kindergarten. That number drops to 40 percent average in private daycares. Part of the new focus will be ways to help those children.

Schools are important to Colbourne, who moved to Davie County in 1996. He and wife Beverly moved here because of the good reputation of the school system. They raised sons Craig and Darren here. Both are in college.

The road to the Mebane Foundation was a long one for Colbourne, who grew up in New Foundland, Canada. He had graduated high school and had no real plans. He did, like many of his fellow New Foundlanders, enjoy playing baseball. The season there is short, but just about everybody plays.

He was 21 when a friend called him and told him to move to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., because he could get him a job as a valet parking cars.

Colbourne made the move in 1986. He met the baseball coach at Broward Community College, who gave him a scholarship to pitch for the team. Wake Forest University spotted the pitcher from Canada, and offered him a scholarship to go there.

He realizes, and appreciates, how lucky he’s been since moving to Ft. Lauderdale.

He graduated from Wake Forest with a degree in speech communications, and got a job in the credit department at Wachovia Bank. When it was sold, he could either move to Charlotte for a different job with the new bank, or be unemployed.

Since a severence package was offered, he chose the latter. He also took the advice of a friend, who said to volunteer, do something he wanted to do.

He volunteered at the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind. It wasn’t long before that group had him out raising money.

Colbourne came to Mocksville to ask Allen Mebane for a donation.

He didn’t get any money, the foundation’s priority was early reading. But a short time later, Mebane called him in and offered him a job at the foundation. The deal was sealed on the back of a piece of paper.

Eighteen months later, Mebane died.

“I worked with Allen Mebane one-on-one for a year and a half,” Colbourne said. “That was the best position. I was so fortunate. He seemed tough, but his heart was in the right place for the right reason. Everything he did, he did it for the right reason.”

The foundation’s office is filled with photos of children served in the programs. Colbourne can point to them, and say how they’ve done in life. One photo of a dozen or so young struggling readers stands out. All of them went on to some type of education beyond high school, he said.

“I love my job. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

(Original article by Mike Barnhardt, Davie County Enterprise – Reprinted with Permission)

Literacy Intervention: Past, Present and Future

It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems*, and children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 – 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.**

Determined to change these, the Mebane Foundation has invested $5 million in literacy intervention partnerships during the past 12 years. These partnerships have produced exciting results that get to the core of our mission, to ensure that ALL school children are given the opportunity to read and succeed.

Along the way, our partners have included public school systems, traditional public schools, public-charter, and private schools. While some interventions have worked better than others, all have provided us with valuable data, metrics and research results.

One partner has been with us every step of the way; The Hill Center in Durham, North Carolina, a leading expert and resource in the field of learning differences. Over the years, we have worked together to stay true to The Hill Center’s instructional philosophy, based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which focuses on teaching students the structure of language, while incorporating precision teaching techniques including charting and graphing student progress. Using Hill assessments, an individualized instructional plan is created for each student. Progress is continually monitored as students work toward mastery of skills.

We are committed to making this program, as well as Hill’s 4-1 student/teacher methodology, feasible and accessible to ALL students, no matter where they go to school.

This commitment has led us to invest millions of dollars into building a solid foundation for each new step in the partnership. This methodical, well-planned progression of programs has brought us to our most exciting partnership to date; a collaboration between The Hill Center and the Mooresville Graded School District, a school system recognized both nationally and internationally for its student 1-to-1 technology initiative.

These two dynamic organizations are now partnering on a 3-year project that combines 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 handheld devices rather than the traditional paper-based intervention, allowing teachers more flexibility in interacting with students in the 4-to-1 setting. Mooresville Graded School District tech savvy students and teachers are simultaneously critiquing and benefiting from the new technology, making it a win-win for both parties.

Most importantly, they are producing a product that could change the way we help struggling readers, no matter where they attend school.

Our collaborative efforts with The Hill Center and North Carolina school districts have been ongoing since 2003. The Foundation initially made a significant commitment of almost $750,000 to simultaneously launch two Hill programs in the Davie County school system and at 11 private preschools/daycares around the county. The preschools benefited from intensive Hill Early Literacy Project ( HELP ) professional development for their teachers of three and four year olds. The school system used Hill to train 26 elementary school teachers in the HillRAP I methodologies.

Over the next four years, all partners benefited through impressive gains in student reading ability and teacher professional development. The Foundation received valuable feedback that laid the groundwork for future intensive literacy projects.

In 2007, on the heels of a successful HELP/HillRAP I rollout in Davie County, the Foundation agreed to another four-year $1 million partnership with The Hill Center and Davie County Schools that would launch a HillRAP II partnership.

HillRAP II, designed for middle school teachers and students, combines the proven teaching methods of HillRAP I with a more intensive comprehension component. It was a successful partnership and the results of HillRAP II were very positive.

Since 2011 we have also been partnering on smaller projects in other school systems with the same positive results: struggling readers have made significant gains in reading and have experienced more success and a stronger sense of self-esteem in their classrooms.

The Mebane Foundation plans to stay the course until it gets the best product, with the best delivery method, at a known cost that is affordable to any child, school, or school system that needs it.

References
* US Department of Health and Human Services
** Literacy Statistics Reference Information

Healthy Davie Preschool Project Changing the Lives of 18 Davie County Children

Pre-k Leanring“What letter is this, and do you know what sound  it makes?” the teacher asked as she pulled a lettered popsicle stick from the jar.  One preschooler answered, “That’s “M” for Munching Mike,“ while five others quickly made a “MMMMMM” sound.

“Letter Zoom” is just one of the many ways Pinebrook preschool teacher, Katie Wagstaff, is preparing her class of eighteen four and five-year olds for kindergarten next year.

Studies indicate that the environmental factors that put children at risk and keep them from being successful students can be minimized if quality preschool opportunities are obtained and interventions are made at an early age.  But these eighteen preschoolers would not be receiving the benefits of preschool were it not for a joint grant from the Mebane Foundation, Davie Community Foundation, and the County of Davie.

Last fall, each of these three funders awarded $35,167, one-third of the project cost, to support the Healthy Davie  Preschool Project. The Project paid to create and staff one new preschool class at Pinebrook Elementary School where there was an available classroom. This allowed eighteen at-risk four-year olds to be taken off the Davie County Social Services waiting list for childcare/preschool scholarships and placed in the new classroom organized under the Davie County Schools Preschool Program. At-risk status was based on income, chronic health concerns, special educational needs, or a military status that requires the family to move frequently.

The Healthy Davie Preschool Project is part of the Healthy Davie Initiative launched by the foundations in December 2014 to encourage collaboration and cooperation among Davie County non-profits and agencies in addressing education, health and poverty.

Larry Colbourne, President of Mebane Foundation said, “The fact that three local funders came together to make attending a NC Pre-K program a reality for 18 local children and their families is a powerful statement. It’s a testament to how this community values equal access for all to a strong early childhood development program.”

Recognizing that a quality preschool program can play such a significant role in a child’s development, the foundations looked to Davie County Schools, and its proven track record through the NC Pre-K Program, to provide a program that would help the children reach their full potential.

Davie County Schools reported that 95% of the children attending the Davie County Schools Preschool Program tested as ready for kindergarten based upon Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL) screening scores while 63% of children from other programs tested ready for kindergarten. Of the 30% of 2015-2016 rising kindergarten students identified by the DIAL screening tool as having potential delays or at-risk factors, 46% had had no previous preschool experience.

The DIAL assessment tests a child’s motor skills (skipping, jumping, cutting, writing), conceptual skills (knowledge of colors, counting), and language skills (knowledge of letters and words, ability to solve problems). In addition, the Parent and Teacher Questionnaires measure a child’s self-help skills (dressing, feeding, bathing) and social-emotional skills (getting along with others, staying on task). The skills measured by the DIAL are proven to help predict a child’s success in the classroom.

The DIAL screening test can help parents and teachers decide if a child’s skills are appropriate for his/her age or if further testing or interventions are needed. This information can help with planning the child’s education and, if necessary, can help parents and teachers address any needs the child may have at home or in school.

Wagstaff, a veteran preschool teacher with six years experience in a More at Four program followed by six years in a Pre-K inclusion class for children with developmental delays, is well-prepared to recognize her students’ strengths as well meet their needs. She is assisted by Alisa Allen who has worked in early childhood education for 24 years. This is her 10th year working in the Davie County Preschool Program where she has worked in classrooms with 2’s, 3’s and 4-year olds.

For those having difficulties, Wagstaff  incorporates many of the same strategies she learned in the inclusion class such as lots of repetition, modeling, reminders, and working one on one to accomplish small goals. She tries to provide a balance of structure and love in her classroom and has been pleased with the students’ progress so far.

“These eighteen children are getting something they really need this year to be successful in kindergarten next year,” she said. “We try to work with every child on an individual basis to meet their needs the best we can. Some of the children would have had difficulty functioning behaviorally and academically next year, but I’ve seen a lot of improvement and growth.”

The success of the students will be tracked through third grade and evidence gathered to evaluate the success of the program. So far, parents have been thrilled with their children’s progress.

“My son has learned so much,” said one mother. “He comes home every day and talks about Letterland characters and measurements and how he has made so many friends. He loves his teachers and his classmates and hates missing school when he is sick.”

“He has always been a tenderhearted, emotional child, but he has gained a backbone and has learned to interact with other children. I wasn’t sure how he would like school since he had always been home with me, but he has absolutely loved it,” she added.

The students are not the only ones learning through the Healthy Davie Preschool Program.

Wagstaff offers monthly parent/child activities to teach parents what is expected in kindergarten and has been pleased with almost 100% participation. Past activities have included decorating pumpkins, making pumpkin bracelets, cutting out pumpkins, and making gingerbread houses and gingerbread men and then telling the story of the gingerbread man. Each activity teaches a skill like cutting, sorting, and sequencing.

“A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher. These activities show the parents how their child is progressing and what they can do to help them at home,” she said.

Parents have also attended workshops focused on nutrition, child development, financial management, healthy living, and career planning. This parent education portion of the program has been supported by community partners Just Hope Inc., Davie County Department of Social Services, NC Cooperative Extension Services, Smart Start of Davie, and others.

Colbourne summed it up with “When we can make strides to improve every child’s chance to be kindergarten-ready we’re also increasing their chances of success not only in the later grades, but in life. Now that’s powerful!”

Read to Achieve Creates Engaged Students with Newfound Confidence

05Only their huge smiles betray their excitement as 120 students wearing matching red camp t-shirts and Indian headbands enter the gym in quiet, single-file lines. It’s time to celebrate all that they have accomplished during Davie County’s Read to Achieve 2016 summer camp.

The camp is designed to help third graders who have failed to meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. This year’s camp also included struggling first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer, as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction.

As in the past two years, this year’s camp was a tremendous success. More than 27% of the county’s non-proficient third-graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade. Additional students are expected to pass the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp. A remarkable 76% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. All will continue on to fourth grade with more skills and as more confident readers.

The third graders were not the only campers to blossom. While assessments for first and second graders were limited to a social maturity inventory, a skill development checklist, and progress checks in HillRap sessions, over 65% of the youngest campers demonstrated strong growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations.

“While a 27% 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, which provided a grant of $90,000 to support the 2016 summer camp. Since 2014, the Foundation has invested more than $235,000 in partnering with Davie County Schools to fund the intensive four-week camp.

“Without the consistent support of the Mebane Charitable Foundation, the reality of the DCS Read to Achieve Camp, a “launch pad” for students with potential, would be only an idea and fall short of the impactful program that it has become,” said Noel Grady-Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum and Leadership Development for Davie County Schools. “State funding is not sufficient to produce the model program that we have developed or to support the highly-effective teachers that are employed in Davie County Schools RtA camp.”

She 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 creates 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.

The ongoing goal is bring these successful, research-based teaching strategies to all six elementary schools during the school year. The teachers who train and practice these approaches during the summer are spread out in schools across the county.

Davie County’s innovative Read to Achieve Camp employs a holistic approach to reading. Attendees actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

“I didn’t used to like to read. I just pretended that I got the words. Now we make things.. Like stories, plays, songs, and drawings that help me understand. So I get it now … for real,” said Ethan, a third grade camper.

A Recipe for Success
Each camper experienced 128 hours of instruction with over 28 hours spent in individualized learning sessions with three to four students in the group.

Students also had computer lab time to work with a new program called myOn, which offers a high interest reading experience tailored to a student’s level and individual needs. The program allowed them to build vocabulary and score points for the number of books that they read at camp, on a digital device at home, or on a computer at the public library.  Campers read a total of 1,451 books over the course of the camp and into the month of August at home.

Each grade level benefited from a new partnership with the Davie County Public Library through which they enjoyed a weekly story time with Julie Whitaker from the library staff.

Students thrived on outdoor time during their activity/lunch time with their YMCA counselors, who serve as Davie County Schools teachers assistants during the school year.

Informal performances and “sharings” were held routinely throughout the entire camp experience. Students often begged to be able to perform for their peers which was another indication of their growing self-confidence as these performances often involved memorizing lines, playing musical instruments, or presenting a dance that they had choreographed with a small group. These ranked among the highlights of the camp experience.

Camp closed with a large all-camp celebration of the themes of Native American culture which recognized each camper as a valued member of the tribe.  Students sang, played musical instruments, performed traditional ceremonial dances, and shared their art exhibits. This was not a traditional performance, but what A+ Schools refers to as an “informance” that is held without the pressure of adults and families watching, but is solely for students to share their creations with each other.

It was an opportunity to celebrate four weeks of successes. For many, it was their first time to shine in an educational setting.

The final result? 120 excited, engaged students with newfound confidence who are ready to tackle a new school year.

Camp Pathfinder — Turning Struggling Readers into Enthusiastic Learners

02The room is quiet. Heads bowed, faces scrunched in concentration, eight students are busily working — some are reading, some are writing, some are spelling, but all are learning through Camp Pathfinder.

Hosted by the Triad Academy at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC, Camp Pathfinder was created to serve rising first through fifth grade students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties. Each student receives one-on-one instruction from teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach which is famed for its ability to help dyslexics and other struggling readers.

In addition to the hour a day of individualized reading and literacy instruction, attendees of the 5-week program participate in study hall and a STEAM activity. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) based activities include nature investigations, pop bottle rocketry, and robotics.

According to Sam Merrick, Camp Pathfinder’s director and a teacher at Triad Academy, the program uses a “whole child” perspective to address learning by providing much more than remediation.

01“Offering a variety of activities allows kids to exercise their talents. We want to give them the opportunity to practice anything that they take pride in,” he said. ”These fun activities are like the sugar coating to the educational process.”

Merrick tells parents that the camp is like an inoculation. “You can’t cure dyslexia in five weeks, but this camp provides a start.”

More than sixty percent of the campers also stay for the camp’s afternoon session, which is designed to build self-confidence through field trips, outdoor discovery, arts and crafts, fun games, and sports.

Emery, a rising third-grader at Poplar Spring Elementary, loves the weekly trips to places like the pool and trampoline park, but she also loves going to tutoring and doing her work during study hall.

“I’m learning to sound out the hard words,” she said, a huge grin on her face. “I know I’m going to be able to read harder books when I go back to school.”

Unfortunately, highly successful, individualized training like this is extremely expensive and not widely available.

03Carrie Malloy, director of Triad Academy, said the school has to regularly turn down families who could benefit from Triad’s program but cannot afford the school’s annual tuition.

Transformative Impact
Camp Pathfinder was established last summer, through a $50,000 grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation, to help reach some of these families, train public school teachers in Orton-Gillingham so that more students can benefit from its life-changing approach, and to create a model that will have a transformative impact on how other organizations and educational institutions teach children with language-based learning differences.

Through the grant, ten area public school teachers received 70 hours of intensive Orton-Gillingham training free of charge in exchange for working with the 20 public school students enrolled in the camp. Teaching at the camp provided the teachers with the opportunity to practice their new skills under the supervision of the Academy’s Orton-Gillingham certified teachers before returning to their own schools and students.

The teachers were surveyed about their experience at the end of the summer, and one Forsyth County teacher wrote, “This experience has taught me so much. The information I learned is invaluable. I can’t wait to start back to school and use it to help my precious, struggling students. I am forever grateful.”

05Substantial Improvement Achieved
Every camper received a pre- and post- camp Gallistel-Ellis Test of Coding Skills assessment which measures whether the student can give the sounds for the various letters and clusters of letters and how well the student can recognize and spell words made up of these sounds. At the conclusion of camp, parents were supplied with testing results, a tutor summary, and a list of recommendations. In just five weeks, campers saw an average of a 15% improvement in reading and 34% improvement in spelling.

David, a rising third-grader at the Downtown School and repeat camper, represents one of Camp Pathfinder’s many success stories.

“When I first went to camp, I was very nervous. I didn’t know anyone and I had no idea how camp worked,” he said. “Once I got to know everybody, I started liking camp and it helped me a lot.”

“I have dyslexia. I was one of the lowest readers in my class and could only read easy chapter books. Now I can read humongous chapter books like Harry Potter” David added, a proud smile on his face. “If you have dyslexia, this is the perfect camp for you.”

On an end of camp survey, one appreciative parent commented, “We received [Camper’s] test scores & camp narrative. Wow! We were so impressed with the work he, the teachers, & you accomplished through this camp! Thanks again for an awesome camp experience this year!”

Due to the positive test results as well as the enthusiastic response from both students and teachers, the Mebane Foundation approved an additional $50,000 grant this year, which, combined with other funding, helped to expand the camp to serve 50 students and to train an additional ten public school teachers.

Thanks to “word of mouth” recommendations from last year’s teachers, ads, and contacts with area schools, both the student and teacher slots were filled and a waiting list formed.

Of this year’s 50 campers, 45 are public school students from Davie, Davidson, Forsyth, Stokes, and Yadkinville Counties. About one third are returning for their second year.

The 25 tutors needed to provide the camp’s one-on-one instruction come from Davie, Forsyth, Guilford and Stokes Counties as well Thomasville City Schools, and include reading specialists, EC teachers, and elementary school teachers. Ten of the public school teachers are newly trained in Orton-Gillingham and three have returned to camp because they believe in what is being accomplished and to further hone their skills.

Despite their different backgrounds, these teachers have one thing in common– a passion for their students.

“It’s hard to give up your summer, but with what this training is equipping me to do for my kids, it’s worth it,” said Lori Jensen, a teacher at Meadowlark Elementary who is tutoring at the camp for the second year. She used the training in her classroom last year and saw her students improve academically and gain confidence. This fall she will apply these skills to her new position with NC Virtual Schools.

Renee Bowman, the reading specialist from Poplar Springs Elementary in Stokes County, learned about the program from the parent of one of her students who would be attending. On the first day, she texted her principal and told him that everyone needed the training. She hopes that more teachers from Stokes County will be able to participate in the program next year.

“This is all about meeting kids right where they are,” Bowman said.

Davie County Read to Achieve Camp – Inspiring Success & Making Reading Fun!

They move in unison. Sixty little bodies stretch and bend with the music.

This “morning stretch” helps prepare the attendees of Davie County’s Read to Achieve camp for a day of learning, fun, and success.

Davie County’s Read to Achieve Camp employs a holistic approach to reading. Attendees actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

“Listening has a great deal to do with reading comprehension, and rhythm has a great deal to do with reading fluency,” said Noel Grady-Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum and Leadership Development for Davie County Schools. “We believe we need to challenge the students with a variety of modalities to enhance each child’s unique way of learning and provide a rich variety of opportunities for reaching mastery.”

The results have been inspiring. 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.  Other campers received extra assistance during the school year with an additional 15% of those students passing the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp. All of the students  achieved significant growth in confidence, engagement, and stamina in approaching new learning experiences.

“While a 45% success rate for the camp 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, which provided $90,000 to support the camp.

120 Davie County Students “Read to Achieve”
There are 120 students from across the county enrolled in this summer’s intensive four-week camp. Sixty-three are third graders who have failed to meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The rest are first and second graders, as mandated this year by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, who have not yet mastered the proficient level of reading. The first and second graders participating in the camp were identified as close to proficiency, but in need of summer support to prevent losing ground.

“Most of these students have a low perception of themselves as learners,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director and a 6th grade teacher at North Davie Middle School. “Many of these kids have already taken and haven’t proven proficient on two EOG’s and the Read to Achieve test. We try to not even say the word test because it causes stress and and has negative connotations. We take them through a variety of reading activities in a fun environment.”

“The structure of the camp creates a lot of excitement. Students aren’t used to singing, dancing, and rapping during a regular school day.”

The camp day begins at 8:00 a.m. with a short combined session focused on goal setting for the day. Students are divided into small groups with an average ratio of fourteen students per teacher except when students are in Hill RAP sessions at the four to one ratio. The student’s day is divided between Hill Rap sessions, writing to learn sessions, art and reading sessions, testing stamina sessions, music/theatre and verbal expression sessions, and diagnostic reading clinic sessions. Each session lasts approximately forty-five minutes. Each day ends at 2:45 p.m.

At the end of the fourth week, students will be allowed to retake the RtA Reading test, which is a form of the EOG. A celebration of learning follows the third grade testing. This camp-wide traditional Native American Powwow is a final opportunity for campers to share their new confidence as readers and their understanding of social studies themes of culture, family, and self.

Campers are also benefiting from myOn, a computer-based learning system, which the state is offering free of charge this summer as part of a pilot program.

Raymonda Shelton, the camp’s curriculum coordinator and the Instructional Coach at William R. Davie Elementary School, has collaborated with the RtA teachers to use the collection of leveled readers to create units that go along with what is being studied in the classroom, allowing students to build background knowledge to take back their literacy circles.

Hill RAP Plus A+ Schools Plus Passionate Teachers = 16 Days of Success!
Grady-Smith further 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 creates a consistent foundation for student achievement.

Through Hill RAP, eight specially trained teachers guide groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction where it is needed most.

A+ Schools combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know. In A+ Schools, teaching the state’s mandated curriculum involves a collaborative, many-disciplined approach, with the arts continuously woven into every aspect of a child’s learning.

Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly effective teachers. The heart of Davie’s RtA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators. Each has  been fully trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program and has personally completed each and every assignment the students complete. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions have at least three years of experience teaching Hill reading methodologies. The Hill RAP teachers completed additional training this year to use the digital learning system that allows students to manage their progress on iPads.

Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing, often for the first time.

“Read to Achieve Camp renews my love for teaching,” said Kerry Blackwelder, a reading specialist at Cooleemee Elementary who is teaching Hill Center groups for the third year. “We are able to look at each student, see how they learn, and teach them in a style that best meets their needs.”

“The students usually start out shy. They know the answers, but they are afraid to speak up,” Blackwelder said. “By the end of camp, they have gained confidence and become risk takers. When they come together here, they are one big melting pot. They discover that other students share their struggles, and they learn to love themselves for who they are. A lot of them cry on the last day.”   

“Read to Achieve Camp is magical,” she added.

Lauren Rieth, Lead Visual Arts Teacher for Davie County Schools and a third year camp veteran who is teaching art agrees. Although she is approaching retirement, she is determined to continue teaching at the camp.  

“When I walk into that classroom I see brilliance. Learning through play brings out their intelligence. Suddenly they are confident and free to be their natural selves. We don’t have any judgements about who they are. We love them for what they bring to the table.”

“So often I see myself in them,” Rieth added. “School never recognized my artistic intelligence or moving intelligence. When students take in information through art and movement it has staying power because they love what they are doing when they hear the information. Their brains turn on.”

“These kids can’t believe it. They are required to go to camp and then they can’t believe how amazing it is.”

Blackwelder and Rieth are two of the camp’s twenty-seven amazing educators from across Davie County that Brooks calls an “All-Star staff.” Others include:

Suzie Alonzo – Cornatzer Elementary School
Ashley Bailey – William R. Davie Elementary School
Jane Brooks – South Davie Middle School
Kim Brooks – Cornatzer Elementary School
Mary Lynn Bullins – Wm. R. Davie and Cornatzer Elementary Schools
Christy Cornatzer – Cornatzer Elementary School
Kilby Church – Pinebrook Elementary School
Kim Crotts – Pinebrook Elementary School
Lori Culler – South Davie Middle School
Leigh Ann Davis – Pinebrook Elementary School
Regina Dzybon – Shady Grove Elementary School
Shannon Eggleston – William R. Davie Elementary School
Suzie Hecht – Mocksville Elementary School
Angela Lankford – Cornatzer Elementary School
Mindy Ledbetter- Davie High School
Brenda Mosko- William Ellis and South Davie Middle Schools
Anna Newman – North Davie Middle School
Erin Penley – Cooleemee and Pinebrook Elementary Schools
Madison Pratapas- A + Student Apprentice – Graduate of Davie High School
Dana Roberts – South Davie Middle School
Alma Rosas – William R. Davie Elementary School
Susan Shepherd – Cornatzer Elementary School
Kolleen Sullivan – Shady Grove Elementary School

Many of the methods used in the Read to Achieve Camp are designed to be shared throughout the school system by these trained teachers. Schools and students county-wide benefit because these teachers are able to take the new training they receive each summer and their collective ideas and experiences back to their classrooms to share with their students and colleagues.

“After 26 years of teaching, I still learn new things and new methods of teaching,” Blackwelder said. “It gets me excited to start the school year. I wish this is how school could be all year long.”

The camp builds so much more than academic success. Students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities.  

“We provide 16 days of success so that the test is no longer such a big deal and the students have the resilience and confidence to make it through,”  Brooks said.

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

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