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

by Jeanna White

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

by Jeanna White

“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

05by Jeanna White

Only 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 not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. This year’s camp also included 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 to 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 use 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.

The 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.