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

Read to Achieve Camp 1

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.

Private and Charter School Literacy Initiatives


by Jeanna White

In its ongoing effort to find the best means to help all students learn to read and succeed by the third grade, the Foundation continues to make investments in partnerships with schools other than traditional public schools and systems. Partnerships with private and charter schools have seen tremendous success in student growth and have provided valuable information toward developing literacy best practices.

For example, in 2015, the Foundation partially funded a private-public school partnership between Triad Academy at Summit School with teachers and students from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina. Camp Pathfinder, a five-week session held on the Summit School campus, brought together ten public school teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham reading methodology with thirty struggling students who otherwise would not have been afforded the opportunity to attend such a beneficial camp on a beautiful private school campus. Results from the camp were so positive that the Foundation agreed to fund $50,000 for an expanded camp for ten new teachers and fifty students during the summer of 2016. A private donor also pledged an additional $60,000 in support of the 2016 camp.

Over the past five years, the Foundation has also invested more than $125,000 with Brookstone Schools, a small private school serving some of the most needy school children from the downtown Charlotte, North Carolina area. Every year it’s “Straight to the Top” summer learning and enrichment camp has grown and produced great results. In 2016 it will serve approximately 120 children from its school enrollment as well as students from surrounding neighborhoods. The strong success of Brookstone has attracted many funding partners. In fact, in the spring of 2016,  the Leon Levine Foundation issued a $150,000 challenge grant to school supporters so that Brookstone might add a second kindergarten class in the fall. The Mebane Foundation pledged an additional $20,000 to help with the challenge portion of that grant.

Most recently,  the Foundation committed $25,000 to Horizons National; an award-winning, tuition-free, summer academic program serving low-income, public school students on the campuses of independent schools, colleges, and universities across the country. The Horizons partnership with The Oakwood School in Greenville, North Carolina will be the first of its kind in the state. The Foundation hopes to learn from this private school outreach model used by Horizons National, that has shown great success and promise elsewhere in the country.

The documents linked below provide additional details and background information on these important initiatives:

STEM Initiatives: Innovative 21st Century Learning

Sixty-five percent of today’s jobs require Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math skills, and 16 of the 30 fastest-growing careers demand substantial math and science education. And this is only the beginning. A STEM education will be essential in the work world of today’s children.

The Mebane Foundation believes that it must actively engage students in STEM-related academics and enrichment experiences in order to nurture interest, enthusiasm, and pursuit of STEM careers. We believe that optimum 21st century STEM learning occurs for all students only when optimum 21st century STEM teaching occurs in all classrooms. We believe that we have a profound responsibility to ensure learning for all students by creating, implementing, and supporting innovative and top-quality professional development for all teachers, centering upon inquiry-based methodologies, various technologies for student engagement, integration of STEM curricula across subjects, and the use of community STEM professionals as compelling classroom resources.

In 2012, Moore County Schools received a $2,000,000 + three-year commitment/partnership to launch an innovative professional development model for K-12 teachers known as “STEM Infusion”

Our innovative STEM Infusion program, featuring intensive use of computer technology under the supervision of highly trained teachers committed to this education model, offers a marked increase in the percentage of students from all demographic groups successfully completing challenging STEM courses and prepared to pursue post-secondary STEM careers.

Mebane Foundation has a rich history of employing and investing in these fundamental STEM principles to design and implement projects which boost student achievement by creating 21st century classroom learning environments taught by top-notch teachers.

The Foundation’s focus on creating 21st century learning environments began in 2004 with the Mebane Technology Challenge in Davie County, NC. The Challenge stated that if the county could raise $1.5 million from individuals, companies and civic groups, then the Foundation would contribute $750,000 over a three-year period to add the best educational technology to classrooms in every school across the county.

The challenge was met, and and the funds provided SMART Boards, projectors and laptop computers for all but 80 of the school system’s 500 classrooms, plus pre-K classrooms in five of the six elementary schools.

As a result, students were visually stimulated and engaged in learning as never before, and teachers, many who were resistant to integrating computers into their lessons, became eager to learn more computer/SMART Board applications.

Finally, having technology – and enthusiasm for it – in all classrooms laid the foundation for the innovative professional-development models to come through Foundation initiatives: Mebane Masters and Stem Infusion.

Research shows that the most influential variable in student learning in the classroom is the level of expertise and skill of the teacher. Having all of the technology in the world is useless unless you are trained to use it.

Seeking to enhance learning through a far more effective use of technology, the Mebane Foundation collaborated with Davie County Schools and Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education in 2008 to create a 30 month, first-of-its-kind, academic degree program for 15 Davie County teachers.

These teachers remained in their Davie County classrooms while pursuing their Master of Arts Degrees in Instructional Technology. The training prepared them to serve as their school’s primary resource for questions about the best and most practical ways to maximize technology’s benefit in the classroom. It was the Foundation’s first look at real-time, teacher-driven, in-house professional development.

The student-teacher component became another crucial piece of the Mebane Masters Program. Over five semesters in 2½ years, 60 Appalachian State University student teachers were housed in Davie County, spending their 15-week semester paired with one of the 15 master teachers. This technology-rich environment paired with an innovative spirit created an exciting learning environment for Davie students, student teachers, and master teachers alike.

Most of these master teachers remain in Davie County and continue to embrace their professional-development roles. Also, many of the student teachers who rotated through the program decided to teach in the Davie County Schools.

The Mebane Masters Program not only substantially improved education for students in every classroom at every grade level throughout Davie County Schools, but it also:

  • Created a powerful, new model for teacher education and professional development.
  • Made it much easier for Davie County Schools to recruit and retain the best teachers.
  • Laid the groundwork for STEM Infusion.

Expanding upon the the success of the Mebane Masters program, STEM Infusion facilitated further STEM innovation through the creation of three, 5-member traveling teaching teams that provided training and assistance wherever needed.. Each STEM team was composed of a highly skilled and experienced teacher, a beginning teacher, and three student teachers. These elementary, middle, and high-school teams assisted classroom teachers with creating and implementing engaging STEM lesson plans using technology. In addition, a new website was established by the STEM team to share resources, including lesson plans.

End-of-grade results showed improvement in student achievement growth in classrooms where teachers adopted the STEM Infusion approach to teaching and learning.