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.

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