Mebane Foundation, Unifi and Hill Center Team Up to Change Lives in Yadkin County!

By Jeanna B. White

Thanks to a unique partnership between the Mebane Charitable Foundation, Unifi, and the Hill Center, students in Yadkin County Schools’ Exceptional Children’s program, are getting the extra reading help they need.

The Mebane Charitable Foundation has approved a $70,000 grant and Unifi is contributing an additional $30,000 to Yadkin County Schools to provide the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP), a research-based multisensory structured language approach to teaching reading developed by the Hill Center of Durham.

Through this two-year partnership, Hill will provide comprehensive training to all 18 of the county’s K-6 EC teachers in delivering HillRAP with the technology-enabled Hill Learning System (HLS). 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. The grants also cover the cost of 90 iPads and additional training to certify two HillRAP mentors in the second year to build sustainability within the district. The first nine teachers completed training in September 2017 and the others will complete their training during the 2018-2019 school year.

“A partnership with Yadkin County Schools and Unifi was seen as a very attractive opportunity to the Mebane Foundation,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “One of our goals coming out of our board retreat just over a year ago was to engage with new school systems and additional funding partners. With these two we’ve hit a home run; Unifi is basically Mr. Mebane’s brainchild from the early 70’s and much of the personal wealth he created during his lifetime spawned from there and then eventually passed into the Foundation.”

“It’s probably safe to say that children of Unifi employees will benefit directly from this partnership,” he added. “This was truly a win-win, and I have the utmost confidence that the Yadkin School leadership team and their teachers will ensure students will be offered every opportunity to succeed.”

Through HillRAP, a specially-trained teacher guides groups of up to 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. Small units of information are presented sequentially and practiced daily until a set criterion is met for three to five consecutive days and overlearning is achieved. Mastered skills are reviewed weekly to ensure retention. Classes are designed to maximize opportunities for oral and written student responses. The program allows, and encourages, students and teachers, to set goals, track daily progress, and celebrate successes.

“Our schedule in the elementary school revolves around grade level pull-out times,” said Debby Gunnell, an EC (exceptional children) teacher at Yadkinville Elementary and the first to be trained. She participated in training in June 2017 to support HillRAP implementation in the summer Read to Achieve camp. “Since I typically have students reading on various grade levels during one pull-out time, reading instruction in the past frequently involved rotating reading groups within a class period. With HillRAP, I am able to teach up to four students on four different reading levels at one time!”

“This program is fast-paced, highly engaging, and provides a high degree of time-on-task. Each student is able to practice reading skills the entire time on his/her own instructional reading level,” she added.

“My students enjoy learning to read on the iPads and often display disappointment when they realize our time together has expired. I am excited about HillRAP and the impact the program will have on reading skills as shown on assessments given throughout the year.”

Kristi Gaddis, Director of Student Services, Yadkin County Schools, is equally excited. “We are elated to have this research-based instruction made available to our students. What makes this stand out from all the other instructional techniques is the seamless merging of research-based reading and technology. Our teachers are able to instruct students on their individual levels all at the same time through the use of the app. The exceptional students of Yadkin County Schools are receiving the best reading instruction available!”

Developed by Hill over the past two years, HLS includes enhanced data collection, analysis, and reporting tools which helps educators and districts make informed instructional decisions. Beta-tested by 60 teachers at Hill and select public schools in 2015-16, HLS is yielding promising results for student growth including:

  • 1.5 years’ average growth on NC EOGs for Carteret County students receiving HillRAP via HLS
  • Success integrating HillRAP into kindergarten classroom literacy time to serve more students and close foundational gaps
  • More engaged, confident, and invested teachers and students

Gaddis is eager to see Yadkin County experience similar results. “Yadkin County Schools is looking forward to analyzing the growth rate of our students that engaged in the Hill RAP reading intervention program this school year. We have trained the teachers, conducted coaching visits to provide support, and eliminated barriers to implementation. Our next step in the roll-out of this initiative is to analyze the data for student growth rates through the comparison of MClass improvements and CORE reading assessment improvements from 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.”

“Yadkin County Schools is so grateful that the Mebane Foundation has agreed to invest in our students. The foundation is providing the means for us to build capacity, inspect what we expect, and sustain what we start. Through our partnership we will improve the lives of Yadkin County citizens by ensuring they are prepared for the transition from school to life,” Gaddis said.