In the Face of COVID, Hill Learning Center Invests in Making Reading Intervention More Accessible to Teachers and Students Across NC

By Jeanna Baxter White

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, and in-person learning came to a screeching halt, Hill Learning Center in Durham rose to the challenge and, in only three weeks, developed and released a version of its Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) that could be delivered remotely as long as the teacher and students had iPads and an internet connection. By summer, the HillRAP team had transformed its training model, which had required at least two days of in-person training, into a fully virtual professional learning experience. Previously, these efforts would have required many months, if not years, of planning, budgeting, testing, and refinement. But the need was urgent and real, and the experience inspired Hill to think and act more boldly than ever before. 

“There is little doubt or dispute that the inability to read can have devastating effects on life outcomes for students, or that as a nation, we are not fulfilling our moral and societal obligation to teach all students to read. Unfortunately, these realities have all been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Beth Anderson, executive director of Hill Learning Center. “To accelerate the reading development of students who have fallen even further behind due to COVID, quality, science-based core reading instruction must be supplemented by targeted, small-group intervention that can accurately identify and address foundational gaps.”

HillRAP leverages technology and quality professional development to deliver teacher-led, individualized, small-group instruction to students with persistent reading difficulties, including those with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning differences. Decades of research have shown that explicit phonics instruction benefits all early readers, particularly those who struggle to read. Hill’s instruction philosophy is 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. (Watch this video to learn more.)

HillRAP Delivery Model Evolves to Increase Accessibility

Last year, even in the face of the pandemic, 555 educators were using HillRAP to serve nearly 5,600 students across North Carolina and beyond; 375 of those teachers and 3,500 of those students were in NC public and private schools outside of Hill School. However, many previous HillRAP users were unable to implement due to pandemic barriers related to technology, training, and time. Others wanted to adopt the program but simply didn’t have the iPads needed to do so. “We saw the need for HillRAP increasing and knew we had a tool and program that could seamlessly support both remote and in-person intervention, but we also knew we had to more radically evolve our delivery model to make it more accessible to any teacher serving any student, anywhere,” explained Anderson.

Thus, Hill set an ambitious goal to dramatically expand HillRAP’s reach to serve 26,000 students and 2,100 educators annually by 2024-25. To do so, they knew they would have to make significant additional investments in software development and improvements to online professional learning, data and analytics, and strategy, systems, and operations. First and foremost, as schools and districts everywhere expanded their investments in technology, and especially Chromebooks, Hill needed to migrate the HillRAP app from Apple iOS to a web-based platform that would be easy for teachers and students to use on any device.

The Mebane Foundation Supports Expansion

Such an ambitious undertaking carries a hefty price tag, so Anderson turned to supporters like the Mebane Foundation for financial assistance. Recognizing the value of the endeavor, the Foundation, a staunch supporter of Hill Learning Center for almost 20 years, made a $25,000 donation to help fund the development, joining other philanthropic funders who have collectively committed nearly $500,000 to this initiative.  

“In my opinion, Hill Learning Center has been the strongest organizational grantee we’ve supported since the Foundation began in 2003. However, while we have always recognized the extreme value Hill has to offer struggling readers and their families, the lack of access for those who couldn’t afford it has also been a sticking point for us,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “With this investment, we are thrilled to support Hill’s efforts to expand the accessibility of HillRAP for both students and teachers. I believe exciting times are ahead for not just the organization, but for a much larger population of young struggling readers.”   

Photos courtesy of Hill Learning Center
Using her iPad, the HillRAP instructor is able to monitor each student’s progress.

The Time is Now

Hill and the Mebane Foundation have been partnering to help NC children succeed in reading since 2003 when the Foundation made a significant commitment to simultaneously launch two Hill programs in the Davie County school system and at 11 private preschools/daycares around the county. Over the years, the Foundation has made numerous contributions, including a transformative investment in 2015 toward the early development and deployment of the Hill Learning System (HLS), which has evolved into the HillRAP app. These investments, and those of many other donors, districts, and schools, have supported the expansion of HillRAP across NC and beyond – today, HillRAP is in use in 42 NC counties, 15 states, and 5 countries.

Nearly two decades into this work, Anderson sees the current landscape in NC as especially ripe for strategic growth with a web-based HillRAP. She reflects, “First of all, in the face of the pandemic, and despite all the challenges they were facing, we saw administrators and teachers with whom we already had a relationship turning to HillRAP as they developed plans for supporting students after the devastating disruptions of the 2020-21 school year.”

The most significant of these was KIPP North Carolina Public Schools, which had new leadership and was overhauling their approach to developing successful readers. According to Executive Director Tim Saintsing, “We are making a major investment in ensuring that every KIPP NC teacher is a reading teacher informed by the science of reading. When ESSER funds became available, we decided to bolster this effort by making a significant investment to hire and train a dedicated HillRAP interventionist in all 8 of our schools to expand consistent, quality intervention as much as possible to accelerate closing foundational reading gaps that had only been exacerbated by COVID.”

Web-Based HillRAP App Allows for Flexible Learning

Ashe County Literacy Specialist Lindsey Hagel has been happily using HillRAP since being certified in 2016, but it’s taken on even more importance since the pandemic. “I am thankful for HillRAP and the ability to use this program now more than ever. Teachers have done a fantastic job in navigating instruction throughout the pandemic, and being able to use this intensive intervention makes me feel like I am doing my part. I know I am giving my students the best instruction I can to help make up for COVID disruptions in their education. At a time when teachers are feeling especially challenged, overwhelmed, and weary, providing them with the training and tools they need to feel successful is more important than ever.”

KIPP was fortunate to already have iPads at each school that they could use for HillRAP, as were HillRAP teachers in Ashe and Edgecombe counties, thanks to the generosity of donors. Yet they struggle to use HillRAP with students who don’t have iPads at home, something KIPP is wrestling with right now as they shifted to remote learning for a few weeks in the face of the COVID omicron surge.

Hagel noted, “The web-based app is going to be a very valuable tool if our school system has to go to remote learning again. We will be able to continue with our routine and not lose as much instructional time.”

Longtime Edgecombe County Public Schools HillRAP teacher and mentor Lisa Oakley expressed a similar sentiment, “This investment affords the teachers and students an opportunity to use Chromebooks that are issued to each scholar countywide. We are no longer restricted by the limited number of iPads within each school!  Having a web-based version also allows us to move more seamlessly into remote learning when needed.”

Carteret County Public Schools reading specialist Jodi Allen has five iPads that were issued by her school district for the implementation of HillRAP. She pointed out that when these iPads become outdated, there is no guarantee that they will be replaced. “The web-based version of the program will allow students to access the lesson on their school-issued device whether it is an iPad or a Chromebook. It will also save time and keep students safe because multiple students are not sharing the same device, which limits the spread of germs and eliminates the time a teacher needs to sanitize devices between lessons.”

More critically, many NC school districts do not have iPads or support Apple products. Anderson explained that school systems in places like Randolph County and Davidson County have continued to train teachers in HillRAP, using the original paper-based intervention, but are eager to migrate to the web-based app and train even more teachers as soon as possible. Once the web-based app is available, they will be able to make the switch, offering their teachers greater efficiency with the most up-to-date content, data, and resources at their fingertips, while administrators will have greater insight into implementation fidelity and growth of students and the impact of their investment.

HillRAP Partners With Districts to Ensure Reading Success

Beyond those teachers, schools, and districts already using HillRAP, Anderson sees new opportunities for a more accessible HillRAP to play a critical role in the statewide movement towards aligning instruction and teacher knowledge with the science of reading. “The NC legislature and NC DPI are to be lauded for their efforts in amending Read to Achieve last year and seeking to train teachers and establish the foundation for strong core reading instruction that should meet the needs of most elementary students. However, these efforts will not address the instructional needs of students with persistent reading difficulties, including those in older grades with foundational gaps. For those students, more intensive, targeted intervention is required to close deficits, learn to mastery, and develop the reading confidence and success that can be life-changing.”

KIPP’s Saintsing refers to their HillRAP partnership with Hill as “AWESOME” and “IMPORTANT.” He hopes that when the ESSER funding expires in three years, they will have closed many gaps for individual students, reduced the need for intensive intervention across their schools, and built the capacity for long-term sustainability that the web-based app and investments in teacher training and support should help facilitate. “While it’s too early to evaluate success, the teachers and students are engaged and learning and the support from Hill has been phenomenal.”

Anderson sums up what motivates Hill to keep seeking to grow its place in the NC educational ecosystem: “As the state invests millions of dollars in improving teacher knowledge and core reading instruction, we must continue to invest, innovate, and expand HillRAP to help ensure the most marginalized, struggling students in North Carolina schools – large and small; rural and urban; virtual and in-person; district, charter, private, and home – do not fail to reach their potential because they cannot read. Thanks to the investments of the Mebane Foundation and many others, Hill is moving aggressively to release the web-based HillRAP app with enhanced training, resources, data, and supports in July 2022, moving us one giant step closer to our goal of helping thousands more teachers and students who are struggling to experience reading success.”

Edgecombe County Schools Invests in HillRAP to Address Foundational Reading Gaps

By Jeanna Baxter White

Photo Courtesy of Edgecombe County Public Schools 
Coker-Wimberly Elementary hosted a Family Literacy Night where parents got to participate in a HillRAP lesson alongside their children.

Studies show that reading skills are the foundation of all education. Success in school, the workplace, and life is dramatically enhanced for children who can read at or above grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.

Given the projected learning loss experienced by many students due to school closures, remote learning, and inconsistent attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for intensive, gap-closing reading intervention is more urgent than ever.

Edgecombe County Schools Initiate HillRAP Expansion

In response, Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS), in eastern North Carolina, is expanding and strengthening the availability of HillRAP (Hill Reading Achievement Program) for its elementary and middle school students with persistent reading challenges through a three-year scale-up of HillRAP tutoring. ECPS began implementing HillRAP in 2014, targeting 3rd-5th grade students who struggled in their End-of-Grade tests. Based on its success, the program was extended to include students in 1st through 8th grades who would benefit from intensive reading support.

Through this new initiative, six dedicated HillRAP tutors are currently serving 150 students who have significant foundational reading gaps but would not otherwise be able to receive the intervention. ECPS plans to expand this project to nine tutors teaching 180 students next school year and 12 tutors reaching 240 students in 2023-24. These tutors complement the ECPS teachers who are HillRAP-trained and deliver the program in their schools to an estimated 100 additional students as their schedules allow.

Students & Educators Meet Challenges Together

Many of the HillRAP tutors are retired ECPS teachers whom the district has specifically targeted for this initiative. Three of six in year one have previous HillRAP training and experience, including one who is a  Hill-certified Level 2 Mentor. Without this opportunity, these veteran teachers would most likely no longer be serving ECPS students and schools.

Developed by Hill Learning Center in Durham, HillRAP leverages technology and quality professional development to deliver teacher-led, individualized, small group instruction to students with persistent reading difficulties, including those with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning differences. Decades of research have shown that explicit phonics instruction benefits all early readers, but particularly those who struggle to read.

Hill’s instruction philosophy is 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.

Funds are Invested in Student Success

When ECPS reached out about the possibility of leveraging their ESSER (federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding to expand HillRAP to serve more students, Hill Learning Center was immediately on board. “Knowing how overwhelmed teachers and administrators were going to be addressing learning loss and foundational reading gaps while still navigating through a pandemic, we saw the potential impact dedicated HillRAP tutors could have by providing additional high quality, dedicated capacity,” said Beth Anderson, Hill’s executive director. “After years of working together, it is gratifying to see the teacher and tutor leadership that has taken hold – from hosting a Family Literacy Night where parents participated in a HillRAP lesson with their children to active engagement in structured mentoring and peer learning. We are optimistic that by the end of this project, many, many more students will have made meaningful gains in reading”

ESSER and Robert E. and Dorothy Z. Barnhill Family Fund

An initiative of this magnitude required a sizable investment in both philanthropic and federal funds. Hill and ECPS launched the project with $250,000 of the school system’s ESSER funds and $30,000 in previously committed funds from the Robert E. and Dorothy Z. Barnhill Family Fund, which has been supporting the deployment of HillRAP in ECPS since 2014. 

To help the school system secure the final $250,000 needed to fully execute the program, the Barnhill Family Foundation went a step further, issuing an all-or-nothing match challenge of 50% of the remaining revenue gap. 

“As a Foundation, we had read so much about the importance of being able to read by third grade and the doors it opens for kids to thrive, and really wanted to address that situation,” said Erin Brewer, executive director of corporate and community outreach for the Barnhill Contracting Company. “When we were introduced to the Hill Learning Center and saw how well their small-group interventions worked for kids who were struggling to read and desperately needed to get caught up, we wanted to help implement the program in Edgecombe County Public Schools. 

She explained that this latest three-year grant is a result of the ever-increasing need caused by the pandemic. 

“We have been thrilled with the results we’ve seen and advocate for Hill all of the time. We issued this grant challenge because we wanted Hill Learning Center to be on the map with other funders and we wanted other funders to experience what we are doing. We already know that it has started conversations outside of Edgecombe County.” 

The Mebane Foundation

The Mebane Foundation of Mocksville was quick to answer the call, promising $50,000 over the next two years based on the project’s strong alignment with its mission and an enduring friendship between Founder Allen Mebane and Barnhill Family Foundation Founder, Robert E. Barnhill Jr. (Bob). 

“Allen and Bob were leaders in their respective industries and were very good friends for a long time,” explained Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “While Bob is still very active in the world of philanthropy, Allen’s foresight to create The Foundation is allowing his legacy to live on and is enabling him to join forces with his very dear friend even today. I know he’d be proud of Bob for making the initial challenge, as that was Allen’s way of ensuring everybody had “skin in the game”, thus, affording more children the opportunity to succeed in life!”  

The Anonymous Trust also responded to the challenge with a two-year, $100,000 investment.

Photo Courtesy of Hill Learning Center
HillRAP leverages technology and quality professional development to deliver teacher-led, individualized, small group instruction to students with persistent reading difficulties. 

Grant Funds Provide Training, Technology & Materials

The grant funds are being used to hire, train, coach, and support HillRAP tutors; train district and school administrators to recognize and support quality implementation; provide project coordination support within both Hill and ECPS; and purchase iPads, HillRAP app subscriptions, and supplemental materials.

HillRAP tutors and teachers will also participate in 4, 90-minute professional learning community (PLC) sessions during the school year. These sessions, facilitated by a retired ECPS HillRAP teacher who is also a certified Hill Master Mentor, provide an opportunity for HillRAP tutors and teachers to reflect on student data, ask questions, share resources, and build their collective capacity for strong implementation.

The tutors began implementing HillRAP with groups of 4 students, 4-5 days per week in October, after beginning of year testing. These sessions will continue through April, up until the end of year testing in May. The goal is to provide at least 90 HillRAP sessions per group. The success of the initiative will be measured based on both implementation data (# of students, average # and length of HillRAP sessions) and student growth data, using the new, state-mandated mClass DIBELS 8 data.

Zina Pittman, a retired HillRAP master mentor, and current tutor is an ardent proponent of what HillRAP means to both students and teachers. “I received my initial HillRAP training at a point in my career, where after 23 years of teaching I was beginning to feel “burned-out.” I was looking for another “breath of fresh air” and along came Hill.  I can truly say that I was given the spark, the assurance, and the support needed to complete intensive training, to broaden my knowledge of the science of reading, and to discover tools that I didn’t realize I had as a reading teacher.”  

Photo Courtesy of Hill Learning Center
Zina Pittman, Hill master mentor and HillRAP tutor with Edgecombe County Schools, leads students through a HillRAP session. 

Closing Foundational Gaps in Literacy

All of the educators involved with the project are thrilled to be able to provide this powerful intervention to many more of the ECPS students who need it most.  

“As the District’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Coordinator, I was thrilled to learn that we would be expanding and strengthening the implementation of HillRAP,” said Lois Glass, ECPS HillRAP coordinator and  MTSS coordinator. “As I work with schools within the district, they commonly note the need for well-defined, evidence-based, efficient, and effective interventions to help close foundational gaps in literacy.  HillRAP is exactly what we need to help us accomplish this goal. HillRAP is assisting us as we reimagine the future of our scholars.” 

“It is both an honor and a pleasure to serve as a HillRAP teacher in ECPS,” said Stocks Elementary School HillRAP teacher and mentor Lisa Oakley. “This wonderful program provides our scholars with an opportunity to build the foundation needed in order to become more proficient readers. It is so rewarding to watch as my scholars begin to unlock the mystery of reading words. They are working every day to be the BEST readers they can be!”       

Wayne Barlow, a HillRAP tutor at Stocks Elementary School, added, “As a retired educator, I have never used a program that is comparable to HillRAP. As a tutor using this program, teaching a small group at different levels is amazing. Differentiated instruction can be achieved. Students are engaged at all times. The program gives instant data for tracking and monitoring your students. It is a great digital program for intervention that includes all the skills needed for a student to succeed. I recommend HillRAP for anyone working with struggling readers. ‘Learning Does Happen on the Hill.’”   

HillRAP Students Say “Thanks”

However, the most poignant expressions of the ability HillRAP has to change students’ lives come from the students themselves: 

  • “HillRAP helps me with my attitude. Now I don’t get so upset when I don’t know a word, I know I can fix it.” –  Marian S.
  • “HillRAP is fun! I like saying, ‘I can, I will, I am and I did!’ when I do my timed test.” – Zachary J.
  • “HillRAP helps me to learn to spell words.” – QuanZi K.
  • “It helps me to read books with some words that I don’t know. I feel happy when I learn more words.” –      Dakota P.
  • “HillRAP is about having fun and reading at the same time.” – Grayson P.
  • “HillRAPmakes me glad when I say words right that I have said wrong before. It makes my heart happy!” –     Terrance M.

“I can not thank our generous funders enough for the wonderful opportunity at a new lease on life!” exclaimed  Pittman. “None of the success I feel that I am having nor the impact that I hope I am making in the lives of my scholars would be possible without you! Again, thank you for your thoughtfulness and generosity! I hope that you, too, will be “Forever Hill!”

Additional Resources 

Sharing the Love of Reading

By Jeanna Baxter White

Mebane Foundation Welcomes Kerry Blackwelder to HillRAP Tutoring Program

Kerry Blackwelder welcomes her first tutoring students, Amber and Jasper Brown.

“I’m not finished making a difference in the lives of kids,” says Kerry Blackwelder, who retired from Davie County Schools in July, after 29 years of teaching, and is now eager to begin her second career as a Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) tutor for the Mebane Foundation. 

“I am excited to be tutoring to continue to share my love of phonics and literacy with students. I’ve spent the majority of my teaching career teaching literacy and it’s my passion! I love watching my striving students become confident readers.” 

HillRAP is a research-based, individualized approach to teaching the five essential components of reading developed by the Hill Center of Durham. During HillRAP, a specially-trained teacher guides groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has a specialized curriculum to provide individualized instruction where it is needed most. Consequently, teachers and schools must intentionally schedule the time to implement the program, limiting the number of students able to participate.

During the spring of 2019, the Foundation began piloting a unique tutoring program utilizing a retired teacher to provide HillRAP to students who don’t receive the powerful literacy intervention during the school day.

“Our number one goal is to help children succeed in reading,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “Secondly, we are trying to assist the Hill Center by testing a tutoring model that makes the Hill methodology accessible to a lot more families and students. The normal cost is $50 per hour per student which isn’t attainable for many of the families who need the program. By using a retired teacher who is at the top of her game when it comes to Hill, we are piloting and subsidizing a program that provides this valuable methodology for only $40 a week per student for three hours of tutoring. It’s been rewarding that we had available space in our office since early literacy is our mission. This program is a win for the child and a win for the retired teacher who is able to increase their income in retirement.” 

Based on the program’s success, Colbourne decided it was time to add a second tutor to increase the number of students receiving this valuable literacy assistance. Blackwelder, who had been a reading specialist at Cooleemee Elementary School for the past 23 years and is a certified HillRAP instructor and HillRAP mentor, was the perfect fit.  

Twice named the school’s teacher of the year, her energy and creative methods for engaging her students are legendary. It wasn’t unusual to find her standing on the table and animatedly reading or telling a story, anything to maintain her students’ attention. Passionate about her profession, she also taught HillRAP to 3rd graders from all over the county each summer during  Read to Achieve Camp.  

Kerry Blackwelder practices word decoding with (L-R) Gunner Connell, Amber Brown, and Kaylee Spade.

Now she is eager to pour that same heart and enthusiasm into tutoring, especially during this uncertain time in education.  

“I want to help provide additional instruction using HillRAP to maintain crucial literacy skills needed to become a successful reader during this pandemic.”

She believes HillRAP’s systematic approach to phonics is valuable for ALL students and listed some of its beneficial attributes: 

  • It’s grounded in the Science of Reading and the core components of literacy instruction.
  • Students learn units of sound, sound patterns, syllable rules, and how to apply this knowledge to decode words.
  •  It includes individualized drill questions, phonological awareness skills, word lists, and decodable texts.
  •  It provides ongoing formative assessments and immediate feedback that enable a teacher and student to track progress on a daily basis.

Amy Spade is thrilled that her daughter Kaylee has this opportunity to receive HillRAP tutoring. A reading specialist with HillRAP certification herself, she understands well the difference the program can make in a child’ life, but knows that children often listen better to a teacher who is not also their parent. 

“We are beyond grateful to have the opportunity to have the additional support for Kaylee with Mrs. Blackwelder through the Mebane Foundation,” said Spade. 

“We are extremely thankful to have our children in the school building two days a week and virtual instruction for the other three days.  However, we knew Kaylee would need additional support in the foundational skills of reading,” she explained.  

Jasper Brown practices reading the story silently before reading it out loud to Kerry Blackwelder.

“As soon as I saw Mrs. Blackwelder’s post that she would be providing tutoring utilizing the HillRAP program I emailed her to request a spot for Kaylee. Knowing that Kerry not only has a wealth of understanding about how students learn to read but also has a passion and excitement for reading, that is exactly what Kaylee needs to continue to grow as a reader and have an excitement for reading, we knew we wanted to secure a spot with her as soon as possible.”  

“Kaylee loves going to “reading practice” three times a week and we are already seeing a positive difference in her confidence,” Spade said. 

Blackwelder hopes that many more families will recognize the value of HillRAP for their children and will take advantage of this opportunity the Mebane Foundation is offering.  

“If you are interested in providing your child with a multisensory, individualized plan that focuses on the Science of Reading, please contact me,  I would LOVE to share my love of literacy and HillRAP with your child!”

Blackwelder is seeking students for HillRAP groups that will meet on Tuesdays through Thursdays. She has slots available from 3 – 3:50 p.m., 4 – 4:50 p.m., 5 – 5:50 p.m., and 6 – 6:50 p.m. She can be contacted at kerryblackwelder@gmail.com. 

Luwonna Oakes, the program’s initial tutor, is also accepting students. She has openings in her 2 p.m and 3 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday groups. 

She is starting a new group on Wednesday/Thursday (2 days a week) 11-12 to tutor Hill RAP students in 3rd grade needing extra reading support on days they aren’t in public school. She will need four students to sign-up in order for this group to begin. 

She will have additional spaces available in January and encourages anyone who would like to be put on the waiting list to contact her. She can be reached at Luwonnaoakes@gmail.com. 

For a more detailed story on the HillRAP program, please visit HillRAP: Direct, individualized literacy instruction to help struggling students succeed.

Different But Not Different

During the spring of 2019, the Mebane Foundation began piloting a unique tutoring program that utilizes a retired teacher to provide the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) to students who don’t receive the powerful literacy intervention during the school day.

Luwonna Oakes, Davie HillRAP teacher; Honor Draughn, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Petra Murphy, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Amelia Battle, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Brynlee Logan, a third-grade student at Pinebrook Elementary School

“Our number one goal is to help children succeed in reading,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “Secondly, we are trying to assist the Hill Center by testing a tutoring model that makes the Hill methodology accessible to a lot more families and students.” 

Note: This article by Mike Barnhardt was originally published in the Davie County Enterprise-Record and is republished here with permission.

We’re all different, but not different.

Even as a fourth-grader at Mocksville Elementary, Honor Draughn knows that. And she knows that the message would be great for her peers.

Luwonna Oakes, a tutor at the Mebane Foundation in Mocksville, helped children last spring to write, edit and publish their own books.

“All of the students did a superb job on their books and they were each special,” she said. “I had them decide on a targeted audience they were writing for – their author’s purpose.

A Message With An Impact

Honor Draughn wrote an endearing book about showing kindness to those who are ‘Different, but not Different,’ the title of her book.”

She donated a book to each elementary school guidance counselor in Davie County. And according to at least one of those counselors, the book is working.

“Honor is a young child making a difference in Davie Schools, impacting peers with a book on such a needed topic is so special,” Oakes said.

The book, Honor said, is dedicated to everybody who may feel different.

“Do you know some people are different, but not different? Some people do not get it, but it’s true. People think that some children are different, but inside they are not so different.

Honor Draughn author of Different but not Different a book making a difference for students in Davie County schools

“Take the time to get to know them,” she wrote. “Some people that seem different have been through a lot. Difficult things have happened to some children and other people make fun of them and judge them from the outside because of the way they act.”

The children, she wrote, may have lost a parent. Some parents who make bad choices have children who are confused, upset or angry.

Don’t Judge

“Some people do not give these children a chance to prove what is on the inside, behind the way they act.”

Some of the children may be less fortunate. She urges her peers not to brag about expensive toys or lavish vacations. “I do not want to make them feel like they don’t get to do fun things in life.

“If you see someone that is being judged or if you are being judged, remember, I am unique for who I am. This makes me who I am. You do not have to change to fit in. I want you to remember this, you are you, you are who you are, and do not let anybody stand in your way of you being you.”

She urges her peers to be kind to one another, “even if someone is mean to you.”

Tell an Adult

If hit or kicked, tell an adult. “This is not being a tattletale, but dealing with a problem in the right way.

“Be a good friend. Do not judge people by the way they act. You can be a good influence and be there for others.”

Helping Others Helps Us Too

Helping a child with a problem can help you and the child, she said.

“We all are different. No one is perfect,” she wrote, encouraging peers to look for ways people are like you, not different.

“I want you to remember this. Everybody is different. We all are really different and that’s what makes us unique. It makes me be me and you be you.”

Giving the Gift of Reading through HillRAP

Moving counter-clockwise: Luwonna Oakes, Davie HillRAP teacher; Honor Draughn, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Petra Murphy, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Amelia Battle, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Brynlee Logan, a third-grade student at Pinebrook Elementary School

By Jeanna Baxter White
It’s 3:15 in the afternoon. While most of their friends are finished with school for the day, four third-grade girls are bursting through the door of the Mebane Foundation office in downtown Mocksville to take advantage of an amazing opportunity to boost their literacy skills.

The Mebane Foundation is piloting a unique program that utilizes a retired teacher to provide the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) to students who don’t receive the powerful literacy intervention during the school day.

HillRAP is a research-based multisensory structured language approach to teaching reading developed by the Hill Center of Durham. During HillRAP, a specially-trained teacher guides groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has a specialized curriculum to provide individualized instruction where it is needed most.

Because HillRAP is so individualized and requires direct instruction, the program cannot be used for a whole group. Teachers and schools must intentionally schedule the time to implement the program, limiting the number of students able to participate.

Amelia Battle, Mocksville Elementary School student practices reading fluency using HillRAP software on an iPad

“Our number one goal is to help children succeed in reading,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “Secondly, we are trying to assist the Hill Center by testing a tutoring model that makes the Hill methodology accessible to a lot more families and students. The normal cost is $50 per hour per student which isn’t attainable for many of the families who need the program. By using a retired teacher who is at the top of her game when it comes to Hill, we are piloting and subsidizing a program that provides this valuable methodology for only $25 a week per student for three hours of tutoring. It’s been rewarding that we had available space in our office since early literacy is our mission. This program is a win for the child and a win for the retired teacher who is able to increase their income in retirement. We’d love to replicate the program with more retired teachers trained in HillRAP and help more students.”

“Although we are starting small because we don’t know where this will lead, my hope is that the program becomes so attractive to families and teachers that we have difficulty handling the volume,” he said, adding that he hopes to expand the program this summer to help prevent summer reading loss.

HillRAP small group tutoring sessions allow individualized training as students practice skills that are assigned based on each student’s needs

Colbourne selected Luwonna Oakes to serve as the first tutor. She retired from Davie County schools last spring after 21 years as William R. Davie Elementary School’s reading specialist. Coincidentally, she has been involved with the Mebane Foundation’s work since 2002 when she was selected for a committee to explore K-3 best practices in Davie County Schools. She was among the first to receive Hill Center level one certification and level two mentor training through funding from the Foundation and participated in the pilot program to evaluate the digital version of the HillRAP methodology which was released in 2016.

“I’m thankful that Larry reached out to me because I knew I would need to work part-time when I retired and this is the perfect opportunity,” Oakes said. “I’m also grateful to have been involved with the Mebane Foundation since 2002 when Mr. Mebane was still alive and beginning his involvement in Davie County.” She still proudly displays the plaque she received for being one of those early Mebane Scholars. “The funding he has provided to Davie County schools not only allowed me to have HillRAP training but to go back to the Hill Center for continued professional development.”

Whisper phones allow students to quietly read or practice words so that they can hear themselves but others are not disturbed. Reading out loud helps them to correct their own errors as they hear what they are saying

Oakes was tasked with selecting the first group of four as quickly as possible. She found the first, Brynlee Logan from Pinebrook Elementary, after a chance discussion with her mother at a social gathering. She then turned to Suzie Hecht, reading teacher at Mocksville Elementary, the closest school to the Mebane Foundation office, for help identifying three additional students to finish out the group.

“We started with third-graders because of the pressure on them to meet the North Carolina standards and to pass their first EOGs. It puts a lot of stress on the students and their parents,” Oakes said.”We hope to expand the program to include first and second graders this summer.”

“We wanted to find children who needed additional support in literacy and who would benefit from this specific methodology but weren’t already receiving it at school. Using data from school assessments, the reading teachers identified students who needed a little extra help developing reading fluency (reading rate and expression) and accuracy.”

Hecht sent out 10 letters and the first to respond, Amelia Battle, Honor Draughn, and Petra Murphy were selected to participate.  “Our invited students were very close to meeting goals in various reading assessments, indicating they might show proficiency in third grade by the end of the year. However, they were not there yet,” said Hecht. “These students needed an extra intervention to specifically target their needs. Hill RAP was a great fit – I knew they would be in very capable hands with Luwonna. We were so excited to be on the ground floor of this new initiative. We are very appreciative of all the Mebane Foundation has done to impact literacy in Davie County.”

Family members are thrilled with the generous opportunity the girls are receiving.

“There are students who are doing well but could be doing so much better if they had just a little bit more help,” said Lana Weaver, Amelia’s grandmother, who as a teacher for 42 years quickly recognized the value of this program. “Amelia loves to read and is excited about coming.”

Barbara Everhart, Brynlee’s grandmother, and a former teacher said she was “overjoyed because this is something that will make her feel better about her reading ability.”

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Aubrey Draughn, Honor’s mother. “I hope it will give her more confidence in her reading, writing, comprehension, and fluency, and she is excited about it.”

Oakes knows well the value HillRAP can bring to a child’s life. Her first HillRAP students are now seniors in high school and doing well.

“I want all children to have a joy for reading and a love for learning,” she said. “I want to support them crossing the bridge to reading efficiency and experience the fun of reading, where they can visualize, enjoy, and escape through a book. They may never personally visit Africa or the Outback of Australia, but they can go there in a book. It’s the next best thing to being there.”

For a more detailed story on the HillRAP program, please visit HillRAP: Direct, individualized literacy instruction to help struggling students succeed.

A Day in the Life of a Read to Achiever

By Jeanna Baxter White
“Some kids are art smart, or music smart, or book smart, and we don’t get to explore enough of that during a traditional school day,” says Kerry Blackwelder, a veteran Read to Achieve third-grade HillRAP instructor. “I get excited for the kids who are coming to camp because this environment helps build their confidence so much and they blossom! They discover how smart they are and what they can accomplish.”

Read to Achieve Camp is designed to help third-graders meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The intensive four-week camp also includes first and second- graders who demonstrated the potential for reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer.

Davie County’s camp is based on the A+Schools of North Carolina Program which combines interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction to offer children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know.  

This is the fifth year the camp, partially funded by the Mebane Foundation, has employed this holistic approach to reading. The camp’s attendees actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Each week has a different theme with most activities revolving around that topic reinforcing student understanding.

Eager to personally observe the transformation that I have been hearing and writing about for the past three years, as well as curious about the use of the arts to enhance literacy, I spent a day shadowing students from Lori Culler’s third-grade class and participating in their activities.

What a difference eleven days made! Students who were nervous and reluctant to be there when I spoke to them on the first day of camp were now fully engaged and begged to stay a little longer before going home! After enjoying a day of camp, I understood why.

8 a.m.- 8:20 a.m.– Gym
Third-graders begin in the gym with 20 minutes of stretching and exercise which gets the blood moving and the creative juices flowing, according to Camp Director, Jeremy Brooks. “This morning tradition also helps to create a sense of community as we actually become a little family for the summer.”

After completing several child-oriented exercise and music videos that were enough to get the heart pumping and the stomach growling, students went to the cafeteria to pick up breakfast to carry back to homeroom.

8:25 a.m.- 8:50 a.m. — Homeroom
While students ate, Culler read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,(link youtube read aloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl_-0nlfNHA) a fun fantasy about the town of Chewandswallow where food falls from the sky three times a day; for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The story tied into the week’s theme of weather as did yesterday’s story, Thunder Cake,(https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=thunder+cake+read+aloud) in which a grandmother helps her granddaughter get over her fear of thunder by making a cake together. Students excitedly informed me that they would be making thunder cake the following day. (Yes, I was invited, and yes, it was delicious. Thanks, Mrs. Culler, Mrs. Alonso, and students!)

The story was followed by the morning meeting in which students greeted each other through a series of rotations that included a “good morning,” along with a handshake, curtsy or bow, high five, or fist bump.

“We have students from all of the elementary schools in our group of 15,” said Culler. “We wanted to build a feeling of community and belonging.  Students who came in on the first day of camp not knowing anyone suddenly have 14 new friends.”

Homeroom ended with videos about hurricanes and a discussion about tropical storm Chris which had just been upgraded to a hurricane.

8:55 a.m. – 9:40 a.m. — Hill
Arnulfo, Joshua, Sophia and I headed to a Hill Center reading session with Suzie Alonso who has been teaching HillRAP in the classroom for three years and at RtA Camp for the past three summers.

Through HillRAP, specially trained teachers guide 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. Using an iPad, students complete a series of literacy-focused activities. Alonso’s iPad links to each student’s iPad so that she can check their answers as well as go around the table and work with students individually.

“The program helps students understand and practice phonics through learning the syllable types, decoding words, and practicing reading fluency,” Alonso said. “The students then use the words that they have decoded in context by reading passages and answering questions. HillRap is a valuable program in that it meets each child at their level of reading. The program also has the students work towards a goal and work against themselves.”

9:45 a.m – 10:30 a.m. — Art
We headed to Art for more weather-related activities with Amanda Juhasz, Esther LaRoque, and Mindy Ledbetter. Yesterday students drew a picture of a person standing under an umbrella. Today students went outside to splatter paint rain onto their pictures. For the second activity, Juhasz read a weather-related poem entitled Today We Had Some Weather. Students created three-column booklets in which they illustrated three idioms from the poem, “It was raining cats and dogs” was a group favorite.

When viewing artwork, students must learn to look closely in order to comprehend different aspects of the work,” said Juhasz. “In learning to look closely (visual literacy), they also learn how important it is to “look” more closely when reading text. Skills learned when viewing artwork help students with comprehension and support ELA standards.”

“The theme for third grade this particular week was the weather. Students drew rainy-day portraits of people holding umbrellas. Earlier in the week, they watched a video about Jackson Pollock and his interesting splatter painting technique. Students looked closely at some of Pollock’s artwork and then used his technique to splatter paint rain in their pictures.”

“In the art room, the weather poem that was introduced in their homeroom was used to point out idioms,” she added. “Idioms are difficult for some students to understand, but when we illustrate them, the literal meaning becomes clear, and students were encouraged to share with each other the literal meaning in order to decipher the figurative meaning of each.”

When given time to discuss either works of art or their idioms, teachers used guiding questions that led to a deeper understanding of ELA and Art concepts.

10:35 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. — Reading
Culler reviewed the elements of poetry that she had already introduced including rhythm, repetition, alliteration, rhyme, and onomatopoeia. Today she added personification and reinforced the definition of idioms, everyday phrases that don’t make sense, but we know what they mean. Students practiced reading the weather poem from art class using little shakers to help maintain the proper rhythm.

“Reciting poetry with a musical instrument helps to build a reader’s fluency,” said Culler. “Fluent readers are able to focus on the meaning of the text because they are not having to spend time decoding words.”

Students then glued the stanzas of the poem onto the pages of a popsicle book (a small paper booklet with a large popsicle stick as the spine) and illustrated them. According to Culler, this offered students who are art smart a chance to show their understanding of the poem as well as gave students something to take home to show to parents and siblings.

11:25 a.m. – 11:35 — Homeroom
Students are getting tired by this time, so Culler uses short, fun but educational activities to keep them moving. We sang My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and stood or sat whenever we heard the “b” sound.  We also answered the question, “If you could make one rule that the world has to follow, what would be your rule?”  Then it was time for a bathroom break before recess.

11:35 a.m. – 12:05 — Recess
YMCA counselors Olivia Bowman and Jay Davis took the students to the Rich Park playground to work off some of their abundant energy.

“Our partnership with the YMCA allows teachers to have a planning time each day,” said Brooks. “Our entire third-grade team eats lunch together. This working lunch has sparked many great ideas and has been the origin of many of our camp’s traditions.”

12:10 p.m. – 12:35 p.m — Lunch
After working up a thirst and an appetite, students visited together while eating lunch also supervised by Bowman and Davis.

12:35 p.m. – 1:05 p.m. – Computer Lab
Under the supervision of Rachel Morse, students used i-Ready software to practice for next week’s end-of-camp assessment. Students completed exercises that helped them read to understand, read to analyze, and read to write. The i-Ready software package delivers student instruction, performance diagnostics and progress reports based on K-12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Mathematics and Reading. Students took the i-Ready Diagnostic Test and receive differentiated online instruction according to their ability, while camp instructors receive customized reports on student performance and progress throughout camp. The state accepts the i-Ready Assessment as an alternative to the standard end of grade (EOG) test.

“The i-Ready program helps students by giving them a fun way to learn reading skills,” said Morse. “It’s engaging and provides rewards for their hard work. I love that they can have fun and learn at the same time.”

1:10 p.m. – 1:55 p.m. – Music
Rhythm ruled the day in music class. After a discussion of fiction vs. non-fiction, Michael Errickson guided students through reading the words of a song using the proper rhythmic phrasing. Students clapped their hands, tapped their legs, and used musical instruments to reinforce the rhythm. He then divided them into groups with different parts. The lesson culminated with each group doing their part simultaneously.

“The science behind multiple intelligences and their use as teaching tools has grown in acceptance and practice in the classrooms across the globe,” said Errickson. “Music has shown great potential to aid students in the acquisition of skills and concepts in a ‘whole brain’ learning style and has facilitated the expansion of knowledge not only of music’s own content but also that of other academic areas.”

“In this lesson, rhythm was used to reinforce the elements of fiction/non-fiction stories in a fun and engaging way,” he added. “Developing rhythmic accuracy increases the likelihood of success with phonemic awareness and potentially with accuracy and fluency. It also affords students with an opportunity to express themselves and demonstrate their understanding of concepts with or without using language itself.”

2:00 p.m. – 2:40 p.m. – Homeroom
Part of homeroom involved the completion and a review of the day’s events. Culler reviewed the weather poem, and students recited it with shakers again as a whole class.

Students finished the illustrations in their popsicle books while Culler read a Patricia Polacco book entitled Something About Hensley’s.

“I put a lot of focus on Polacco’s books during this week because she was a struggling reader in grade school and had to work hard to overcome that obstacle and now she is a children’s writer!” said Culler. “I want my students to see that being a struggling reader does not prevent you from being successful in life.”

Some students chose to share their drawings with their classmates during the daily “informance,” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals). At 2:35 it was time to line up to go.

At the end of the day, it was easy to see why the camp is such a success.  Passionate, dedicated teachers + a dynamic multi-faceted curriculum = thriving, confident students ready to take on the challenges that a new school year will bring.

Hill RAP and A+ Training for Read to Achieve – Preparing Davie Educators to Help Students Discover their Strengths and Improve Literacy Skills!

By Jeanna B. White

The teachers became the students as 28 Davie County educators explored using the arts to teach reading, a skill that is fundamental for success in school as well as in life.

This A+ Schools training was in preparation for Davie’s summer Read to Achieve Camp which is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The camp also includes first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer. This intensive four-week camp began on Monday, June 25th.

The A+Schools of North Carolina Program combines interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know.

Read to Achieve Camp – an Awesome Experience!
This is the fifth year Davie County’s highly successful Read to Achieve Camp, partially funded by the Mebane Foundation, will employ this holistic approach to reading. The camp’s attendees will actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center reading sessions and small group literacy circles.

Children learn by example, so the camp’s teachers participated in seminars on storytelling using visual arts, creative movement, and songwriting, all in preparation to use the arts to promote growth in the children’s reading and comprehension ability.

Specific activities completed by the teachers included acting out the story of Henny Penny, the chicken who thought the sky was falling; analyzing a Norman Rockwell picture and explaining what was happening in the picture; and creating a personal Van Gogh of themselves. Teachers also compared and contrasted different versions of The Three Little Pigs using map concepts and performed impromptu skits associated with “Race Across North Carolina,” the theme for 3rd graders attending the camp.

“Our Read to Achieve camp is based on the A+ philosophy, so it is good for the staff, particularly the new teachers, to understand what that means and where it came from,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “Every year the training is different, so no matter how many times you have attended, there is always something new that can be taken from it.”

Christy Cornatzer, who serves as the Read to Achieve Camp’s curriculum coordinator added to that sentiment, saying, “It was eye-opening, particularly for the new teachers coming into camp who have never had A+ training in the past. It was exciting to see them experience A+ strategies for the first time and to see veterans from the camp brainstorm with them and plan with them to incorporate new ideas.”

“The beauty of the way A+ training is set up is that you have a breakout session with your grade level and then a little bit of time to come back together with the people you will be working with to talk about how what you’ve just learned will apply to what you are teaching while it is fresh in your mind. I was able to give the A+ trainers the themes we would be using in camp and the main texts we would be using so that they were also able to tie in some of the books our campers will be reading and some of the read-aloud stories that we would be using. Now that we’ve built this relationship with A+ they were  able to make the training individualized for our camp.”

“Personally, I enjoyed the way the trainers showed us how to use movement to get students using all of the parts of their bodies to retell a story and how that can help them with comprehension. I think it’s powerful to have students up out of their desks and using alternative ways to be able to make those connections with a story. So often we have to say ‘read a story and number the paragraphs and you’ll find the answer,’ but some students don’t. They need something extra to help them connect the dots. It was exciting to see a powerful way to do that.”

I thought it was interesting to learn how we can go back into our classrooms and use the A+ training and how integrating the different components works,” said Teresa Carter who is new to the camp this year and will be teaching 3rd-grade HillRAP. “It’s not just knowing that you can use art, it’s knowing that you have to use what they have already learned through the arts to bring out the comprehension.”

Kerry Blackwelder, who has been teaching at Davie’s Read to Achieve Camp since the first year and will be teaching 3rd-grade HillRAP said, “The success of camp is watching these kids be successful in music and art and watching them blossom. The kids don’t realize that you sing in art, you read in art, and you comprehend in art. You sing and do phrasing, and they don’t realize they are actually reading. They come back to us with so much more confidence.”

“We could see more from our kids if we could do more of this in the regular school setting,” she added.

“If we weren’t so pressured for time,” chimed in Carter.

“Some kids are art smart, or music smart, or book smart, and we don’t get to explore enough of that during a traditional school day,” Blackwelder said. “During camp, we get to see it all come together, and kids really come out of their shells.”

“I get excited for the kids who are coming because this environment helps build their confidence so much and they blossom! They discover how smart they are and what they can accomplish.”

Leigh Anne Davis, literacy teacher, added, “There is just an excitement here, like a new school year with new kids and a new curriculum, and it’s just the teaching, no paperwork.This is why I got into teaching, to work with the kids and to see the growth they can make. Here they are free to take chances and to say things they probably wouldn’t say in a larger setting. Their confidence grows, and we are able to make learning fun.”

The Davie County educators who will be teaching at this year’s Read to Achieve camp include:

  • Jeremy Brooks – Camp Director (North Davie)
  • Christy Cornatzer – Curriculum Coordinator (Cornatzer)
  • Suzie Alonso – Hill Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Kerry Blackwelder – Hill Teacher (Cooleemee)
  • Kim Brooks – Literacy Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Debbie Brown – Teacher Assistant (Mocksville)
  • Mary Lynn Bullins – Literacy Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Teresa Carter – Hill Teacher (Cooleemee)
  • Amy Chappell – Art Teacher (Mocksville/Cornatzer)
  • Kilby Church – Literacy Teacher (Pinebrook)
  • Molly Connell – Literacy Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Lori Culler – Literacy Teacher (South Davie)
  • Leigh Anne Davis – Literacy Teacher (Pinebrook)
  • Shannon Eggleston – Literacy Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Michael Errickson – Music Teacher (Cornatzer)
  • Angelina Etter – Hill Teacher (Mocksville)
  • LaToyia Grant – Hill Teacher (Cooleemee)
  • Suzie Hecht – Hill Teacher (Mocksville)
  • Amanda Juhasz – Art Teacher (WRD/Shady Grove)
  • Jennie Kimel – Literacy Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Esther LaRoque – Art Assistant (Central Davie)
  • Mindy Ledbetter – Art Teacher (Davie High)
  • Rachel Morse – Teacher Assistant (Cornatzer)
  • Brenda Mosko – Music Teacher (South Davie/William Ellis)
  • Erin Penley – Music Teacher (Pinebrook)
  • Alma Rosas – Hill Teacher (William R. Davie)
  • Amy Spade – Literacy Teacher (County)
  • Katy Wogatzke – Behavior Support Assistant (Cornatzer)

HillRap and A+ Training Strengthen Individualized Reading Instruction at Read to Achieve Summer Camp

RTA Reading 450

by Jeanna B. White

During Davie County’s intensive four-week Read to Achieve summer camp, each camper experiences 128 hours of instruction with over 28 hours spent in individualized learning sessions with only three to four students in the group.

Tailored instruction through Hill Center HillRap reading sessions, as well as small group literacy circles and reading groups are essential aspects of the camp’s holistic approach to reading. Campers also actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music, and creative writing.

“HillRAP is a research-based multisensory structured language approach to teaching reading and when you combine that with A+ Schools training, it provides the students with a well-rounded approach to literacy,” said Kerry Blackwelder, who has taught HillRap to third graders at the camp for the past four summers and has taught the Hill Methodology to students at Cooleemee Elementary for the past 13 years.

“Instruction is individualized to meet the needs of all of the students and this allows us to make the most of our sixteen days at camp. We are able to work with each student in the area of phonics they need. The exciting thing about HillRAP the past two summers is that we have been able to use the Hill Learning System and implement HillRAP on the iPad. This keeps the students engaged from the beginning of the 45 minute session until the end. They are excited about mastering their word lists, reaching their fluency goals, and answering comprehension questions on the iPad.”

“I have a passion for this program because I have seen students improve their literacy skills and become confident readers,” Blackwelder said.

Using this Hill Learning System (HLS), seven specially-trained teachers guide these small groups through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Progress is continually monitored as students work toward mastery of skills.

Students are also assigned to a reading group of 4-8 students led by a reading coach. These groups provide extra practice and expand upon the skills learned during HillRap sessions.

Each day focuses on a different genre of reading: fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. The main focus for each genre is understanding the text and being able to retell the story in the proper sequence.

“All of our reading activities incorporate A+ Schools strategies using dance, visual art, or music,” said Lori Culler, a third grade reading coach. “This promotes high engagement from the students. The Read to Achieve Camp provides opportunities for third grade students to shine and succeed in an area where they have often struggled.”