Hill Early Literacy Program (HELP)

As a result of Allen Mebane’s vision to have all students in Davie County reading by age 8, the Mebane Foundation and The Hill Center began a four-year $750,000 partnership in 2003 to develop and implement a comprehensive early literacy and reading program for Davie County Schools, located in Mocksville North Carolina.

Research indicates that children must learn specific skills and abilities during critical developmental years, ages 3 to 5, to allow them to become successful future readers. More specifically, children must develop critical phonological awareness skills, awareness of letter/sound relationships, print awareness, and vocabulary skills.


Committed to helping young children master these skills, the Mebane Foundation funded the Hill Center in Durham, NC, to develop a research-based, best-practices early-literacy program for childcare teachers serving 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in pre-school.

The Hill Center experts spent approximately 2 years developing the Hill Early Literacy Program (HELP). This comprehensive curriculum involves 36 weekly scripted lessons for 3-year-olds developed the first year and 36 weekly scripted lessons for 4-year-olds developed the second year. Each lesson includes the basic emergent literacy building blocks of oral language, phonological awareness, and alphabet principles.

The Hill Early Literacy Program (HELP) was launched in 2005. It provided 60 childcare teachers from 11 childcare centers in Davie County initial training in innovative methodologies that had already been tested and proven by Hill Center professionals. Hill Center master teachers then made regular follow-up visits to the Davie County childcare centers for additional training, guidance and support. We were all very pleased with early results, and our enthusiasm was underscored by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in 2007 (RTI Report) when the perceived effectiveness of the new methods was thoroughly documented.

Overall, the study found that:

  • Preschool teachers who participated in the HELP preschool teacher training significantly increased their knowledge of how to teach children early literacy skills.
  • Preschool students whose teachers participated in the HELP training “significantly increased their skills” in 1) phonological awareness, 2) print knowledge, 3) definitional vocabulary and 4) receptive vocabulary. Many of these preschool students “increased their skills in print knowledge faster than what was expected of average children their age.”