Published on December 3, 2014 by William Nunnelley  
A $20,000 grant from the Charles Talbot Campbell Foundation will help fund a 2015 summer reading program at Samford University that will serve at-risk students in grades 5-through-7. The program, moving to its fourth year, is a collaborative partnership between Samford, the Jefferson County School District and the Jefferson, Blount, St. Clair (JBS) Department of Mental Health.

The program has served more than 75 students from Jefferson and Birmingham City School districts over the past three summers. Teachers nominate students for the program, which is called Pathway to Graduation (PTG). It is directed by Mandy Hilsmier, associate professor of education at Samford; Susan Wirt, special education director for Jefferson County Schools; and Becky Milstead, a licensed professional counselor with the JBS Department of Mental Health and a Samford graduate.

"Testing indicated that 72 percent of the students evidenced growth in sight word reading during the summers of 2012 and 2013, and that 84 percent grew in reading fluency and comprehension," said Dr. Hilsmier. "Anecdotal reports from parents and teachers indicated improved reading motivation and behavioral performance."

Post-test results for the summer of 2014 still are being analyzed, she said.

The summer 2015 program will bring 40 at-risk students to campus for six weeks of age-appropriate reading instruction, said Hilsmier. Ten Samford undergraduate/graduate students will be hired to work in small groups of three or four students each to impact learning.

"Studies indicate that, as students move to the upper elementary and middle school grades, the distance between struggling readers and successful readers widens," said Hilsmier. "Most experts agree that the last opportunity to impact struggling readers is at this point."

For the past three years the program has been partially funded by grants from the Greater Birmingham Foundation, Independent Presbyterian Church, Junior League of Birmingham and Samford. The remainder of funding has come from Jefferson County and Samford's Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education.

In addition to Hilsmier, Wirt and Milstead, the PTG Leadership Team includes Mary Beth Malone and Deanna Newman, special education supervisors; and Dianne McTamney, Jefferson County Reading Specialist.
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.