HMH Honors 16 Students Who Overcame Challenges to Grow as Learners

At HMH, we often celebrate student learning moments—those moments where, through perseverance and a growth mindset, a student grasps a concept that was initially a challenge. With that, we're announcing the 16 student recipients of this year's 180 Awards, all of whom overcame obstacles and exhibited dramatic improvement in their reading and math skills through our blended learning intervention programs: READ 180MATH 180, and System 44. 

The student winners, who are in Grades 4 through 12 and were nominated by their teachers, have triumphed over personal and academic challenges to perform at or near their grade level. In the process, they have built self-confidence that will be integral as they pursue their goals in the future.

A committee of passionate HMH math and literacy experts evaluated the nominated students on factors including teacher recommendations, statements from the students themselves, and video submissions, along with data demonstrating strong reading or math growth according to the Lexile® or Quantile® framework. (The winners' scores increased by an average of 1,749%!) Each winner will receive a prize, and the student's school district will receive HMH educational materials! 

We are pleased to announce this year's winners below.

READ 180 Stage A

Abubaker Faisal, Grade 5

Yuba City Unified School District, Yuba City, California

“I always saw his gifts and knew they would eventually surface, and I have watched this young man blossom into a role model and a leader in the classroom,” said Abubaker’s READ 180 teacher, Aimee Rivas. “Abubaker’s writing and grammar have become stronger, and he always volunteers to present his papers to the class.” 

Ten-year-old Abubaker Faisal came to the United States from Kabul in June 2014, and his primary language was Farsi. As an ESL student, it was difficult for Abubaker to have conversations with his peers, friends, and teachers, and he struggled with the concept of “being a student.”

When Abubaker began the READ 180 program in fourth grade, he had an 86 Lexile score. Fast forward to fifth grade, and he has achieved a Lexile growth of 641 points. He’s already read 25 books independently this year!

“He has a true passion to learn now. He is confident, and his active participation skills are evident in every lesson,” Rivas said.    

“I realize with hard work, I can read more challenging text, and now reading is easier for me,” Abubaker said. His teacher points out that his new confidence as a student has enabled him to better interact with his peers, even becoming a math tutor for his classmates. 

Abubaker has big ambitions for his future, including graduating from college with a degree in engineering. “I either want to be a professional soccer player or an engineer,” he said. “I understand that both require me to read, write, and work hard. I would love to build houses and roads.”

***

Desiree Vega, Grade 4

Murrieta Valley Unified School District, Murrieta, California

When Desiree immigrated to the United States in October 2017, she couldn’t speak English, was very shy, and had a Lexile score of BR0, said her teacher, Barbara Rosales. 

“She was in a new country, with students that she didn’t know, and unable to speak the language of her peers,” her teacher said.

With the support of READ 180, Desiree has made tremendous growth. In just a year and a half, she went from speaking no English at all to a Lexile score of 755 Proficient and consistently averages 81 percent or higher in all learning zones in the READ 180 software.

Barbara notes that Desiree is now “confident in her ability to work through tough situations,” and she “stands out as a dedicated young lady that has overcome obstacles to persistently work toward high achievement.” She’s even become a role model to fellow EL and non-EL students. 

READ 180  has helped me change my mindset toward reading,” Desiree said. “Thanks to READ 180, I can do more things than before, like understand English and speak and write in a better way. Now I can help others instead of them helping me.”

Desiree has expressed that she would like to work toward becoming a better reader so that she can attend college. “I want to get a scholarship and get into a good college that will help me succeed in the career that I want, earn a good salary, and have a great life,” she said.

***

Stevie Christofic, Grade 4

Yuba City Unified School District, Yuba City, California

Despite initially approaching reading with anxiety, Stevie has made tremendous strides in both her confidence and reading skills since using the READ 180 program. With a Lexile score of 391 (and growing), Stevie asks her teacher Sandra Ortega if she can take her independent reading book home every day and is “extremely motivated and proud of her own efforts,” her teacher said.

Before she became excited about reading, Stevie struggled with low self-esteem and anxiety toward reading and test-taking. At the beginning of fourth grade, Stevie was at a BR Lexile level, and she “would even hide her books that showed her reading level,” Sandra said.

“I felt like a failure,” Stevie said. “I felt embarrassed, and I didn’t want to be made fun of or be laughed at. Then I was placed into READ 180.”

Today, Stevie is a new student who is proud—not embarrassed—to show her friends her accomplishments. She utilizes every opportunity to come into class to read or discuss her future goals with her teachers, and she approaches tests with confidence, understanding that these assessments are positive tools to see where she needs to grow. 

Stevie has improved her reading skills and is now at the beginning of third-grade level—and she’s not stopping there. After her last Lexile test, Stevie said, "I'm going to get a 500 Lexile, or maybe even 1,000 on the next test! I know I can do it!"

Stevie’s experience with reading and the READ 180 program have helped her shape her future goals. “I would like to become a third grade teacher so I can help kids with reading like I had been helped,” she said.

READ 180 Stage B

Kollin McCullough, Grade 7

Rochester City School District, Rochester, New York

For middle schooler Kollin McCullough, READ 180 was his key to gaining confidence and interest in reading again. “At first, I was hiding when it came time to read,” Kollin said. “READ 180 has helped me boost my self-esteem when it comes to reading, and I love to participate in class.”
 
When first starting the program, he was “very stubborn,” he said, and didn’t think it would help him. Once he got into it, though, something clicked. Now, he’s the first to get to his computer software station and open READ 180.
 
According to Jessica Anderson, Kollin’s teacher, he is “tenacious in READ 180 every single day.” He is motivated and works hard to improve as a reader, and he has clocked the most minutes in the READ 180 software out of his classmates, with a total of 1,368 minutes.
 
With his improved fluency and expanded vocabulary, Kollin has become a more active participant in class. “He is a thoughtful student who asks questions when he doesn't understand something, a quality any great learner should have,” Jessica said. She added that Kollin doesn't let anything get in the way of his success—as evidenced by his most recent Reading Inventory score of 855. 
 
Kollin recognizes that being a strong reader is important for his future. “I want to go to the NBA. Reading is a big part of that because you have to read contracts,” Kollin said. “If I can’t be an NBA player, I would love to be an architect because I like to build stuff.” 

***

Connor Oakes, Grade 7

Cherokee County School District, Canton, Georgia

According to his teacher April Popham, Connor Oakes has made huge strides not only in his reading skills but also his attitude toward reading and learning.

When April first started teaching Connor in fifth grade, she noticed he lacked an interest in school. “As a child, Connor moved from place to place, and as a result had a lot of gaps in his learning because he wasn’t enrolled in school the way he should have been,” April said.

Since starting READ 180, Connor has gone from a BR Lexile to a score of 472, and he is so proud to know he’s no longer a beginning reader. April said Connor is determined to sustain his improvement in the READ 180 program, continuously pushing himself to be a better reader, a better speller, and a better learner. 

“My mindset toward reading has changed by knowing that reading is not about being the best in the class,” Connor said. “It’s about using your tools and knowing how to use them.” 

READ 180 has stories that engage the students,” April said. “They enjoy participating in the independent reading and reading zones, and that can be seen in other classes as well.” April observes that Connor has improved his literature comprehension and writing skills since starting in READ 180.

Connor’s goal is to help other students feel better about reading. “My goal is to show others that READ 180 is not there to be annoying for you—it’s there to help you be better at reading,” he said.

***

Kayra Robles, Grade 8

Hamilton Township School District, Mays Landing, New Jersey

Upon entering Davies as a sixth grader in 2017 from Puerto Rico, Kayra Robles spoke very little English and was reading and writing on a second-grade level, with a Lexile score of 383. Fast forward two years, Kayra is now in eighth grade and has more than doubled her score to 787.

As an English learner, Kayra has the added challenge of making content comprehensible while completing grade-level tasks. “She had little confidence in herself and did not feel comfortable participating for fear of making a mistake, so she remained silent for most of the day,” said Megan Ferguson, her teacher. 

For two years, Kayra worked to conquer System 44, improve her proficiency in the four domains of English, climb the ladder of success in READ 180, and exit the ESL program. Megan says Kayra has “shown great determination to sustained improvement since her arrival to the school in sixth grade.”

Kayra has been able to use the skills she’s learned from READ 180 in her other classes as well. “Reading has helped me to succeed in science,” Kayra said. “Before READ 180, I was scared in class because I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying and the textbook was too difficult to read. Today, I feel more confident in my science class.” 

Kayra was recently accepted into the ROTC program at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, where she will begin as a freshman next year. “My goal for the future is to join the army and then become a police officer.”

READ 180 Stage C

Caleb Pierre, Grade 10

Polson School District, Polson, Montana

Caleb Pierre had a lot going for him as an incoming freshman. He was a promising football prospect for the varsity team and a member of the wrestling team. He was also deeply connected to the Native American community as a noted youth pow wow dancer. But when it came to academics, he was not as invested. “Prior to READ 180, he had a fixed mindset on his academics. He would get by, but most of his passion and what was most important to him was his family, his sports, and his Native American culture,” said Patricia Luetzen, Caleb’s READ 180 teacher.

“In middle school, I was kind of a knucklehead. . . . I liked math, but reading was hard, and I never liked it,” Caleb said. Once he entered high school, Caleb enrolled in READ 180. His first Lexile score was 222, indicating he was having extreme difficulty and disinterest in anything related to reading. Once he began the program and put himself through the new daily routines, he became a more driven young man who talked about going to college and becoming a mechanic.

Through his hard work and motivation, Caleb has continued to climb through the program, and now has a Lexile score of 757—a gain of 535 points in a year.

“Since being involved in READ 180, it has helped to improve my confidence,” Caleb said. “Once I got into READ 180, it opened my eyes a little bit, and helped me to see that if I go to college, I’ll have a pretty bright future.”

***

Knox Corey, Grade 9

Greenville County School District, Greenville, South Carolina

“Knox was my reluctant reader,” Venina Haley, Knox Corey’s READ 180 teacher, said. Prior to READ 180, Knox said he found reading boring and never wanted to do it. While well-disciplined in other areas, he just never found the joy in reading.
 
With the support of his dedicated teacher, Knox was able to uncover a love for books after reading The Keeper: The Unguarded Story of Tim Howard by Tim Howard and Ali Benjamin. Through consistent perseverance and hard work, Knox is excelling in the READ 180 program and has increased his Lexile score by 251 points in just five months.
 
Where Knox was once hesitant, he is now confident and has become one of the top students in Venina’s sixth-period READ 180 class. Not only does he earn the top scores, but more importantly, Knox has developed a love for reading and has increased participation throughout his academics. This confidence has also transcended the classroom into extracurricular activities such as wrestling and cross-country.
 
“My favorite class is world geography, and READ 180 has helped me in that class,” Knox said. “When I read in front of the class, I don’t have to stop and think about the words. I can finish clearly.” Knox is an aspiring welder and believes his newfound confidence in reading will help him as he progresses outside of school. We can’t wait to see what Knox does next!

***

Porscha Dunkerson, Grade 12

Polson School District, Polson, Montana 

As a freshman and sophomore, Porscha Dunkerson struggled in school. According to Porscha, she felt like she wasn’t smart enough to be in school, and she pushed the envelope as much as she could. When she entered her junior year, however, Porscha began what her vice principal Jay Sampson calls one of the most prolific turnarounds he’s ever seen in a student in his 18 years as an educator.

“I was nasty toward teachers. I didn’t want to do the work. I would walk out of class if they asked me to read out loud,” Porscha said. After years of struggling in her English classes, Porscha came into the READ 180 program during the second semester of her junior year. She used this as an opportunity to become a stronger reader. Within a few weeks of beginning READ 180, Porscha was not only earning the highest English grade she had in all of her high school years, but all of her grades began to rise. Porscha’s Lexile score has increased by 261 points since starting the program.

Porscha’s rising grades also came with a refreshed attitude and perspective toward education that all of her teachers began to notice. Her attendance started getting better, her behavior problems decreased, and she became a confident leader among her classmates. “Working with Porscha has been a life-changing experience,” said Melinda Withrow, Porscha’s teacher. “I didn’t realize how much a kid could change their attitude toward school, their drive, motivation. She did a complete 180.”

“I wanted to get good grades and change my lifestyle around,” Porscha said. “READ 180 has made me feel like I can do those things.”

***

Yousif Naisan, Grade 10

Peoria Unified School District, Peoria, Arizona

Yousif Naisan has overcome major obstacles to get to where he is now: excelling in school and reading. Yousif was born in Iraq and came to the United States in the fifth grade. He spoke Assyrian and Arabic and, through his English learning program and READ 180, has found proficiency in English. His progress in English has gone from basic to proficient at an incredible pace.

According to his teacher, Becky Hungerford, “Yousif has been driven to improve each and every day. His competitive spirit has driven him to succeed and excel in all areas of the READ 180 program.” The evidence of his success can be seen by looking at his Lexile score, which has nearly doubled in less than two years. With the support of his teachers and the READ 180 program, Yousif has tested out of portions of the EL program and found success in his other classes.

“Reading is very important. I used to avoid reading, but now I realize it’s something I need to be successful in school and in my career,” Yousif said. Yousif now maintains good grades, is a leader amongst his peers, and holds a job outside of school at an elder-care facility.

Looking ahead, Yousif has great aspirations that his improved reading skills will no doubt help him to achieve. “I’m planning to go to college because my goal is to become an air traffic controller or pilot,” Yousif said.

MATH 180

Joshua Doles, Grade 5 (Course I)

Orangeburg Consolidated School District, Neeses, South Carolina

Joshua’s teacher Caroline O’Byrne remembers a time when he feared failure in mathematics. “Math has always been a struggle for Joshua,” Mrs. O’Byrne said. “He is the type of student that when something is hard, he shuts down and will not try.”

Once Joshua began using the MATH 180 program, his attitude shifted. “Joshua is able to make mistakes through the software and learn and grow from them,” his teacher said. “He is no longer in fear of failure.” Joshua redeveloped his academic confidence to tackle grade-level math and now assists others struggling in his class as a peer helper.

He raised his Quantile score to 375 and believes MATH 180 changed his life. “When I leave Mrs. O'Byrne's class and go back to my homeroom, I am able to use what MATH 180 has taught me and it helps me,” Joshua said. “Thank you, MATH 180." 

***

Znya Wright, Grade 8 (Course II)

Little Rock School District, Mabelvale, Arkansas

When Znya first started the MATH 180 program, her growth was slow and quiet. “Some of my kids embrace the MATH 180 program with all their hearts, dig in, and begin to show immediate and rapid growth, but that is not what happened with Zyna,” said her teacher, Stephen Lanford. “She came to class, did her work, and quietly began to make progress.”

Znya’s shyness immediately turned into success. She scored a 1,065 on her Math Inventory test, showing the largest increase in scores of any student in Mr. Lanford’s MATH 180 class over two years. The program has changed Znya’s growth mindset, making her more comfortable with the subject.

Her “tenacity, grit, and unassuming commitment and dedication to her progress and this program can rarely be matched,” Mr. Lanford said. Znya’s newfound love for math has allowed her to transform into a classroom leader, helping other students succeed.

***

Jesse Martinez, Grade 8 (Course II)

Roselle Public Schools, Roselle, New Jersey

Jesse lacked confidence in his math skills, coming from a Spanish-speaking home. He often struggled to understand the vocabulary associated with his grade-level math problems.

Once Jesse began using MATH 180, he was able to put his fears aside and use the program to his advantage. “Whenever he struggled with a problem, he watched a video or allowed the software to explain the example,” said his teacher, Tanya Comas. 

Jesse has gained a tremendous amount of confidence and is learning to enjoy math again. His current Quantile score is 1085, nearly doubling from its original score. Jesse says the program has given him the “support and help that he needed,” and he looks forward to succeeding in high school and college.

System 44

Aneudy Sanchez Frometa, Grade 4

Lynn Public Schools, Lynn, Massachusetts

“Aneudy is a thoughtful, pleasant, fun-loving student who has struggled a great deal with academics, especially reading,” teacher Pamela Laramie said.

Nine-year-old Aneudy Sanchez Frometa entered third grade with well-below grade level reading skills and was lacking self-esteem. “I used to be low in reading, and that made me sad because all my friends would read, but I didn’t know many words. It was frustrating,” Aneudy said.

Since entering the System 44 program, however, Aneudy has made dramatic gains in reading, increasing his Lexile score by 709 points in just one year. Aneudy said, “System 44 got me higher and higher every day. It inspired me to keep reading. It makes me so happy.”

 “I think I am doing better because I practice my reading,” he said. “Now, I like to read.” As a hardworking student committed to improving his reading skills while developing his love of reading, Aneudy has brought his best efforts and attitude each day to make the most progress possible. 

Aneudy is now not only reading at grade level but also growing in other areas of the curriculum in his class, becoming more confident and engaged in all other aspects of school. His work with System 44 has also improved his self-esteem.

“I’m excited and proud of myself because I am reading at my grade level! My teachers and family are proud of me,” Aneudy said. His teachers see a bright future ahead of him—not only as a reader—and are all excited to see what triumphs he will achieve next!

***

Hugo Hernandez, Grade 6

Socorro Independent School District, El Paso, Texas

Though he started middle school nervous and lost, 13-year-old Hugo Hernandez faced these obstacles head on, attending tutoring and sacrificing his social time to show up for extra help during lunch. Hugo has made a real improvement in his reading level and even acts as a mentor for a classmate who struggles with reading.

Hugo’s teacher, Brenda Rios, said, “At the start of the school year, I read reports that indicated a significant medical condition affecting the brain would keep Hugo from being successful in the area of reading comprehension.” He began the System 44 program with a Lexile of BR, but through his dedication to improving his reading skills, his Lexile score increased by 167 points. 

Though his health conditions have directly affected his verbal knowledge and comprehension, Hugo has not been deterred and has embraced System 44 to exceed all expectations. Hugo's relentless desire to grow is having a ripple effect among his classmates.

 “The System 44 program has been a lifeline for this child,” Ms. Rios said. “It is because of everything he has learned in the program that he is able to not only make progress but be a source of help to others in the class.”

System 44 has helped me a lot,” Hugo said. He enjoys reading to special-needs scholars who aren’t literate yet, and takes pride in helping others learn how to read. In the future, Hugo hopes to be a tutor and study for college.

*** 

Zander Boyes, Grade 6

Joplin School District, Joplin, MO

“I met Zander during summer school last year,” teacher Tashena Vickers said. “He came in every day excited to get to work on System 44.” 

Sixth-grader Zander Boyes had a tough start in life, with some health issues that led to a loss of all motor skills at the age of two years old. He was placed with a foster family at age 7 and found his forever home at age 10. Zander has also been diagnosed with Autism and ADHD, but that hasn’t stopped him from making immense strides in his reading skills.

When Zander began the System 44 program in fourth grade, he had a Lexile score of 135, barely a kindergarten level. Through his hard work and genuine love of learning, Zander achieved a Lexile of 950 in sixth grade.  

“Zander did in two years what a lot of times it takes most students seven years to do,” Ms. Vickers said, calling him “one of the most enthusiastic learners” his teachers have ever had. Zander’s standout effort and growth in school allowed him to graduate from the System 44 program reading six grade levels above where he started.

“Around when Christmas came, I graduated System 44 and moved out of it. I felt like a very smart student then,” Zander said. His mom shared that he reads every book he can get his hands on. “I can read like a pro now. Reading is super fun!”

***

...And that's a wrap for this year's 180 Award student winners! In celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we have also announced our 180 Awards educator winners to honor those who shape students’ lives every day.

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