Hill Learning Center prioritizes child safety


Research to show that without a safe learning environment children find it difficult to develop in school. Hill Learning Center, based in Durham, North Carolina, is a longtime partner of the Oak’s Learning Differences Program. It is a school program that supports about 800 young people with differences in learning per year. Its goal is to “turn students with differences in learning into confident, independent learners”.

Due to the direct nature of work with children, Hill Learning Center has always been aware of and informed about the importance of child protection activities. In addition, because the union already had a child protection policy in place, Hill’s staff felt that protection in general should be taken care of. According to Brian Brander, head of the school, “Hill is a small organization and knows the families of the students well. Previously, there was an idea that this dynamic and the presence of so many adults under supervision make you feel safe.

However, the Center refused to settle for “good enough” and committed itself to maintaining the highest standards of child protection. They understand that protecting children is not only about preventing child abuse, but also about keeping children safe in general. For example, helping to build a protective structure or system in school’s daily activities can help prevent bullying by putting the safety and protection of children first.

That’s why in November 2019, Hill embarked on a capacity-building mission to further strengthen its child protection measures by giving its students a better chance of prosperity. Working with Darkness to Light, the Oak Foundation’s child protection partner, Hill eliminated his blind spots and relied on existing practices. One of its priorities was to ensure that the above protection policy minimized the possibility of violence of any kind for all children. This included adopting prevention policies and safety practices, including installing convex mirrors on stairwells, maintaining good practice in individual lessons, normalizing regular messages from other staff to classrooms, and reforming visitor procedures to name a few.

The level of involvement of teachers, parents and senior management determines the success of such initiatives. According to Hill’s staff, one of the most important events was the change of culture around this complex topic. Indeed, Hill has succeeded in reducing the stigma of sexual abuse of children by addressing the “not-so-fun topic” in an “effective and unpunished way,” according to Brian Brander, director of student programs at Hill. “The staff and volunteers in the organization are organically talking about the safety and protection of children and how they can integrate what they have learned,” he says.

The power of partnership

The outlook helped the Hill Learning Center understand where it could improve and grow in conservation practice. With the support of Darkness to Light, the team was able to identify areas of opportunity where existing policies could be improved and new ones implemented.

“It was helpful to audit someone outside the organization to see the gaps and get an outside view of things that could be further improved,” said Michelle Orvis, chief of staff. “Some procedures were still in Hill’s mind before, but participation and help from Darkness to Light accelerated and focused the work.” Darkness to Light also facilitated a joint session between Hill and Eye to Eye, another Oak Foundation grant recipient, to further discuss best practices in protecting educational environments.

Moving forward

Hill Learning Center has made significant progress and demonstrated a long-term commitment to its long-standing transformation of conservation practices. According to the Darkness to Light report, “Hill Learning Center was extremely involved in the project, communicating with the Darkness to Light team and adopting minimum standards.” To ensure that these changes continue, Hill employees continue to talk to the organization and its top management.

“We are constantly paying attention to this in the development of new policies and continue to talk throughout the organization, including senior management,” said Michelle Orvis. “Now new initiatives and programs are being considered to see if they meet protection standards.”

Hill also continues to attend webinars from Darkness to Light and monitor its resources. “Hill sees that protecting children is a top priority that deserves time and space for training, but there is also time to process,” says Brian Brander. “The priority is to serve children.”

Oak is proud to be involved in the Hill Learning Center’s efforts to promote child safety in its work. You can learn more about Oak’s approach to child protection on our website and in ourChild protection policy. If your organization is an Oak Grant Partner and is interested in receiving childcare assistance, contact your program manager.

Oak fund

The Oak Foundation consists of a group of charities based around the world. The Foundation has 11 programs through which it has issued more than 5,440 grants to organizations around the world. Its six main programs are: the environment, the prevention of sexual abuse of children, housing and homelessness, international human rights, issues affecting women, and differences in learning.

Hill Learning Center prioritizes child safety

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