Washington Foundation Online Learning Gift Lifts Montana Learners

Instructors at Missoula’s Lifelong Learning Center use EdReady to prepare adult learners studying to join or re-enter the workforce or attend college.

MISSOULA – Every teacher has stories of former students who persevered and found success. They are the mark of a good student and a committed educator.

For high school math teacher Mary Anne McMahon, one such student struggled mightily with math into his sophomore year. Taking notes and tests in a classroom environment challenged him, but then he began using EdReady, an online personalized learning platform that provides adaptive, individualized math and English instruction. The student started accumulating math credits with ease.

“He was just a sponge for it,” explained McMahon, who has taught math in Bozeman and Helena high schools for more than 20 years and currently works at Jefferson County High School in Boulder. “With EdReady, it was just him and the computer, and it gave him the confidence to believe in himself and his math abilities.”

McMahon estimates she’s used EdReady with 600 students since its inception in 2014, often with results like rising student grades and college placement exam scores increasing. But the EdReady phenomenon reaches well beyond McMahon’s classes and even the subject of math.

Across Montana, nearly 600 schools and institutions such as two-year colleges, four-year universities, tribal colleges, adult education centers, and adult and juvenile detention facilities have implemented EdReady for math and English. That’s almost 180,000 individual Montanans who have used the platform.

Today, the program is set to grow. The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation has committed $3.5 million to fund and expand EdReady over the next five years. Together with a 2014 gift to launch the statewide initiative and a 2016 donation to further it, the most recent gift brings the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation’s support of EdReady Montana to $9.4 million.

While the EdReady program is offered nationwide by a nonprofit called the NROC Project, it is administered statewide by the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) at the University of Montana’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education. Montana was one of the first five states in the country originally to pilot EdReady’s use and was the first in the nation to deploy the innovative tool on a statewide basis.

“The MTDA team’s proven ability to provide this help in partnership with our schools, colleges and adult learning programs is one of the key reasons the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation continues to support EdReady,” said Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation. “Bottom line: It is the embodiment of our mission of investing in people to improve the quality of their lives.”

The latest Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation gift will sustain EdReady’s current efforts, help it increase enrollments within Montana’s Native American and rural communities, and allow it to build a new program that helps students make a strong transition from middle to high school math so they may later pursue college-level math successfully.

“EdReady provides access and equity to students in parts of our state where that opportunity might be limited,” said Adrea Lawrence, dean of UM’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education. “To get the kind of support that we have from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation makes this work possible. It is phenomenal, really, because this program does change people's lives.”

MTDA Executive Director Robert Currie brought EdReady to the UM campus and piloted it in 2013. Steadily growing since then, MTDA’s unique statewide implementation of EdReady is what has made its use by Montana learners so effective. A full-time program manager who oversees the program, as well as a network of educators serving as EdReady ambassadors, have trained hundreds of teachers, counselors and administrators how to successfully implement the program with their students.

“The true power of the program is unlocked by teachers and administrators who work side-by-side with our team to use the program in a way that best meets the needs of their local students,” said Ryan Schrenk, MTDA’s EdReady Montana program manager.

The program’s impact on Montana learners also has positioned UM’s EdReady team as a national leader. Its members continually collaborate with NROC on ways to optimize the platform and routinely advises educators in other states working to implement the EdReady Montana model. Recent outreach has included advising educators in North Carolina, Iowa, Oregon and Hawaii, as well as offering two regional training programs in Colorado and Tennessee.

At Missoula’s Lifelong Learning Center, instructors use EdReady to prepare adult learners, including native and non-native English speakers who are studying to join or re-enter the workforce or attend college.

EdReady also has assisted Lifelong Learning Center students to do things like prepare for the high school equivalency test and college-level math courses – all prerequisites for students pursuing personal and professional goals. It’s this kind of impact that compels Currie and his colleagues to continue their work.

“Everything we do is focused on helping students and adult learners to overcome a challenge,” Currie said. “There’s just so much joy in seeing people realize they can do something that has been an impediment to their growth and their life. We are deeply grateful to the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation for this gift that will allow our work to continue.”

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation supports a broad spectrum of worthy organizations benefiting at-risk youth, economically and socially disadvantaged individuals and families, and those with special needs. The Foundation is funded by contributions from the Washington Companies and the Washington Family.

The UM Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that has inspired philanthropic support to enhance excellence and opportunity at UM since 1950.


Contact: Elizabeth Willy, UM Foundation director of communications, 406-243-5320, elizabeth.willy@supportum.org; Robert Currie, Montana Digital Academy executive director, 406-529-5029, robert.currie@montanadigitalacademy.org; Mike Halligan, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation executive director, 406-370-6551, mhalligan@washcorp.com.