Go big or go home: Inside HMH’s latest initiative

houghton-mifflin-harcourt-logoAs a global education company and one of the world’s leading providers of pre-K-12 education content and services, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) has an extended tradition of fostering education through partnerships with local organizations. At the heart of each initiative is the company’s mission – to change people’s lives by fostering passionate, curious learners.

HMH Ellis Elementary School HMH Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President Mary Cullinane and Celtics Guard Jerryd Bayless read These Hands by Margaret Mason with students at the renovated Ellis Elementary School Library.

HMH strives to make learning more personal, dynamic, and engaging, a goal that it pursues through cutting-edge research and innovation and by nurturing partnerships with local learning communities and with other education trailblazers like Knewton, the leading provider for adaptive learning technology.

In 2013, HMH, headquartered in Boston, launched a unique partnership with the Boston Celtics. The NBA team has long shared HMH’s passion for extending access to education resources, especially through its “Read to Achieve” initiative, which celebrates literacy via outreach within the Boston Public Schools. The two venerable organizations kicked off the partnership with a special project during HMH’s annual volunteer week. More than 100 HMH employees visited Ellis Elementary School in the community of Roxbury where they read to students, painted murals, updated the playground, and taught new skills. As the experience unfolded it became clear that the school’s library space was outdated, disorganized, and uncomfortable, and that a larger refurbishment was needed.

With the support of HMH’s partners and thought leaders in the educational and technology space, including the Boston Celtics, Boston Children’s Museum, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Samsung, HMH organized a “visioning session” to learn more about the Ellis community’s unique needs and to propose solutions for the goals of the project to restore the school’s library. Led by Mary Cullinane, chief content officer and executive vice president of corporate affairs at HMH, the session challenged participants to keep two key questions at the forefront: What are you trying to create? Who are you trying to create it for?

“Drawing on different areas of expertise, our strategic group quickly determined that, with updated resources and increased access to quality educational content, the library could reach a new level of potential,” Cullinane said of their ultimate success. “We were thrilled to be a part of this process and to see this transformation come to life.”

Unveiled this past January, the Ellis Elementary library was reborn as an inspiring space that could provide a mix of engaging technology and resources for its students. Where aging furniture that wasn’t designed with children in mind once slumped, a comfortable reading corner with custom wall art inspired by the Celtics and beloved HMH characters like Curious George now stands. Where essential digital resources to help prepare children for future career success were lacking, a new computer lab and a smart TV for front-of-the-classroom tech demonstrations were installed. Such mobile technology provides children with educational games and apps, increasing their access to academic technology. Moreover, HMH has also stocked the scholastic space with new books, contributing to their larger corporate social responsibility vision that enabled them to donate $39 million worth of books globally in 2013.