The Mebane Foundation and ApSeed Early Childhood Education have joined forces to increase literacy scores among at-risk children in Davie County by providing a free e-Reader preloaded with applications designed to improve literacy and strengthen vocabulary.
Thanks to a $105,000 grant from the Foundation, based in Mocksville, NC, 1,000 custom-built tablets, called Seedlings, will be distributed free of charge to children 0-4 whose families are enrolled in the WIC program through the Davie County Department of Public Health or Parents as Teachers through Smart Start of Davie County.
Studies indicate that economically-disadvantaged children hear 30 million fewer words by the age of five than their more affluent peers and that there is a direct link between children’s academic performance in third grade and the number of words spoken in their home from birth to age three.
ApSeed, a nonprofit organization based in Rowan County, hopes to close that word gap and better prepare these children for school through a series of colorful, interactive apps designed to engage children from 0 to 4. These apps were vetted and approved to promote kindergarten readiness by Rowan County Schools. From music that will soothe a newborn to games that teach simple spelling and math, the tablet’s carefully selected apps meet the needs of children from birth to kindergarten. Children can complete the activities with the help of a caregiver or independently. The tablet does not have an internet connection so that the activities can be enjoyed anywhere.
ApSeed is the brainchildren of Salisbury businessman, Greg Alcorn, founder of Global Contact Services, who also serves on the N.C. Board of Education.
“The State Board of Education focuses on graduation rates,” Alcorn said. “Back in 2015, we were looking for a way to help increase that rate. My wife, Missie, and I read the Thirty Million Word Gap research and said ‘that’s where and who we can help! At the very, very beginning of learning.’ If ALL four-year-old children enter kindergarten with enough language, our community will benefit.”
“ApSeed is striving to make a generational change. We have short, mid and long-range goals. Increase kindergarten readiness scores, then significantly increase the 3rd-grade reading scores and ultimately spur economic growth. Everyone wants to live in a community with great schools and great students make schools great.”
ApSeed’s goals align well with the goals of DavieLEADS, a five-year early literacy initiative supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The initiative seeks to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2022.
“By partnering with our friends at the Davie Health Department and Smart Start, we’ll be able to distribute this interactive learning tool at a relatively low cost to the Mebane Foundation,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “In the coming 12-18 months, I’d anticipate that 1,000 or more of the Seedlings will be placed in the hands of young children here in Davie County. We’re always on the lookout for best practices and resources to support our youngest of readers. With this partnership and with the Seedling, I believe we’ve hit a home run!”
The Department of Health will be distributing the Seedlings during regularly scheduled nutrition and pediatrician appointments with Mandi Irwin, WIC director, and Dr. Stephanie Pirkle, who have been trained by ApSeed to distribute the tablets.
“We know that children whose parents read to them in the preschool years enter kindergarten with better literacy skills than those whose parents do not,” said Dr. Pirkle. “Exposure to printed material is beneficial, but so is exposure to games and songs which can help kids with grammar, pronunciation, and rhyming. The Seedlings do all of this, as well as introduce these children to aspects of technology (like apps and swiping) that are so prevalent today but that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to learn.”
“As Dr. Suess so eloquently states in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, a book that I read to my three-year-old, ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’”
Irwin said, “We are excited to promote literacy and school readiness in our community with this partnership.”
She is enthusiastic about the Seedling’s potential, particularly after watching Jared Chegue (3) and his brother Obed (2) play with the tablets. The boys are the sons of Maria Chegue, a processing assistant and interpreter for the health department.
Chegue agreed, saying that although the boys had only had their Seedlings for a couple of days, they had enjoyed playing with them. She has already observed that different apps appeal to each child based on their age. “Jared likes the puzzles and the doctor game and Obed likes the coloring game.”
“We speak Spanish at home, so this will really help Jared prepare for kindergarten, particularly the app that sounds out letters,” she added. “It is also nice for me as a parent that the tablets don’t have internet access so that I don’t have to worry about them playing with it and ending up on a website they shouldn’t go to.”
Jared’s older sister, Grecia, has noticed that he is speaking more English and pronouncing words in English better. “He now knows his colors in both Spanish and English.”
Chegue has distributed several of the first tablets and said the response of children and parents has been positive. She noted that the mother of a child with developmental delays was particularly thrilled because the child immediately engaged with the sounds and colors providing her with another teaching tool.
Gena Taylor, executive director of Smart Start of Davie County, believes the Seedling will allow children not otherwise engaged in age and developmentally appropriate technology to be afforded the opportunity to have this experience. Parent Educators will work with the families to build upon the skills learned through the technology to prepare children for kindergarten.
Smart Start will distribute the Seedlings to families engaged in the Parents as Teachers home visiting program.
The ApSeed model includes three years of measuring results and maintaining the Seedlings. To receive a Seedling, parents must provide their email address and agree to complete a short, five-question survey which is emailed every 90 days. Questions include 1. How are you using the Seedling? 2. How much per day? 3. What is your child’s favorite app? 4. What is your child learning? 5. What is the Seedling doing for you as a parent?
According to Alcorn, the research from the 1600 Seedlings distributed in Rowan County since 2016 shows “active use of the Seedlings, interest in specific applications by age, and high satisfaction from users.”
Alcorn is enthusiastic about the opportunity to begin distributing Seedlings to children in Davie County. “Over the next three years, you will see a lot of Seedlings in Davie County. Many thanks to the Mebane Foundation and Davie County early childhood professionals.”
Editor’s Note: The Mebane Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.