Apseed ~ Supporting our Youngest Readers

Young child using Apseed Seedling

By Jeanna Baxter White

“We aren’t looking for advocates anymore, we are looking for accomplices and we have them in Davie County,” says Greg Alcorn, founder of ApSeed Early Childhood Education. “The Mebane Foundation has been the rockstar of all partners for ApSeed.”

The Mebane Foundation and ApSeed Early Childhood Education joined forces last spring to increase literacy scores among at-risk children in Davie County by providing a free e-Reader preloaded with applications designed to help children start school kindergarten-ready. From music that will soothe a newborn to games that teach simple spelling and math, the tablet’s carefully selected apps meet the developmental needs of children from birth to kindergarten.

“ApSeed strives to help children stay age proficient at home, so they can be grade proficient in school,” said Alcorn. “Our goal is to provide a Seedling to every socioeconomically disadvantaged child 0-4 years old. We believe the ApSeed Project will level the playing field while also being a tool for real and lasting enrichment.”

Through a $105,000 grant from the Foundation, almost 1,000 custom-built tablets, called Seedlings, have been distributed free of charge to children 0-4 whose families are enrolled in the WIC program through the Davie County Department of Public Health, Parents as Teachers through Smart Start of Davie County, or Davie County’s NC Pre-K program.

“We’re always on the lookout for best practices and resources to support our youngest readers, with this partnership and with the Seedling I believe we’ve hit a home run!” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation.

Colbourne believes the Seedling is a valuable tool to support DavieLEADS, a five-year early literacy initiative funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The initiative seeks to improve kindergarten readiness from 70% to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022.

Children using Apseed Seedlingz

In order 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. ApSeed measures the results of the surveys in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Seedling and to continue perfecting its programming. Questions include 1. How are you using the Seedling? 2. How much per day? What is your child’s favorite app? 4. What is your child learning? 5. What is the Seedling doing for you as a parent?

It is too early to make research-based conclusions in Davie County, but Alcorn said the ApSeed internal survey results have been favorable and no one has expressed that their child has experienced boredom or burnout with the device.

Responses have included: “At first he couldn’t say the alphabet but now he can use ALL of the letters,” “likes tracking letters and is trying to learn to spell words,” “the twins were born early and their speech is behind but now they are catching up,” “I can hear her singing with the tablet,” and “plays with it until the battery is dead.”

Usage by age has been consistent with Rowan County. Children begin with the music app and transition to letters and numbers as they get older. ApSeed’s analysis for Davie County explained the progression.

“Under the age of one, the music player (Pulsar) app is used the most. Pulsar can play songs over and over, meaning the Seedling can allow the infant to listen to pleasant music. Since the parent/caregiver is operating the Seedling, bonding is the most helpful value the Seedling does for the family.

Age one shows a significant increase in the child focusing. Favorite apps become shapes and colors. The brain is forming allowing the child to want to focus. Another striking development is the parent/caregiver is teaching their child. Now the child is a little less dependent on the parent/caregiver but just enough to be taught. At this stage, the child is learning how to learn to read.

Ages two and three show an amazing increase in learning colors and shapes. Parents notice this as well. The child is learning to read. Therefore, bonding decreases because the child is more independent.

At age four children use the 123 Numbers and ABC Kids apps the most because they have already learned the colors and shapes. These apps encourage tracing letters and numbers, so the children are learning to write. We have observed children tracing their letters on the Seedling, then grabbing a piece of paper to try to replicate what they just learned demonstrating the child is ready to learn to read. The Seedling is so familiar by age four that it is very easy to use. At this stage, the child is ready to enter Kindergarten at the age proficiency of the other children.”

Based on what ApSeed has learned, the apps are arranged on the tablet in age-proficiency order. Alcorn says this will help parents help their child be kindergarten-ready. Ideally, a child should spend about 400 hours over the four years using the Seedling.

Apseed Seedling

“Students less than 50% proficient in school are less likely to catch up. It’s too late when a child is in the 8th month of third grade to expect them to be able to make up for six years of not being close to age proficient and to expect them to pass the end-of-grade reading test. That’s what we are charged up about, helping children get to where they are supposed to be.”

ApSeed is now brainstorming ways to increase parent/caregiver response rates. “We want to figure out if there are additional things we should be doing to reach out to parents to find out how well the Seedling is working for their child since the response rate to our surveys is about 25%,” said Alcorn. “Most would say that’s a great return but it’s not to me. We want to be able to take a comprehensive look at the other 75% in order to know if the responses we are getting from the 25% are representative of the children as a whole.”

“We want to identify any additional needs the children might have because we have room for more apps. We also have six tutorial videos about operating the device that we’d like to get to parents.”

ApSeed also hopes to expand its social media presence so that everyone learns about the benefits of the Seedling. “The ideal situation would be to have every parent/caregiver and every person involved in the child’s life on our Facebook so that they support each other and get guidance from each other.”

“Eventually, we would like to get to where the Seedling is recognized as valuable for all of North Carolina so that it can be distributed through public funding instead of just private funding, that’s our next goal.”

Alcorn may soon get his wish. Representatives Horn, Warren, Lucas, and Howard have sponsored a bill to the North Carolina General Assembly recommending that the  Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development and Early Education, establish a three-year pilot project to implement the ApSeed program in Forsyth, Hoke, New Hanover, Watauga, and Yadkin Counties beginning in July 2019.

To learn more about the history of ApSeed in Davie County please visit http://www.mebanefoundation.com/davieleads/apseed-and-mebane-foundation-join-forces-to-provide-1000-mobile-touchscreen-tablet-e-readers-free-to-qualifying-davie-county-preschool-children/

ApSeed Early Childhood Education is privately funded through foundations and donations. For more information about ApSeed visit apseed.org or call (980) 643-0451.

ApSeed and Mebane Foundation Join Forces to Provide 1,000 Mobile Touchscreen Tablet e-Readers FREE to Qualifying Davie County Preschool Children

By Jeanna B. White
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.

ApSeed – Closing the Opportunity Gap in Early Literacy
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 non-profit 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 and Mebane Foundation Partnership a Home Run
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. Seuss 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.”

Hands-On With ApSeed Readers
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.

How to Get an ApSeed e-reader
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? 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.

ApSeed Early Childhood Education is privately funded through foundations and donations. For more information about ApSeed visit apseed.org or call (980) 643-0451.

The Mebane Charitable Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals (public and private), business leaders, elected officials, and the community at large. The Foundation focuses resources on ensuring that all children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential in school, career, and in life.