Seedling Program Supports Kindergarten Readiness in North Carolina Classroom

Inside a classroom at the Ashe Early Learning Center, a group of young kids gather in a circle with their teacher to learn about the alphabet. However, the way they learn their letters is what sets this lesson apart — and makes it enjoyable.

These kids have Seedlings, small touchpads with educational games. ApSeed, a nonprofit founded by Greg Alcorn, a former member of the State Board of Education, aims to prepare underserved children aged 3 and 4 for kindergarten by providing Seedlings that teach letters, numbers, shapes, and colors through interactive games.

In this classroom game, a child holds a Seedling displaying a letter above their head and asks their classmates and teacher questions about the letter, such as “does my letter make the ‘W-uh’ sound?” or “does my letter come after ‘V’ in the alphabet?”

The child can use the answers as clues to guess the mystery letter. Once the letter is correctly guessed, they can trace it on the Seedling tablet, effectively learning a portion of the alphabet while engaging their visual, auditory, and tactile skills.

What makes this game and Seedling touchpads even more special is that the devices were provided to Ashe County Schools, as well as many other locations in North Carolina and beyond, at no cost.

According to ApSeed, over 22,000 Seedlings have been distributed to children since 2016. The nonprofit offers them for free to families and locations such as Head Starts, pre-K programs, child care services, special events, health care practices, and WIC centers.

ApSeed currently serves 16 counties in North Carolina, four counties in South Carolina, and other locations in California, New York, Liberia, and Zimbabwe.

ApSeed’s funding comes from grants, private donations, and government appropriations. In 2022, the General Assembly allocated $2.5 million to ApSeed, which allowed them to provide services to approximately 12,000 children.

Making a ‘big hairy audacious goal’

ApSeed is pursuing what Greg Alcorn calls a “big hairy audacious goal” (BHAG). According to Alcorn, a BHAG is a long-term goal, at least 10 years in the future, that requires leadership and helps create a future that would otherwise be impossible.

One of ApSeed’s BHAGs is to increase graduation rates and create a well-educated workforce for the future. Alcorn believes that starting early with a community’s youngest learners is key to achieving this goal. He emphasizes that high school graduates are more likely to have higher wages when they enter the workforce.

Alcorn states that when a student succeeds academically at an early age, that success continues to have a positive impact throughout their educational journey. He believes that supporting children’s success also leads to community success, as it encourages more people to reside in areas with successful schools.

Alcorn aims to see a return on investment by achieving long-term results that begin with a child’s early learning.

Dr. Eisa Cox, superintendent of Ashe County Schools, states that increasing graduation rates is part of her district’s strategic plan. She believes that preparing children for kindergarten is essential, as unpreparedness at that stage makes it less likely for a child to graduate.

Cox emphasizes the importance of a long-term commitment to supporting families and learning, from the early learning stage through postsecondary education. The goal is for children to graduate with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to pursue any path they choose.

Planting a Seedling

Terry Richardson, director of exceptional children and pre-k programs for Ashe County Schools, highlights the importance of multi-sensory learning on the Seedlings. This allows children to develop their unique learning styles.

Richardson explains that the Seedlings provide auditory, tactile, and visual learning experiences. Each child learns differently, and the Seedlings accommodate various learning styles. The apps on the Seedlings cover all areas of literacy and math, integrating visual, tactile, and auditory elements.

The Seedlings come preloaded with games and have no Wi-Fi or camera capabilities to ensure safety and promote age-appropriate learning. Each Seedling is equipped with headphones, a charger, information for families on kindergarten readiness, and a protective case with a handle.

The touchpads offer a range of games, from basic to more challenging, including multiplication for those seeking extra challenges. Colorful cartoon animals serve as mascots for the games and cheer on the students when they answer questions correctly.

Richardson recalls a distribution event where over 500 families participated, and the sight of children with Seedlings in her community. She sees the Seedlings as engaging and developmentally appropriate tools for literacy and math learning.

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