Head Start reaches 20,000 Minneapolis children
Preschoolers with and without disabilities at a Minneapolis Head Start center are exploring technology together, thanks to a recent donation by KidSmart, a project of IBM and PACER.
IBM is donating 600 KidSmart Young Explorer computer learning centers to preschool programs nationwide to help children with disabilities and their classmates build skills for future academic success. The $1.6 million donation is being made to PACER Center, a national organization for parents and professionals working with children with disabilities.
The donation was announced Nov. 18 at the Parents In Community Action (PICA) Head Start in Minneapolis, where teachers and students have been working with the computers for the past six weeks. They are already seeing benefits. “The children are more verbal with each other because they get so excited about the computer,” said teacher Tiffany Neils.
PACER will work with groups including the National Head Start Association and federally funded Parent Centers to utilize the computer learning centers and training, expecting to reach nearly 20,000 children in the next year.
“With our youngest children increasingly becoming tech savvy, it’s important that all children have equal access to technology in today’s digital age,” said Paula Goldberg, executive director of PACER. “We’ve seen how technology in the classrooms can be used to not only help children learn, but also how it can be used to break down divisions between kids with and without disabilities.”
IBM’s KidSmart Program, now in its 10th year, includes the Young Explorer, a kid-friendly computer equipped with award-winning educational software to help children learn and explore concepts in math, science, and language. This year, KidSmart’s global focus is on the special needs of children with disabilities. Several accessible features, including scanning, closed captioning and switch capacity are built into the options menu of the software to help make the program especially useful to children with disabilities.
“The accessibility of it (the computer) is so exciting,” said Rochelle Cox, Minneapolis Public Schools early childhood/special education administrator. The Minneapolis School District provides teacher support to the PICA Head Start centers, which serve many children with disabilities as well as children without disabilities. “I especially like the auditory and visual prompts that help them succeed. It’s a great experience for kids to share with their peers,” said Cox.
The KidSmart Program also includes teacher and parent training material that are important for education. The KidSmart website www.kid smartearlylearning.org, provides information for teachers and parents on early childhood learning and technology.
“This program uses technology, but it’s not about technology. It’s about effective early childhood education and learning,” said Stanley S. Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, IBM. He is a former deputy chancellor of schools for New York City. “IBM will also work with our partner PACER to lend IBM employee volunteer experts around the country to make sure the teachers and staffs are effectively trained to get the most out of this exciting program.”
IBM is also collaborating with PACER on one of their innovative programs; Project KITE (Kids Included through Technology are Enriched, www. pacer.org/stc/kite.index.asp). Developed from a U.S. Department of Education grant, KITE uses a training model to prepare early childhood personnel and parents to use technology in the classroom to improve inclusion and educational outcomes of young children with disabilities. KITE has shown that training on assistive technology and early learning, combined with the introduction of technology, improves outcomes for children with and without disabilities. Project KITE statistics show an immediate 15 percent increase in classroom inclusion for the child with a disability as well as a 100 percent increase in learning opportunities in the classroom after teams had time to implement Project KITE strategies with technology.
Julie Holmquist is senior editor/writer at PACER. For more information please visit www.pacer.org For more information about IBM, please visit: www.ibm.com