Kindergarteners, pre-K students and some first graders at four Mobile County Public Schools have a new literacy tool this semester, thanks to the University of Southern Mississippi.
Dr. Julie Cwikla, USM’s Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM, secured a three-year, $900,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation to provide more than 700 Samsung tablets loaded with the Speakaboos literacy app to students at Maryvale, Morningside and O’Rourke elementary schools and the Just 4 Developmental Laboratory.
The Speakaboos app features almost 300 e-stories that students can read or have read to them, depending on their level of development. It also includes math and science lessons, as Cwikla has worked with Speakaboos to develop new math e-stories.
“Literacy and early math skills are just critical. If we can catch kids at this age, we’re really going to give them a boost going forward,” Cwikla said. “This format is amazing, because the kids are into it immediately. The benefit of Speakaboos is that the stories are read to the kids, or the children can choose to read to themselves. And then there are also interactive stories. So it really addresses all the different levels at this age.
“It’s very self-driven and self-choice, so the kids can enter at whatever level,” she added of Speakaboos. “It’s really meant for ages 2 to 8 so there’s a wide range of stories and vocabulary and accents and animators. It’s just an amazing program.”
The grant allows each pre-K and kindergarten student at the four schools, and some first-graders, to receive their own tablet to use at school. On Friday, Cwikla presented the tablets at Just 4, where students accepted them with wide eyes and enthusiasm. “I like this!” one told Cwikla as she showed them how to navigate on the tablet. Tablets were delivered to the other three schools last month.
“It gives the teacher an additional resource to help students work on being proficient and being prepared for kindergarten,” said Just 4 Principal Monique Baugh. “It’s very important and I think that one-to-one usage is going to be phenomenal, because the student has their device. It’s something they can work on in their own time, at their own pace. They don’t have to wait to use the computer or take turns. It’s there for them.”
Paula Reese, MCPSS School-Home-Community Manager, said teachers at some schools may allow students’ parents to check the tablets out and take them home for use there, as well.
“This is not to take the place of that parent reading to their child,” Reese said, adding that it could be a complement to reading that is already done in the home. “You can’t put a price on what this means to the children who are benefitting from this program. Improving the literacy and math skills of young children is a primary goal of elementary schools everywhere, and the Speakaboos app will certainly enhance those efforts.”
Cwikla said USM plans to monitor students’ progress over the three-year length of the program to gauge the effectiveness of the app as it relates to literacy.