Fifteen rising first and second graders at graduated last Wednesday from a special pilot initiative for the Young Readers and Early Adopters program.
The national program, funded by LULAC National Education Service Centers Inc. (LNESC) and the Verizon Foundation, aims to improve reading and comprehension among young students in low-income Latino communities.
While the Young Readers program has been at Beaver Ridge for three years, the pilot during the summer implemented something new in the classroom: specifically, technology through iPads and applications.
Seven iPads were given to the school to use for the daily four-week summer pilot at Beaver Ridge, and students used them to complete daily literacy assignments through apps.
"We really see that technology can solve critical issues like education, so we love the fact that these students are really able to work to improve their reading and comprehension using technology and using these tablets,"said Julie Smith, the vice president of External Affairs at the Verizon Foundation, which gave a $250,000 grant for the electronics initiative.
Summer students at Beaver Ridge made family e-books as class projects and presented them on their graduation day. The students collected family photos and put them in interactive books, where they also told stories through audio recordings they created through the iPad.
"The underpinning of the lessons were to tell stories, not only recognizing words but being able to interpret words and put them together to tell a story," said Jason Resendez, the director of Corporate Relations and Development for LNESC.
Teachers in the pilot also were trained on how to leverage the technology to drive better educational outcomes.
Crystal O'Connor, a first-grade teacher and the Young Readers program educator at Beaver Ridge, said she doesn't consider herself an Apple user and has never used an iPad before. But after using it with her students throughout the days, she realized how easy it is for all ages.
"The thing I loved was watching the kids be able to type on it, because it's a lot easier than using a structured keyboard," said O'Connor, adding that the iPad is smaller and more concise.
O'Connor also expressed how much success the iPads have given to the students. She's seen an increase of two to six reading levels in many of the kids who attended the program regularly and are second-language learners. She said the education structure is flexible in the program, so it allows students to orally communicate with each other in English, which may not be the case in their homes.
As for the overall response to the new classroom technology, it has been overwhelmingly positive, and LNESC got more than what they aimed for.
"The technology has been great in terms of motivating students, in terms of engaging them, and also in terms of unleashing creativity, which wasn't one of our original goals," said Resendez. "The iPads through certan apps have led students to be more creative, and the teachers are amazed that they had students who didn't talk in the beginning, and in the end they're so excited. They're making stories via ebooks and cartoons, and they're talking and being creative, so I think that's what we want to focus on now."
With the new technology in place, the program will go back to being an afterschool program for about 25 to 30 students in kindergarten through second grade for the entire school year. Due to the success of the summer pilot program at Beaver Ridge, fifteen other sites, including Miami and Cincinnati, around the U.S. 15 also will have the program in the fall.
Proctor and Gamble, who also gave supplemental support during the pilot program, will be funding the program full-time at Beaver Ridge and the other schools.