SALISBURY — Ready, set, launch! In just a few weeks, Appleseed, a local non-profit, will provide hundreds of electronic readers to at-risk children around the county. It’s the second phase of Appleseed’s initiative, which seeks to close the gap between at-risk, pre-school-aged children and their more advantaged peers. Appleseed, founded by Greg Alcorn, CEO of GCS Agents and state Board of Education member, launched in June of this year, delivering over 50 electronic readers to the Wiley Lash Head Start in Salisbury. A few weeks later, it expanded to another Head Start location.
Families that wish to participate are given one electronic reader per child. The readers — a modified Kindle Fire — have been loaded with age-appropriate children’s books and literacy acquisition apps. Appleseed tweaked each reader so that it cannot access the internet or be used to play games. The readers are useless to an adult, Alcorn has said. After a successful first launch, Appleseed is expanding. Alcorn announced this week that the organization has ordered more than 600 readers — one for every child in every Head Start program in the county.
With increased access to books and language-learning tools, Alcorn hopes that at-risk children will be reading on grade-level by the time they start kindergarten. “That’s the dream,” he said. Right now, Appleseed has anecdotal evidence of success from the approximately 70 readers in the first wave. While the organization was granted a 501(c)(3) status in September, Alcorn said Appleseed would not launch county-wide or begin applying for grants until it has collected solid data that the program is successful. In the meantime, Head Start teachers and administrators have already received tablet readers, giving them a full month to prepare for the big rollout. “So they’ll have the skills and be proficient with the readers,” Alcorn said.
Alcorn said that teacher readers have the ability to connect to a few whitelisted sites and videos that could be beneficial in the classroom. Head Start will comply with recent screen-time laws, Alcorn said. Students will only use their readers for 10 minutes in the classroom — though teachers may be permitted to show videos. Deployment to county Head Starts is expected to begin the week after Thanksgiving. For Alcorn, the goal is to narrow the literacy gap as quickly as possible. “Every month counts,” he said.