200 free tablets designed to help Buncombe preschoolers become ‘kindergarten-ready’

July 31, 2023   ●   by ApSeed

(Watch the video)

A nonprofit is giving tools to some children in Buncombe County to help them have greater success in school.

NC nonprofit ApSeed on July 13 distributed 200 educational tablets to preschool-aged children from low-income families in Buncombe County. The tablets are designed to make children “kindergarten-ready” — an opportunity that many underserved children might otherwise go without.

“Seedling” tablets are custom-built to help children get a head start on literacy. The tablets are pre-loaded with apps and have no internet access or camera to ensure the safety of the children using them, according to ApSeed. A backpack accompanies each Seedling, filled with supplies to teach important fine motor skills such as scissor usage and the ability to hold writing utensils.

“Our team designed the touchpad,” ApSeed Executive Director Dr. Julie Morrow said. “It has educational apps for children to practice their letters, sounds, numbers, shapes, colors. It varies, but we really market for 3- to 5-year-olds.”

At Wellington Estates Mobile Home Park, one of three June 13 distribution locations, Morrow was thanked by a father and son leaving with a new tablet, backpack and two big smiles. For Morrow, seeing children excited to learn underscores ApSeed’s importance.

“Seeing the kids light up — like that little boy, you know, just seeing his face light up and knowing that he’s going to have access, and knowing that the children that we provide for are going to have access to resources, and being able to go into 14 counties in North Carolina, being able to go into South Carolina, New York — we’ve been able to look at the difference that the Seedling makes with the children and the level of learning that happens for a child that has that,” Morrow said.

An ApSeed news release said that underserved children are statistically less likely to be kindergarten-ready, which can stunt their opportunities for growth before they’ve even started school. The nonprofit provided statistics that shows the benefit of the thousands of ApSeed tablets distributed.

In Rowan County, preschoolers attending programs at four Title 1 (high poverty and high opportunity) schools showed improvements from 21% to 83% in learning letters and numbers in one school year. County Head Start programs surveyed scored 30% higher in literacy in one semester. In Yadkin County, children have scored 30% higher on identifying numbers and 40% on letter recognition since 2019.

“In the past six years we’ve done 15,000,” Morrow said. “Since April we will have done about 4,000 as of August, then after August we will have done about 7-8,000, and by the end of January we will have done about 10,000”

Rain began to fall at Wellington Estates, but neighborhood preschoolers and parents filed in all the same to receive their Seedlings. One mother accompanied by her two young daughters sat down with an ApSeed employee beneath the outdoor shelter for some instruction on how to make the most of her daughter’s new tablet.

“We do provide training,” Morrow said. “And on our website, if you go to our QR code, it takes them to videos that show them how-tos, and it also has parent activities and strategies for them.”

Each Seedling costs $163 to manufacture, but the families who receive them pay nothing for the tablets, training or backpacks stuffed with supplies. A $2.5 million grant from the NC Department of Public Instruction has allowed them to pursue their goal of equity for vulnerable populations of children, but Morrow said ApSeed will need funding to continue expanding.

“Our goal is to be in every county in North Carolina,” Morrow said. “So we’re looking for grants and opportunities so that we can provide for every child throughout North Carolina.”

Morrow said she hopes that the community will see how much their mission means to low-income families with preschoolers.

“I had a grandmother two weeks ago to show up at the office,” Morrow said. “It was on a Friday afternoon, and she had driven over an hour because the Seedling that they had, they’d used to the point that it was broken. She wanted a new one because he said that it was his favorite toy, and she wanted him to be kindergarten-ready.”

For more information or to get involved with ApSeed’s mission, visit its website.