Nine million words. Or, 9,234,504, to be exact. That’s the amount of vocabulary Napa County preschoolers were reportedly exposed to in a new program implemented this past year.
Beginning last February, more than 1,200 local preschoolers received free access to an early literacy computer platform called Footsteps2Brilliance.
Footsteps2Brilliance consists of illustrated and animated e-Books in English and Spanish, along with more than 200 education games and alphabet books. The program can be accessed through a website or through an app on mobile devices.
The program, provided by the Napa County Office of Education in partnership with NapaLearns, is a key part of the NCOE’s Digital Early Learning Program. It’s also the first county-wide offering of this award-winning program in the United States, said Lori Hill, the office’s educational programs coordinator.
Research has shown that children from poorly educated, low-income families come to school typically two years behind their more privileged peers on standardized language tests, said Hill.
This “achievement gap” affects children’s ability to learn to read, and persists throughout their school careers, Hill said. “Our goal is to increase vocabulary” and for “every preschool child to have access to increase literacy.”
As part of efforts to encourage more families to use Footsteps2Brilliance – particularly Spanish-speaking – the NCOE has partnered with Napa Valley Community Housing to help explain the program to residents at housing sites.
On Monday, a group of residents at the Napa Park Homes complex on Lincoln Avenue met in an on-site community room to learn more about Footsteps2Brilliance.
Napa Park Homes resident Maria Elia brought her 3-year-old to the training. Her daughter needs speech therapy, said Elia via translator Manuel Pineda.
While she sounded interested in Footsteps2Brilliance, her family doesn’t have a computer or mobile device to run the program or app. The family’s computer was destroyed in the earthquake, she said.
There’s help for that, explained Pineda. The Tech Connection, a program from NapaLearns, offers Kindle Fire tablets for just $30 down and $15 payments over 10 months. Families get to use the Kindle immediately and at the end of the 10 months, it belongs to them.
Aside from such offers, Hill said that about 80 percent of those who have signed up to use Footsteps2Brilliance already have some kind of mobile device, whether smart phone or inexpensive tablet.
With her 2-year-old grandson in tow, resident Katy Thomas also attended the training.
“I got a tablet for Christmas,” she said. She’s still learning how to use the device. In the meantime, she and her grandson can learn together, she said. “He was on the computer before I was,” she said with a laugh.
Even logging on to Footsteps2Brilliance is kid-friendly. Little fingers can simply tap graphics instead of typing in a combination of letter keys. But parent participation is also important with Footsteps2Brilliance, Hill said.
“It’s not a babysitter. Use it as a book,” she said. “Sit and interact with them. We want to close that achievement gap.”
Footsteps2Brilliance first came to Napa County as a pilot program back in 2011.
At that time, 16 English learners with no preschool experience enrolled in a four-week “camp” prior to kindergarten. The students used iPads to access the program, and parents could take them home to work with students.
In four weeks, comprehension scores went from 11 to 76.4 percent, and parent engagement increased. As kindergarten classes continued the next year, all students made statistically significant growth in expressive and receptive language, said an NCOE news release.
Based on that success, the NCOE is now implementing a five-year evaluation study of local preschoolers. The study will include Footsteps2Brilliance data tracking reading comprehension, books read, critical thinking activities, and mastery of academic vocabulary, said Hill.