Innovation Meetup

March 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Google Bay Area Impact Challenge Lounge at the San Francisco Impact Hub was bursting with energy as early education experts, tech industry entrepreneurs, champions and advocates joined together to discuss designing and scaling solutions to reduce the early learning gap for under-resourced communities at our first Innovation Meetup focused on using mobile technology to close the early learning gap, co-hosted by Footsteps2Brilliance and Assemblymember Rob Bonta.

“We are proud to support the innovative work of Literacy Lab in reshaping how we address early education for under-resourced children,” said Rich Cerussi, NBC Bay Area President and General Manager, championing the critical need for innovation in early learning, days before the Innovation Meetup.  “Making the Bay Area a better place to live is central to our mission at NBC Bay Area and we’re excited to see the impact they are having in closing literacy gaps for children and their families across the Bay Area.”

Research shows that one of the greatest disparities of knowledge among children is the vocabulary gap– the number of words a child knows from birth through third grade. Children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words before the age of 3 than their more affluent peers.  This problem is compounded by the fact that low-income children have limited access to children’s books in their homes. Every $1 dollar spent on quality early education produces a $14 to $17 return.

“Google and Literacy Lab have a shared belief in the power of education and we’re happy to support their work to build literacy skills in preschoolers across the Bay Area.” said Jacquelline Fuller, Director of “We’ve been impressed by their early efforts as an Impact Challenge grantee and are excited about the bright futures they’ll help to create for our littlest neighbors.”

The discussion regarding using mobile technology for early learning kicked-off with Mialisa Bonta, CEO and Founder of Literacy Lab, reminding us that big moments of change happen when global citizens take time to connect. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” she quoted Margaret Meade.

“When it comes to education, we’ve spent the first two decades of the 21st century, trying to figure out how to support 21st century learners; and finally recognizing that words like communication, critical thinking, and collaboration are crucial to 21st century teaching and learning,” said Mialisa. “As of late, with Next Generation and Bay Area Council’s Talk Read Sing: Too Small to Fail campaign, in partnership with the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and President Obama’s Invest In Us Initiative, we are finally, actively talking about our itty-bitty ones, our preschoolers, our toddlers, and infants, and what early learning in the 21st century needs to look like as we raise digital natives headed towards their first day of kindergarten.”

Out-of-the-box solutions emerge from imagining viable solutions to critical problems, such as the disparities in kinder-readiness. “Before the technology was available, we thought, what if we were to invent something where we could port over reading materials to children and encourage parents to engage with their children,” said Eugene Narcisco, Co-founder and COO of Footsteps2Brilliance. “We did that! We invented Footsteps2Brilliance. “At some point, we imagined walking on the moon and that was made into reality. Today, we need to focus on solving the early learning disparity. So I have to ask you, what is your grand challenge? What is the equivalent of your walk on the moon?”

Literacy Lab’s grand challenge continues to be providing the appropriate tools to serve the whole child, wherever they are. Historically, children we serve experience book deserts with fewer than 10 books per home. In this year’s Digital4Literacy program, students have read a total of 8,411 eBooks. That’s an average of 45 eBooks per student. “When we read the opening line of Literacy Lab’s application to Google, we thought, that’s a moonshot. This is 10x thinking. This is something transformative,” said Justin Steele, Bay Area Portfolio Manager of during his speech.

Dr. Joy Amulya from Learning for Innovation discussed her evaluation of Literacy Lab’s Digital4Literacy 2013 pilot study during the panel session. “The most important predictor of school success and high school graduation is reading at a proficient level by third grade,” said Dr. Amulya. “Higher gains were observed in all areas for children with access to interactive ebooks vs. only print books. Children with access to interactive ebooks had greater gains in Math Skills compared to children receiving print books.” According to the pilot of Digital4Literacy, student’s Letters score increased 357% more than the control group, based on mClass CIRCLE Assessment results. Significant increases were also observed in Math (155%), Vocabulary (94%), and Phonemic Awareness (53%).

The average 3-year-old from a low-income family can say and recognize the meaning of 500 words, compared to over 1,000 for a child from a higher income family. The more words children are exposed to, the more they will acquire over time. In this year’s Digital4Literacy program, students have been exposed to a total of 2,414,491 words, an average of 13,254 words per student, according to Dr. Amulya’s evaluation.

“As a team we fundamentally believe in helping the community both on and off the court,” said Jose Gordon, Executive Director of the Warriors Community Foundation, on the Innovation in Early Learning Panel. “The type of work that Literacy Lab is doing in early learning is something that we are very happy to support.”

“A large percentage of our families are not able to read to children in any language. Not because their parents don’t want to, but because they can’t.” said Dr. Barbara Nemko, Superintendent of Napa County Office of Education. “Our teachers demanded digital devices after our pilot study of providing interactive learning tools. We have to change the way we approach the early learning problem.”

Assemblymember Rob Bonta presented Literacy Lab with commendations from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, CA State Senator Bob Wieckowski, and CA State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson commending Literacy Lab, powered by Footsteps2Brilliance for its work. He shared, “Too many of California’s children do not have access to the high-quality early childhood learning experiences they need and deserve. Promising new programs such as Literacy Lab are important to reinforcing California’s efforts to ensure that all preschoolers, regardless of economic status, are prepared and ready to learn.”

Literacy Lab is looking forward to hosting a second Innovation in Early Learning Meetup in June 2015 in Oakland, California.

Learn more about Literacy Lab’s Digital4Literacy pilot study. View photographs from the event.