Grant helps Birch Family Services increase access to digital books and adaptive learning for kids

The funding from City Council Member Farah Louis helped the nonprofit purchase 75 electronic tablets.

A Birch Family Services parent and student accepting a new tablet from Council Member Farah Louis as part of a recent grant from her office tied to New York City's anti-poverty initiative.

A Birch Family Services parent and student accepting a new tablet from Council Member Farah Louis as part of a recent grant from her office tied to New York City's anti-poverty initiative. Photo courtesy of Birch Family Services

Students at Birch Family Services’ East Flatbush Early Childhood Center in Brooklyn received more than 75 electronic tablets purchased by Birch Family Services with a grant from New York City Council Member Farah Louis.

With Louis’ support, Birch was able to purchase 77 Amazon FireHD tablets for students who use the center, providing increased access to digital books and adaptive learning tools and materials. 

Historically, in terms of services, children with disabilities don’t have the equity and access typical to their developing peers to programs, curriculum, equipment and support services. Since 1975, Birch has worked to empower children, adults and families as one of the largest providers of early childhood programs for young people with autism and other developmental disabilities. 

“Birch Family Services was founded in 1975, the same year that Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,'' said Marjory Antoine, vice president of educational services at Birch. “We were founded to really help students with developmental needs. Other intellectual disabilities have equal access to a free and appropriate education which is a fundamental right to all students.” 

From preschool to graduation, employment, and beyond, Birch offers fully integrated programs to support more than 2,000 individuals with autism and developmental disabilities in achieving their goals through their lifetime. At the childhood center, Birch serves about 115 students between the ages of 3 and 5 with a variety of developmental disabilities and educational challenges such as autism, emotional disabilities, intellectual disabilities and impaired speech. The organization provides these students with services in the classroom setting, as well as occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and counseling. 

The new tablets, purchased through the anti-poverty initiative for children at the childhood center, not only provide students and families access to educational material, they also allow for more diverse ways to learn, critical for those with developmental disabilities and sensory sensitivities. 

The antipoverty initiative allows council members to receive additional discretionary funding based on the number of people that follow the district's average poverty line. “The recent grant by Council Member Louis highlights the importance of activism, philanthropy, and community support for organizations like Birch Family Services,” Antoine told New York Nonprofit Media. “The grant itself is a $5,000 contribution of funds from the anti-poverty initiative that allowed for the purchase of 77 Amazon FireHD tablets for the students at our East Flatbush location and our agency will be purchasing an additional 35 tablets with those funds, which will allow all of our students at that program to have access to digital learning materials to support and continue learning in a manner in which their screen time will be meaningful,” said Antoine. 

The tablets will be uploaded with educational programs that will continue learning in the home such as EPIC, an award-winning subscription service that gives millions of families and classrooms unlimited access to thousands of books and videos from leading publishers to help kids everywhere read and learn and grow. The access to digital books and adaptive learning tools will allow the children to continue learning at home. “A lot of the time, kids are given a phone or a table with material that is meant to occupy them. These tablets are going to be uploaded with real educational programs that the kids will have access to and they’ll be entertained but it will continue the learning that we’re doing in school so it’s a continuous learning opportunity for those kids.” Antoine told NYN Media. “A lot of families don’t know what a good educational platform is. So, this provides them with the opportunity to provide their children with platforms that are really good for them and wil continue learning when your kids are at home.”

EPIC, for example, is a large online platform that provides thousands of people with free access to books. The platform comes with books that can be read to students and even offers several different languages for students who are English language learners. There are also interactive aspects to their platform so that their activities are based upon whatever book the student is reading at the time in order to engage them with broader questions. “We’d like our students to ask what the books are about. Can you tell me the main topic of the story? Can you sequence what happened in terms of this story? So basic skills that we want all our early learners to work on,” said Antoine. 

“We are incredibly appreciative of the support of our individual and organizational partners across the city, especially that of our local elected officials like councilmember Farah Louis who allowed us to continue to provide the best experience possible to our students,” Antoine told NYN Media.