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In addition to a pilot app for learning, mindfulness is being introduced into early childhood education. Abbey Seibler of UNMC's Munroe-Meyer Institute, left, recently shared research on the relaxation technique's effectiveness during a workshop with Learning Community Coordinating Council members and partners.

The Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties has its assignment – close the opportunity gap with powerful partnerships, proven programs and leading-edge tools.

Here are a couple of the most promising ways the Learning Community is investing in new technologies and more innovative practices to support children, families and teachers.

ReadyRosie | Active, accessible family engagement

They weren’t sure about it at first – this early childhood learning tool that promised to bring the smarts to their smartphones. For a group of Omaha families, initial skepticism has swiped over to genuine enthusiasm.

“Once our families were able to see it and use it, they really fell in love with it,” says Jamalia Parker, Family Engagement Services director for the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

The Learning Community Center of North Omaha introduced ReadyRosie to families in its Parent University program at the beginning of the school year. The mobile learning platform boasts a library of more than 1,200 “Modeled Moment” videos on a wide range of topics – from literacy and math to social-emotional skills. The videos, most 2 minutes long, demonstrate fun, easy activities kids and caregivers can do to strengthen bonds and build on classroom learning.

The videos underscore a core Learning Community belief that parents are a child’s first, best teachers. Months into the local pilot program, which also includes family workshops, ReadyRosie is resonating.

“Our families have been highly-immersed. So much so that the ReadyRosie evaluators said that our site had the highest usage. They came in and did focus groups with us and our families. When they asked, ‘What do you all like about it?’ it was the accessibility,” Parker says.

Parent University families in Omaha can access ReadyRosie at any time on their smartphones, and the videos are available in English and Spanish. That has led Parent University’s Spanish-speaking families to use the library in two ways.

“Not only are they using it to teach their children, they’re using the app to develop their English-speaking skills as well,” Parker says.

As a person who is “big into data,” Parker hopes evaluation outcomes will show the program helps children progress to higher levels of learning. It has already influenced exciting possibilities in curriculum. In February, Parent University will launch its first online pilot course, another way of offering busy parents “something they can access on their time.”

“ReadyRosie engagement really inspired me to get that going in the new year,” Parker says.

Mindfulness | Present focus, future success

A focus on social-emotional learning is helping children achieve greater success. Mindfulness (focusing intently on the present moment) is a big part of that.

Learning Community support is connecting teachers to expert mindfulness training, and a growing number of programs, supported by the Learning Community, now include a mindfulness component.

Dr. Jolene Johnson, associate director of the Interdisciplinary Center of Program Evaluation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says teaching mindfulness, at home and at school, gives children a powerful skill needed for lifelong-learning.

“Once teachers and parents understand mindfulness, it’s something that’s easy to make part of your daily routines,” says Dr. Johnson, a Learning Community program evaluator.

Not to be lumped in with the latest, unproven trends, Dr. Johnson says data from brain science backs it up: practicing mindfulness can help children improve executive functioning, memory, and the ability to calm their bodies, manage their emotions and improve focus.

In the workplace, those who practice mindfulness have proven more likely to stay positive and focused on priorities, potentially increasing their workplace value.

Short, simple exercises, performed throughout the day, can help build mindfulness. (One example is having children focus on breathing in and breathing out for one minute.) Children and adults can potentially start seeing benefits in weeks.

To learn more about the effective and innovative ways the Learning Community is working to close the opportunity gap, visit https://learningcommunityds.org/.

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