Program aims to give Spanish-speakers a boost
It’s a program that, besides aiming at enhancing educational opportunities, also has the potential to put Carbondale on the map in the world of software technology, and boost the town’s economy in the process.
Digital Directions International, Inc. – or, DDI – is headed up by Carbondale residents Barbara Freeman and John Ramo, along with Michael Willis of Boulder.
They recently won the support of the Carbondale Economic Development Council’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee, which approved a $25,500 loan to assist in getting the Help with English Language Proficiency (HELP) program off the ground.
Once developed, DDI is shooting to set up its production headquarters in Carbondale with 5 to 10 new full-time professional positions, ranging from software engineers and developers to administrators and instructional designers, paying an average salary of $50,000 a year.
“Economic development in Carbondale is moving more toward high-tech and high-end, professional-level jobs, and not so much retail,” loan committee chairman Liz Cox, a loan officer at Alpine Bank-Carbondale, said. “This is also something that helps our local schools and the minority segment of Carbondale.”
A collaborative effort between DDI and Rocky Mountain PBS, HELP has earned a $24,000 grant from the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, and another $25,000 from the Colorado Department of Education, as well as letters of support from Colorado Education Commissioner William Maloney and Attorney General Ken Salazar.
HELP is described as “an educational technology project designed to help “at risk,’ primarily ELL (English Language Learner) students raise their levels of proficiency in the subject areas of math and science, as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.”
The goal is to develop a standards-based, supplementary curriculum that can be accessed on the Internet, which will teach the meaning of key math concepts, and their associated vocabulary and academic language, that students need to succeed on CSAPs and similar standards-based tests in other states.
While lots of curriculum and computer-based programs have been developed to help ELL students do better on standardized reading and writing tests, both the local school district and DDI recognized there was a lack of programs to assist students with math testing.
“The meaning of words like “equation, “calculate,’ “square root,’ or “cubed’ aren’t taught in traditional math classes,” Freeman said.
Now, imagine the problem when ELL students run across such words and are expected to apply them on math tests.
“Three years ago, we began to revamp our second-language programs and found that, for the most part, there were no comprehensive curriculum programs when it came to math. It was a huge hole,” Re-1 Assistant Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said. “We hadn’t really even considered writing our own software, until Barbara came along.”
Freeman – whose husband, Paul, is the assistant principal at Glenwood Springs High School – had been working as a private business consultant. She hooked up with DDI in early 2002, two years after the company was founded, to analyze new educational markets. She is now chief operating officer of DDI, and the director of the HELP Program.
DDI already has about 400 on-line, self-paced instructional courses targeted at the “lifelong learner,” defined as those age 16 and above who want to broaden their education.
With the backing of Re-1 and the State Education Department, the prototype is currently being applied on a pilot basis at high schools in Carbondale, Basalt and Glenwood Springs, as well as in the Aurora, Pueblo and Adams 51 school districts.
Eventually, the program will have applications at the middle school level as well, Freeman said. Once fully developed, the software can be marketed to school districts around the country, with some of the royalties coming back to Re-1.
“Although HELP is a home-grown solution, it has national applicability and will be developed and expanded to match requirements in different states nationwide once we are confident with the findings from the pilot study,” Freeman said.