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The UNC Health Foundation has provided a generous gift to the Preschool Writing Project in order to supply Head Start families in Durham and Orange Counties with a tablet and internet hot spot in order to facilitate online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation fosters private gift support at UNC Health and at the UNC School of Medicine to improve health for all.

The gift has given participating children the opportunity to learn virtually and for the Preschool Writing Project to continue its research endeavors in prewriting and in early literacy skills.

Lara Costa, the project’s director, said the gift also allows for continued community-based research that provides children in our communities with experiences to help them be prepared for kindergarten.

“Head Start has really welcomed us throughout this whole project, and we’ve really been able to thrive in this time,” Costa said.

Head Start serves families that maybe not have internet access or opportunities to provide a device for young children. The program began distribution of 150 tablets and 16 hot spots in December 2020.

“Without it, some of the families wouldn’t be able to participate,” Costa said. “We wouldn’t be able to reach many of the families who want to participate.”

The research team, which includes six research assistants, has distributed the Amazon Fire kids’ tablets and pre-loaded them with appropriate apps in order to facilitate learning. They have also ensured that communication tools, such as Zoom, are functional.

Stephen Hooper, the principal investigator, said the support is part of a years-long collaboration that has made the difference in the lives of young children.

“We’re grateful our team is able to continue to support young children during the pandemic, particularly at such a critical time in their lives from a developmental standpoint,” Hooper said. “The UNC Health Foundation gift is a testament to the commitment we all have to North Carolinians, including to our youngest learners.”

The tablets provide a resource for young children who might not have easy access to other devices, particularly if an older sibling with more demands also needs access to a device in order to complete schoolwork.

“The families are appreciative and excited for their kids to have this opportunity,” Costa said.

Lara Costa, PhD, holds degrees from UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Chapel Hill and is a research project director for the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Stephen Hooper, PhD, is an associate dean of medicine and chair of the DAHS, a role he has served since 2013.