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Smart Coos for Early Childhood Dual Language Learners

Providing the essential tools needed for parents and educators to close the english language gap for young dual language learners from birth

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Since the prize begun we have 10x the number of students that we serve by partnering with more community and early childhood organizations.

Name or Organization

Smart Coos, Inc.


Smart Coos is a web-based platform that may be accessed via any device that has internet capability.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Smart Coos personalizes the learning experience of each child by allowing parents and teachers to select the language track that incorporates their home language and the target language. For example, English Language Learning (ELL) children who speak Haitian Creole can use the English / Haitian Creole track while children who speak Spanish practice using the English / Spanish track. Also, the platforms dual language text nudges and dual language live instruction further reinforces the support that parents and educators need to support dual language learners from birth.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Unfortunately, both in the U.S. and worldwide, no program currently exists to help dual language learners under age 5 learn both their home and target language. This void exists despite the fact that research shows that students who are learning English as a second language will learn it, along with other subjects, better if they also learn English alongside their native language. Smart Coos’ goal is to close the ELL achievement gap faced by dual language learners by focusing on 3 core issues: 1) Educators and early childhood providers struggle to engage and/or instruct ELL students. For instance, most American educators are unable to engage with a Haitian Creole speaking student in both their home and target language. With Smart Coos, early childhood educators are able to select an English track as well as Haitian Creole or that particular students home language. 2) Dual language students struggle to understand a second language because only the home language is spoken within the family. For example, ELL students generally do not have a point of reference when learning English. Smart Coos provides parents and educators the support they need for dual language learners. 3) Parental engagement has a significant impact on how quickly a child will learn English. 81% of parents do not feel engaged in what students are doing in day care centers and schools. Smart Coos dual language text nudges support family and educators in keeping the line of communication open.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Smart Coos’ goal is to close the ELL achievement gap early by focusing on the 3 core issues: 1) Educators and early childhood providers struggle to engage and/or instruct ELL students. 2) Dual language students struggle to understand a second language because only the home language is spoken within the family. 3) Parental engagement has a significant impact on how quickly a child will learn English. 81% of parents do not feel engaged in what students are

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Did you know that 70% of children are not ready for kindergarten? And, that 85% of the children in the United States that start school as English Language Learners were born in the United States? When Smart Coos co-founder, Harold, started kindergarten, he was a student in that same situation. Born in the U.S., but his parents only spoke Haitian Creole at home. As a result, he was not ready for Kindergarten. Young children, like Harold, struggle in school from day one until high school graduation - not only because they are not literate or fluent in English but also because parents and organizations do not have the tools to help children develop the language and math skills in both their home and target language. Smart Coos 3 products offers an effective solution for parents and organizations to close the word and language gap of young children, early. For example both parents and children benefit from Smart Coos because each feature is part of a whole. First, Smart Coos text nudges helps organizations communicate, support and engage parents, in their role as the child's first teacher, in both the home language and English. For instance, Regina, a Smart Coos user, receives a text from Smart Coos, with the sign cat - in both her home and target language. Regina, then uses that sign daily with her son. Not only does this early form of communication lead to a reduction of toxic stress in the home but it also results in Reggie communicating sooner both in sign and verbally. Second, texts are linked to Smart Coos Activities and Games. Empowering parents, like Mary, another Smart Coos user, to both teach and engage their preschoolers in active learning. Smart Coos Activities and Games is the first and only interactive dual language curriculum ​that​ teaches​ young children listening, reading, speaking and writing skills in multiple languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, and American Sign Language. The web-based platform enables personalized learning on any device for young children. The subject and (Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies) research-based curriculum integrates language learning and academic content across standard domains that are aligned to the Common Core standards. In addition, Smart Coos child-friendly interface allows even the youngest child to navigate the program on their own and learn at their own pace. The personalized character for each language provide ongoing support and feedback to help students stay engaged and motivated as they master new material. Children practice comprehension and reading while they play formative learning games and earn gems for answering questions correctly - which they can “shop” with. Furthermore, educators can personalize the learning experience by allowing students to select the language track that incorporates their home language and the target language. For example, ELL students who speak Haitian Creole can use the English/Haitian Creole track while Spanish ELL students practice using the English/Spanish track. Also, students who are learning a second language can improve their comprehension by hearing new words in both English and the second language. Research shows that students understand the target language better when they can use their home language as an anchor. In the traditional classroom this level of customization is not possible -- as most teachers do not speak multiple languages and cannot personalize their instruction for all students simultaneously - while staying true to Common Core standards. Through the creative use of technology, Smart Coos makes bilingual learning more accessible, effective and equitable than the traditional and current technological approaches. Finally, using the results from the Smart Coos Activities and Games, Smart Coos bilingual instructors, support families, like Regina’s, in live web-based bilingual sessions so children, like her child, may be both bilingual and biliterate.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

(1) Our beneficiaries are children age 7 and under, their families and the organizations that serve them. Results have shown that with Smart Coos: young children's literacy and language skills improve as well as a significant increase parental engagement. (2) Early 2017, we piloted our product with English Language Learners in a school district. The school was interested in tapping into ELLs natural ability to learn quickly in their home language, while meeting the state mandated English language learning standards required for ELLs. As a result, Smart Coos was contracted for a pilot, which resulted in significant growth in the ELL students’ language and academic skills: 1) Smart Coos Activities & Assessments results: When the same skill sets were assessed, on average the students performed 17% better in both math and language arts in the home language (Spanish or Haitian Creole) than in English. 2) Smart Coos Live Instruction results: On average the students performed 31.5% better in both Language Arts and Math when live bilingual instruction was provided prior to the English activities and assessments. 3) Smart Coos Pre & Post Smart Coos Assessments of Students results: Students took a content-based language assessment test in English and their home language (Spanish or Haitian Creole). Students performance, on average, increased by: 12 % in reading, 9.2% in listening and 9% in writing at the end of the year in each skill set tested.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Based on our current work with our key beneficiaries, children, age 7 and younger using Smart Coos showed: better literacy skills; increased parental involvement; and improved language skills. This is why, we firmly believe that to have the maximum impact on (dual) language learners in the long-run, we must start at home at the earliest possible age and provide that same quality of access up to secondary schools - and the three features that Smart Coos offers does just that. Smart Coos is an essential tool in helping close both the language and achievement gap.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

When working with day-care centers and schools most of our language learners are from homes that are classified as low-incomes. Thus, our direct tangible impact with students can be seen in the fact that Smart Coos Haitian Creole and Spanish speaking students in New York performed on average 17% better in their home language than in English when the same subjects and skills were tested. Teachers would have not known how well students understood the topic but for Smart Coos. And, results showed that Smart Coos’ students scored 33% better in their English subjects after receiving bilingual instruction. This leads to biliteracy and is also likely to lead to higher graduation rates amongst ELL learners. Furthermore, there is the intangible impact that Smart Coos may have on the communication between teachers and the parents of ELL students because of the ease of communicating with parents via Smart Coos multilingual text messaging features. In addition, a core part of our business model is our “Share a Language, Learn a Language” initiative. Each month, we tally up the number of language packages sold and make a monthly in-kind donation to a non-profit partner. This donation covers the cost for language sessions, in any language, for parents that meet certain criteria: such as being a refugee, migrant, or a home that’s bringing in less than certain financial threshold.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Smart Coos is the only web-based interactive bilingual platform that enables monolingual educators and parents to provide personalized bilingual instruction (through text nudges, interactive games and live instruction) for dual language learners, starting in early childhood.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Generally, as a web-based platform we are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Specifically, we have reached more than 5000 parents and their children with minimal marketing and are focusing on working with organizations (early childhood organizations and schools) that serve our key-beneficiaries: dual language learners.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

2016: Work directly with parents and children age 3-months old and up. Parents signed-up, purchased and regularly used the platform with their children. 2017: Partnered with and sold to key beneficiaries (early childhood centers, day care centers, after school programs and school districts) 2018: Plan to serve more key beneficiaries and sell to additional organizations that serve our key beneficiaries.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Over the past 3 years, we have done R&D as well as sold the product to early child centers and school districts. Now, we are focused on investment and partnerships with key beneficiaries.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Smart Coos has partnered with preschools, educators and parents to develop the three features on the platform from day one. We observed children, parents and educators interact with each feature and refined it overtime based on their feedback. We also use foreign language and Common Core standards to ensure that young children using our platform will be ready for kindergarten -- in both languages.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Mirta, founder of Smart Coos was an English Language Learner (ELL) that struggled in elementary school. Harold, co-founder of Smart Coos, was born in the U.S. and spent several years in English as a Second Language classes. 57% of ELL students are born in the U.S. but they don’t achieve at the same rate as their English proficient peers. However, tackling the language problem once children start school is too late. A few years ago, when Mirta became pregnant, she wanted to give her daughter the best opportunity from birth. Mirta's research showed that the first few years are the most critical period that can permanently impact a child’s life. Hearing at least 30,000 words a day and / or learning at least two languages had a significant impact. None of the solutions Mirta found were geared towards children from birth. In addition, Mirta has always been passionate about closing the word gap and achievement gap - a few years prior, after she graduated from undergrad, she founded 1on1 Tutoring - which was geared towards helping children from low-incomes. Thus, she soon founded Smart Coos with Harold, a natural co-founder.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)


As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We are looking to partner with leaders in both the early childhood space and those that lead investments an edtech companies.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

+ Scaling in the early childhood and K-5 space + fundraising

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Mirta Desir: Harold Jean-Louis:

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

My conversation with a mentor was very informative. She was candid about her experience in sales, pricing and marketing. From her feedback, I walked away with a new perspective on how to try some pricing models moving forward.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Smart Coos supports dual language children and their teachers and parents in pursuit of biliteracy.


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