Four-year-old Tristan faces many challenges. He's legally blind in one eye and has a rare genetic condition called 13-Q deletion.
"With this 13 q he’s delayed in every aspect. Physical- mental- educational," his mother, Crystal Johnson explained.
Tristan goes to school at the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City Staten Island. At the center, he can learn and receive therapies for his special needs. The school has Universal Pre-Kindergarten Programs that integrate typical learners with students who have additional special needs.
“Starting the school year, I think he’s starting off strong and he’s remembering a lot more and doing a lot of new things so I expect a lot from this school year," Johnson said.
That's because the City's Department of Education chose UCP of Staten Island to incorporate new teaching tools. Teachers are using a new math curriculum this year in their two universal pre-kindergarten classes. It's called “Building Blocks Foundation for Mathematical Thinking Curriculum,” and is supported in part by the National Science Foundation.
The method makes counting fun by using colors and shapes in everyday scenarios, such as putting toppings on a pizza.
"The kids are using paper plates and they're using counters and they're able to say how many toppings that they need on the pizza….and they will put three chips on for their mozzarella, pepperoni, or whatever,” explained Children’s Program Director, Liz Voluz.
Dawn Gardiner-Diaz, a pre-k teacher, said her students are more comfortable with the hands-on learning.
"I’m impressed that they actually know so much since it is only a couple days into the school week," Gardiner-Diaz said.
“Building Blocks” is also building on the school's push to add technology like iPads, computers, and smart-screens into the classroom.
"Technology is important because the old school way to them, like it loses their interest,” said Gardiner-Diaz. “ And [with] technology, because you have colors, you have songs, you have so much more incorporated that It keeps their attention."
Voluz said there will be a technology component to “Building Blocks.” She said a coach will come in twice a month to train teachers like Gardiner-Diaz to implement the learning program.
Gardiner-Diaz says pairing technology with the new curriculum means an exciting year of early-learning.