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"Software for hard numbers gets second-graders' attention"
by Angela Townsend
Published in The Plain Dealer

A Cleveland internet software company hopes to strengthen the math skills of elementary school students.

Acme Express Inc,. has parlayed grant money from the U.S Department of Education into a computer program that teaches regular and special-education second-graders math basics with a mixture of rote testing and hands-on computer work.

The program called Count Me Smart, was created in 1998 and tested at Cleveland Charles Orr School the following year.

"Our objective is to make sure these kids. when they get to the fourth grade, know how to add and subtract," said Acme Express President Don Scipione.

Last week the company finished it's first year working with 150 second-graders at Case Elementary School. The Westlake school district will test the program this fall with its special-education students as needed.

Scipione said he began thinking of new ways to use technology in classrooms after talking to principals who said they needed more outside help. Acme Express received the $60,000 Federal Grant in 1997.

Richard Oldrieve, a 16 year Cleveland teacher who is on a leave of absence, serves as Acme Express Inc.'s curriculum developer.

At Charles Orr, where 30 special-education students use Count Me Smart, students were measured for accuracy and speed while taking a double-digit addition test. Their scores nearly matched similar test given to a class in the Westlake school district, Scipione said.

Based on those results, Acme Express received a 2-year $300,000 Small Business Innovated Research grant from the DOE last fall. The program also received $12,000 in local grant money.

Oldrieve said Count Me Smart drills students at fast paces to prepare them for higher-level math and science classes down the road.

"If your writing them off in the second grade, you're writing them off forever," said Oldrieve, a doctoral student at Kent State University.

Paulette Colarochio is one of six second-grade teachers at case who used the program this year.

In addition to training and frequent visits by Oldrieve, Colarochio and her co-workers received a thick book with dozens of worksheets for time drills, word problems, lesson plans and the online component that uses flash cards, conceptual games and other techniques to drill math lessons into students.

"Most teachers are open to anything that will help children learn," she said. "These lessons have matched so perfectly with what we're doing."

So far Acme Express has had limited success in expanding the program in Cleveland. The district reviewed the program and decided not to adopt it districtwide, said chief Academic Officer Myrna Elliott-Lewis. She said the districts curriculum is more effective, and the test results weren't convincing enough. But school principals have flexibility in what they allow in their classrooms, she said.

Case principal R.E. Oba Lloyd decided that Count Me Smart was worth trying, and had teachers vote on whether to use it.

"If the kids like it, and its doing something for them, thats the key," Lloyd said.

The fate of Count Me Smart rests on future grants and whether the company can market it to home schooling parents and other school districts.

"If we end up a year from now and don't go any further, I'm going to be really disappointed," Scipione said. "Our ambitions are high".

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