History

Donna Blevins, a mother of three, former teacher, and public official, observed the challenges of the American educational system and resolved to devote herself to improving it. Applying the latest research on early childhood learning and brain development, she began working on her home computer in 1991 to create a unique educational program. The result was a learning system that combined proven teaching methods and computer-aided technology to stimulate the human brain when learning capabilities are optimal.

That first year a computerized curriculum was built and tested by 12 families with young children. Buoyed by the system’s positive impact on the first users, Blevins began offering private lessons using her unique program in 1992.

Throughout the 1990s Blevins and a growing team of experts honed the process through practical use, additional research and development, and technological design improvements. More than 1,500 children were observed and their educational progress tracked as they used the Be Smart Kids learning system. In 1998 Dr. Robert McElrath, former Tennessee Commissioner of Education for Governor Lamar Alexander (who later served as U.S. Secretary of Education), came on board to help assess and build the process.

Ross Perot, owner of world-renowned technology company Perot Systems, was introduced to Be Smart Kids in 1999. An advocate of early childhood learning, he agreed to have his company design and build a computerized model for delivering the process worldwide. Ultimately, more than 50 of Perot’s computer experts from around the world spent nearly two years working on the design and later building the whole system. Perot was so pleased with the final product that he presented Be Smart Kids learning systems to the East Dallas Community Inner-City School, an innovative school that he supports.

Rabbit

With its incorporation in 1998, Be Smart Kids Inc. began opening learning centers, offering private lessons using the trademark learning system. The company also began licensing use of the system and training teachers for on-site learning centers at day care facilities, preschools, Head Start programs, and elementary schools. The home edition of the electronic learning system was introduced in 2001. Today the Be Smart Kids Learning System is in homes worldwide, enabling parents to harness the computer to develop their own child’s love for learning.

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Texas Public Education Reform Foundation Summit

Speech by: Donna Blevins, Founder and CEO of Be Smart Kids

I wish to thank the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation for inviting me to speak here today.

Why are we here? We’re here because we are concerned about the quality of education and the impact it will have on our children’s lives. Education is the gauge of progress for any civilization.

In an ever changing world market, we simply are not measuring up. I’ve heard many quotes concerning our educational standing with the rest of the world–20th, 23rd, 24th, 27th and even as high as 29th. Choose your figure, it doesn’t matter, we’re behind. Bottom line, we definitely have a crisis. Our children’s future and the future of this country are in a precarious situation. If America is to survive as a nation and a world leader, we must do a better job of educating our youth–one child at a time. To quote Aristotle "Fate of empires depends on the education of youth."

I often hear people whining (I call it whining) and resolving themselves to this substandard educational level by saying "In America we have to educate everybody and in most countries they don’t have to do that." Let’s stop the excuses; there is a way. We must and can do a better job!

Today, I want to talk about one of the ways we can definitely raise the bar and insure success in school and success in life for America’s future generations. The key is early intervention! I’m a firm believer that we must prepare rather than repair. This is one of my pet phrases and also one of my pet peeves. We must prepare our children, not constantly repair their learning capabilities and education.

How do children learn? Scientist tells us how children learn and process information for the rest of their lives depends on how we stimulate their brains in the early years, ages 0-6. When we stimulate the brain of the young child and the neurons fire often enough, a permanent connection is formed. The more connections, the more work the brain can do. It is called hard-wiring the brain. It’s the greatest learning potential of a person’s life and the foundation for all future learning, a "window of opportunity." A perfect example is Tiger Woods. Why is he so great? His dad had him on the golf course while he was still in diapers. Educators and policy makers have just begun to recognize this great "window of opportunity."

I’m an educator, a former classroom teacher. I’ve been in the trenches. In 1991, I made a personal commitment to spend the rest of my life trying to make a difference in our educational system. Understanding what scientists were saying about the learning potential of this marvelous "window of opportunity" and the advent of technology on the scene, I thought there just might be a way of combining the two with best teaching practices that would enable every child an equal opportunity at a quality education.

Sixteen years later, we have arrived. With lots of help from some very special people, we have in place a proven preschool product that can deliver called Be Smart Kids. It’s an interactive, multi-sensory, fun, computerized, one-on-one learning system that takes advantage of this "window of opportunity" and wires the brain for life-long learning. It’s one-on-one because we understood how very important adult bonding is to a child’s social and emotional development. This process mirrors science and wires the brain for language, vocabulary, math & logic, music, spatial/visual skills, fine motor skills, social & emotional skills, character and a second language (Spanish). To this mix, we added history (because we thought developing a love of country was important), science, health and sign language. It was built into lesson plans so that anyone who was literate could implement it. After all, parents are a child’s first teacher.

During these years, we made a couple of fantastic discoveries: one, it would take only 30 minutes a week per child to implement and two, the results would be and are phenomenal, no matter the background of the child. This opened the door to provide a pathway of success to all children since 70-80% of them are in some type of institutional setting.

Over the last 16 years, thousands of children have received the Be Smart Kids instruction: We’ve provided it to:

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Blevins Speaks To Texas Education Conference On ‘Be Smart Kids’ Success Teaching Youngest

Donna Blevins, chairman and CEO of Greeneville-based Be Smart Kids, a company that provides computer software for early-childhood education, was among the speakers at a major educational conference held recently in Austin, Texas.

Blevins was one of the invited speakers at the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation’s 2007 Statewide Education Summit, which was held on Feb. 16.

The event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin had many prominent speakers.

They included: Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Inc.; Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell, the computer manufacturer; Ross Perot, chairman of the board emeritus of Perot Systems Corporation; U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both of Texas; former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige; and William C. Powers, president of the University of Texas in Austin.

The Statewide Education Summit was described as Texas’ “major forum for discussing education reform and improvement.”

Vidal G. Martinez, chairman of the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation, said, “Our diverse audience today includes (school system) superintendents, principals, administrators, teachers, school board members, teacher associations, policymakers, workforce-development board members, business and chamber leaders, parent-teacher associations, foundations and representatives of higher education; education coalitions, statewide agencies and associations.”

Blevins Speaks
Blevins participated in a discussion titled “Early Childhood Education Teaching Young Children to Soar.”

In her remarks, she said, in part, “In an ever-changing world, we (Americans) are simply not measuring up. I’ve heard many quotes concerning our educational standing with the rest of the world – 20 th, 23 rd, 24 th, 27 th, and even as high as 29 th.”

“Choose your figure. It doesn’t matter. We’re behind.”

“Bottom line, we definitely have a crisis. Our children’s future and the future of this country are in a precarious situation.”

Blevins declared, “If America is to survive as a nation and a world leader, we must do a better job of educating our youth – one child at a time. …”

She continued, “I’m a firm believer that we must prepare rather than repair. This is one of my pet phrases and also one of my pet peeves. We must prepare our children, not constantly repair their learning capabilities and education.

“How do children learn? Scientists tell us how children learn and process information for the rest of their lives depends on how we stimulate their brain in the early years, from birth to age six.”

Blevins continued, “When we stimulate the brain of the young child and the neurons fire often enough, a permanent connection is formed. The more connections, the more work the brain can do. It is called hardwiring the brain.”

Example: Tiger Woods
“It’s the greatest learning potential of a person’s life and the foundation for all future learning, a ‘window of opportunity.’”

She said, “A perfect example is Tiger Woods. Why is he so great? His dad had him on the golf course while he was still in diapers. Educators and policymakers have just begun to recognize this great ‘window of opportunity.’”

Speaking of her company, which she founded in 1998, Blevins told the meeting of prominent Texans, “With lots of help from some very special people, we have in place a proven preschool product that can deliver that is called Be Smart Kids.”

“It’s an interactive, multi-sensory, fun, computerized, one-on-one learning system that takes advantage of this ‘window of opportunity’ and wires the brain for lifelong learning.”

“It’s one-on-one because we understand how very important adult bonding is to a child’s social and emotional development.”

“This process mirrors science and wires the brain for language, vocabulary, math and logic, music, spatial/visual skills, fine motor skills, social and emotional skills, character and a second language, Spanish…”

Concluding, Blevins told those attending the statewide Education Summit in Austin, that, after working for 16 years developing early-childhood education programs, “I am very comfortable in saying, ‘Give us any child, no matter the background, for two consecutive years, 30 minutes a week, and that child will read, add and subtract by the time he/she enters kindergarten.’”

“Even children with learning challenges will dramatically improve in their learning capabilities.”

“Plus, they will develop a thirst for knowledge, strong confidence, self-esteem and a love for learning.”

“We would never think of denying food to a baby or a toddler. So, why would we deny feeding the brain? After all, it will impact the child’s learning for the rest of his/her life,” Blevins said.

 

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House Resolution No. 384: Commending Be Smart Kids & Founder

View the full resolution here

Donna D. Blevins, the Greeneville woman who founded the Be Smart Kids Learning System, on Thursday receiving a copy of a legislative resolution commending her for “enhancing education opportunities for the children of the state, nation and the world.”

A copy of House Resolution 384 passed this spring was presented to Blevins by state Rep. Eddie Yokley, D-11th, of Greene county during a luncheon meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Greeneville. The resolution was Sponsored by Yokley and state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville.

blevins honored

Reading from the resolution, Yokley said, “Donna Blevins believed that ‘if America’s children are going to compete in the world market, we are going to have to do a better job with education,’ and began working on her home computer in 1991 to create a unique educational program to combine proven teaching methods and computer-aided technology to stimulate the human brain (among young children) when learning capabilities are optimal.”

The resolution said that after its 1998 incorporation, Be Smart Kids, Inc., whose headquarters is in Greeneville “began licensing use of the system and training teachers for on-site learning centers at day-care facilities, preschools, Head Start programs and elementary schools.”

The Resolution continued, “The home edition of the electronic learning system was introduced in 2001. Today the Be Smart Kids Learning System is in use in homes worldwide, including the home of CNN host Larry King, enabling parents to harness the computer to develop their own children’s love for learning…”

Blevins later said that Be Smart Kids is being used to teach thousands of children in 35 Tennessee counties as well as in programs in Texas, New York, Georgia and Kentucky. Blevins thanked a number of people who have helped her over the years in developing of Be Smart Kids.

By Douglas Watson
Managing Editor

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West Pines Program

Blevins and Jancie Painter, a leader of Kids Can, Inc., thanked the Kiwanis Club for having provided $1,800 to fund a special educational program for 20 “high-risk” children –10 in Head Start and 10 in kindergarten — at West Pines Elementary School.

Kids Can is a non-profit organization that reaches out to local at-risk children with hopes of boosting their education in early school years. Painter said the program has received praise for the positive impact it has had on those 20 youngsters, who each received individualized tutoring a half-hour a week, using “Be Smart Kids” methodology.

Painter reported on some dramatic improvements both in reading and attitude among many of the children who received such tutoring.

She said it is hoped that the programs will be continued in the coming school year, but that this depends on obtaining needed funding.

Blevins said, especially during an election year, “Many people talk the talk of education, but not all will walk the walk. Jancie, with Kids Can, is one of those who has proven that she can walk the walk. Kiwanians can be proud of their contribution” to the Kids Can program at West Pines Elementary School.

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Management

donna blevins

Donna Blevins has been honored by the Tennessee State Legislature for her work in early childhood education. After extensive research and software development, she founded Be Smart Kids in 1998, and is the CEO and Chairman of the board.

Ms. Blevins recognized the importance of preschool programs as a result of experiences in government, community and teaching that brought her close to the myriad of teaching, social and financial problems in the American educational system. The Be Smart Kids program, a weekly half-hour computer session for preschoolers that “wires” their brains at the most important point in the child’s life, has a proven track record of phenomenal results. Students who have used Be Smart Kids have tested in the 99 th national percentile and have reading and math scores as much as three grade levels above their peers.

The company also licenses the use of its learning systems and trains teachers for private and public day care, preschool and elementary school settings. Ms. Blevins has taught at the elementary, secondary and adult education levels. Her motto is, “We must prepare rather than repair and give every child an equal opportunity at a quality education.”

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USA Today

By Bill Meyers
USA Today

TODAY’S ENTREPRENEURS: PROFILES OF SMALL BUSINESSES

Nobody knows how she came up with the revolutionary ideas that could change the way children are educated in the USA.

“They just popped into my head,” says Donna Blevins, the 60-year-old former-teacher-turned-entrepreneur. “And I really wanted to do something positive.”

“God speaks to the heart of certain people, gives them a vision and they follow,” adds Jack Gilbert, Blevins’ business partner. “He saw that Donna’s heart was heavy with passion and she just followed.”

Blevins’ journey from the classrooms of impoverished Appalachia to the boardrooms of high-powered venture capitalists is hardly complete.

But Be Smart Kids, her fledgling Tennessee-based company, has already helped 1,500 youngsters advance their reading, writing and computing skills by combining high-tech software and high-touch stroking. The Be Smart Kids approach to pre-kindergarten and elementary school education revolves around weekly half-hour computer sessions at the company’s learning centers. Each one-on-one tutorial costs about $20 and is a fast-paced multimedia frolic.

“I was floored by this,” says Robert McElrath, an investor in Be Smart Kids and Tennessee’s former commissioner of education. “Donna has shown how fast children can learn. It’s the most exciting thing in a long time.”

The mother of three daughters, Blevins hadn’t taught in 25 years and couldn’t use a PC when she decided to put a new curriculum on the computer in 1991.

She borrowed a dusty old PC from a vocational school in her hometown of Greeneville, a hamlet of 17,000 in northeast Tennessee.

Blevins taught herself the technology and reviewed more than 1,000 pieces of educational software. She chose 70 of the best and organized them into lesson plans for teachers.

An 18-month-old toddler, for example, pushes the letter “R” on the keyboard. A bunch of balloons on the computer screen blows up and turns red while music plays. Then the balloons burst and the teacher reinforces the alphabet, phonics and counting lesson.

A 2-year-old points and clicks with a mouse that meows like a kitten. Then it’s time to trace numbers on the screen with the teacher while a musical bear dances.

And a 4-year-old plays Sea School, manipulating a digital fishing rod to pick up letters and words with the teacher’s encouragement.

“Children sense when we’re having fun,” Blevins says. “And if we’re having fun, they have fun. Our teachers are cheerleaders, but they’re always in control.”

Be Smart Kids wasn’t an immediate success in Greeneville. Blevins’ cutting-edge curriculum was unproven, and some parents weren’t interested in having their children participate in an educational experiment.

While she waited for positive word-of-mouth to build, Blevins went door-to-door and began recruiting students at day-care centers.

Today, after hundreds of thousands of interactive lessons with balloons and bears, test scores for Be Smart Kids’ kids are soaring.

Blevins recently administered the standardized TerraNova test to 20 of her students. The 4- and 5-year-olds performed at a second-grade level. And the 6-year-olds achieved like fourth-graders.

Joy Parker, who has sent her 6-year-old daughter, Taylor, to Blevins for the past 3 1/2 years, marvels at her offspring’s ability to do complicated addition and subtraction problems.

“Be Smart Kids has made things come so naturally for Taylor,” Parker says. “She makes me buy math books so she can show me what she has learned.”

The big challenge facing Blevins and Gilbert is expanding their educational business and making kids smart all over the country.

Gilbert, a 57-year-old engineer who has launched several high-tech start-ups, knows it won’t be easy.

“One of the biggest hurdles is that people continue to ask us, ‘Who are you?’ ” he says.

Be Smart Kids needs cash as well as credibility.

The company generated only about $100,000 in revenue last year, although it has raised $350,000 from a group of high-net-worth individuals.

The goal is to raise $2 million for a roll-out of Be Smart Kids learning centers beyond Tennessee.

There seems to be demand — and even some desperation — for a product such as Blevins’.

Parents, educators and state officials across the USA agree that preschool education needs to be dramatically improved because crucial learning patterns are established during the early years.

As a result, legislatures in many states are debating how to enrich their preschool programs.

Gilbert hopes Be Smart Kids can sign contracts with several of these states and bring Blevins’ curriculum to more children. The entrepreneur is also targeting large day-care chains and corporations that offer employees educational assistance.

But, as McElrath says: “It will take a lot of convincing. We’ve had so many so-called educational fixes in the past that didn’t last and had no chance to work.”

Still, the Be Smart Kids team is determined to go to the head of the class.

Says Otto Wheeley, the company’s east Tennessee-based venture capitalist: “If we can make money and do something worthwhile for society at the same time, I’d love that.”

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White House Considers Blevins’ ‘Be Smart Kids’

The Greeneville Sun
Press release September 4, 2004

Donna Blevins, founder of Be Smart Kids Learning System, a Greeneville-based computer-aided learning process, recently met at the White House with members of President George W. Bush’s education team.

Blevins was invited to meet with President Bush’s chief domestic policy advisors to report on the effectiveness of Be Smart Kids in assisting young children in acquiring basic academic competence necessary for success in school.

Be Smart Kids Learning System currently licenses the use of the system and trains teachers for on-site learning centers at day-care facilities, preschools, Head Start programs and elementary schools. President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have been supportive of early-learning programs focused on preempting academic failure in public schools.

Their efforts have put new emphasis on Head Start and early-learning academic initiatives.

David Dunn, a special assistant to President Bush, hosted the White House meeting with Blevins. Dunn, a Texas native who worked with the Texas School Board Association prior to serving at the White House, has been active in facilitating the implementation of the federal “No Child Left Behind Act.”

Meets Various Officials
While in Washington, Blevins also met with staff members of congressional education committees, officials in the U.S. Department of Hearth and Human Services, and with others.

Blevins has said the Be Smart Kids Process is designed to stimulate a child’s brain during his or her early years when the “windows of opportunity” for learning are most open. At the White House, Blevins presented the results of more than 10 years of her research. She presented Be Smart Kids’ methodology, which is predicated on an understanding of how a child learns and the role of rain stimulation in the early years of life.

Blevins said she was particularly encouraged by the feedback received from federal officials. One wrote, “The children with whom you work are very fortunate to have someone so dedicated and passionate.”

Blevins has said the Be Smart Kids Methodology “takes a child only 30 minutes a week and builds the skills necessary for every ordinary child to enter school reading, adding and subtracting.”

She has added, “The program develops a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning.
“In addition, the program helps children with disabilities and limited English language skills.

The implication of the product has demonstrated dramatic results in maximized learning for children ages one to five, as well as older children requiring remedial support.”

Be Smart Kids lessons usually are taught once or twice weekly depending on the child’s age and academic level, for a 30-minute period. The program is presented for a two-to three-year period.

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