Waterford Upstart provides literacy education to pre-K students at no cost; enrollment now open

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Waterford Upstart helps 4-year-olds prepare for success in school at home – and at no cost to Utah families,

“We focus on setting the foundation for literacy,” said Kim Fischer, national spokesperson and vice president of communication for Waterford.org. “We help students walk into kindergarten ready to learn on day one.”  

Specifically, the Waterford Upstart curriculum focuses on topics such as reading comprehension, phonics and phonological awareness, which are the cornerstones of literacy. The average graduate of their program begins kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level, Fischer said, and continues to outperform peers in standardized testing through the fourth grade. 

The program employs adaptive software that increases coursework difficulty as each child progresses at their own pace. Students are never notified when they get an answer wrong, but rather, the software continues teaching them the same information in different ways until they get it right and then moves on to the next topic. Students use the program five days a week, for just 15 minutes each day. 

Fischer said there are a lot companies selling apps for learning, but as a nonprofit, Waterford.org believes in a “more holistic approach for children.”

“Not only do the children get the adaptive program, we work with the parents as well.”  

One of many Waterford Upstart students honored during the 2019-2020 virtual graduation, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Waterford Upstart, St. George News

Waterford Upstart connects every family with a parent coach who walks them through the program and then periodically calls to check in and answer any questions. Parents can use the Waterford.org Mentor app to monitor their child’s progress and receive push notifications for areas where their student is excelling as well as where they’re experiencing difficulty. 

The app provides resources for parents to work with their child away from the computer to address those challenges. Parents also gain access to age-appropriate social-emotional learning activities to help with discussing sensitive issues. 

“We believe an engaged parent leads to a better student,” Fischer said. 

Waterford Upstart parallels the timeline of the regular school year with the exception of academic calendar breaks. Fischer encourages parents to continue the program through Christmas vacation and spring recess to prevent a lapse in learning. A virtual graduation ceremony is held every May. 

“We think it’s really important to celebrate those milestones and get children excited about learning,” she said.

 Students are welcome to continue using the program through the summer until they begin kindergarten.    

Waterford Upstart was created 12 years ago in cooperation with the Utah Legislature and is primarily funded by tax dollars. With many Utah students in rural areas, Fischer said this at-home, early education program has proven to help students without access to a pre-K program enter kindergarten prepared. 

Hutch, a 2019-2020 Waterford Upstart graduate, proudly displays his diploma, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Waterford Upstart, St. George News

In addition to the free enrollment, children living at 185% of the poverty threshold or below qualify to receive free internet access and use of a computer while enrolled. 

Enrollment has increased year over year, Fischer said, and every year the state provides additional funding to reach more students. About 18,000 children are currently registered. 

With the pandemic changing the way many students are learning, Fischer said she hopes more families will take advantage of Waterford Upstart than ever before. Regardless of whether parents are planning on sending their kids to school, keeping them at home or waiting a year before starting kindergarten, children still need literacy. 

“We truly believe that literacy is the foundation of all good things,” Fischer said. “It is what’s going to get children through schooling and higher education, and it’s what’s going to lead to jobs. A literate child makes for a strong adult.”  

Enrollment is now open to all Utah students who will start kindergarten in the 2021-22 school year. Parents can register online or by calling 888-982-9898.

Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.

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