Waterford Upstart Program Looks to Make School-readiness Accessible for Utah Kids
Being prepared for kindergarten lays a critical foundation for future success as children make their way through the school years.
The Waterford Upstart program teaches preschool-age children basic school readiness skills in reading, math, and science. It’s not affiliated with the private school in Sandy – this Waterford program is free and open to everyone, and even provides computers and internet access for families who need it.
Utah has been using Waterford Upstart for the past 13 years. Kim Fischer is the National Spokesperson and Vice President of Communications for Waterford. She said literacy and socialization are critical for kids entering kindergarten, and that they need to be confident when they walk into school for the first time.
“The most important thing is that families recognize that early education is vitally important,” she said. “A lot of people think the child is going to learn these fundamental principles when they get into kindergarten, but in actuality, if the child doesn't already have some of these principles in place, they're going to start off behind their peers."
Families can sign up the year before a child enters kindergarten. The program is designed to be used 15 minutes a day, five days a week. This year, Fischer said, there are no limits on enrollment. The school is ready to provide curriculum and support for all of Utah's 50,000 four-year-olds.
“They get a coach that they can check in with and walk them through the process,” Fischer said. “And then they also get push notifications on their phone to let them know how their child is doing, what they're learning, and how to engage with that exact learning offline, and social-emotional conversations they can have with their child to get them prepared in a more well-rounded way."
Waterford.org is focused on kindergarten preparedness but also offers elementary school support.
“We also work in the classroom with teachers from pre-K all the way through sixth grade as a literacy or math and science component,” Fischer said.
Fischer said the pre-K program collects individual student progress metrics, then gives teachers the tools needed to bring kids up to grade level.
“In the home, it's really the same software, but we give parents the tools that they need to help their child, and again, that's strictly for that year before kindergarten,” she said.
The Utah Legislature brought Waterford Upstart to the state as part of its goal to find a kindergarten readiness program that would work equally well in both rural and urban settings.
"We then expanded that to our most underserved families in the state, and so you know we're talking about, families that are from different countries, our refugee population,” Fischer said. “And now, 13 years later, we've expanded to provide our program to any family in the state that feels like it would be a positive thing for their child."
The program offers math and science components, but the primary focus is literacy and socialization.
"Also infused into our program is social-emotional. So, we talk to children about their feelings, about how to handle anger, about what would you do if you felt some jealousy? So, all of that is infused into our literacy component."
Fischer said making families aware of the program is the primary barrier to participation.
For more information on the program, visit waterfordupstart.org or call them at 888-982-9898. The program starts in August.
KPCW news reports on issues affecting young children and their parents are brought to you by the Park City Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Fund. For more information, visit earlychildhoodalliance.net.