As COVID-19 cases rise in hot spots across the country and schools revert to distance learning, many children struggle to adapt to an online format. Barriers to access and unfamiliarity with digital media can leave some students at a disadvantage as schools move back online.
To add to the list of concerns, prominent voices in the educational field continue to worry about a “COVID-19 slide,” with lost time in the classroom leading to weakened math, reading, and science skills.
According to New York Times reporter Dana Goldstein, the abrupt and traumatic shift to at-home learning may cause the average student to fall as much as seven months behind—with worse impacts for low-income and minority families.
Amid these significant and ongoing changes to how children learn at school, Utah nonprofit Waterford.org is looking out for the littlest learners. Their mission: making sure children have the necessary support and resources to start school strong—whether their journey begins at home or in the classroom.
Their at-home, kindergarten readiness program, Waterford Upstart, has been a part of Utah’s educational landscape for over a decade. Families receive access to this online learning platform at no cost, and the program helps them prepare their preschool-aged children to enter school ready to learn.
Over the 2020–2021 school year, Waterford Upstart will operate in over 20 states, with an aim to support families as they begin their child’s academic journey from home.
To meet this year’s unique challenges, Waterford Upstart coaches families on how to help their preschool-aged children learn the skills they need for school. Parents receive learning tips and access to thousands of resources to help them create a strong learning space at home.
Waterford Upstart is done entirely at home, so families can complete the program in a safe and controlled environment. Because it is an online program, even families in extremely rural areas with no in-person preschool centers can participate. That way, geography does not need to be a barrier to education.
Additionally, Waterford Upstart is always free for families. It is funded in Utah by the state legislature, and by generous philanthropic support and grants in other states. Waterford.org also provides computer and Internet access to families who need them—and any family with an eligible-aged child can participate.
The program includes Waterford’s award-winning software, which adapts to each child’s skill level and focuses on the areas where they need the most help. This means children move at the pace that’s best for their learning; it also means they master concepts before moving on.
Importantly for this year, Waterford Upstart familiarizes children with digital learning skills like using a mouse or keyboard. If schools continue any forms of online or distance learning next year, children will be comfortable and confident in online learning spaces because of their Waterford Upstart experience.
"When COVID-19 hit and school went virtual, Nick was ready thanks to Waterford Upstart,” says Nina Mencuri, mother of a Waterford Upstart graduate. “Learning in an online environment was nothing new to him. He knows how to work Zoom; he knows how to work his computer. Now, I just watch to see that he's logged in correctly and that's pretty much it. Despite the pandemic, Nick is flourishing in kindergarten thanks to Waterford Upstart.”
Waterford Upstart is proven by third-party studies as effective in helping children enter school confident and ready to learn. In fact, on average, graduates of the program enter kindergarten reading at almost a first-grade level, and children retain those gains into the 4th grade.
Last year, Waterford Upstart was named an Audacious Project. Audacious projects, in partnership with the TED Organization, are ideas that have the power to change the world. The program has also been awarded numerous grants from both nonprofit and government groups to help them reach more families across the county.
Waterford.org also offered a summer program to children in 10 states across the country in response to the pandemic. This supported over 13,000 families as they caught their children up on any learning they might have missed during the final months of the 2019–2020 school year.
Waterford Upstart is currently enrolling for its standard school-year program for children entering kindergarten fall 2021. Children will learn basic reading, math, and science skills and become confident using digital resources so that no matter what school looks like next year, they will be ready to succeed.
To learn more about the program or to register your child, click here.