UPSTART online pre-kindergarten program offers flexibility for rural, low-income families

Heidi Johnson sits with her son Lachlan as he goes through a module of the online UPSTART kindergarten readiness program. The program is fun enough for kids that Lachlan often did not want to stop when each 15-minute daily lesson was over, Heidi Johnson says.


UPSTART online pre-kindergarten program offers flexibility for rural, low-income families


By Linda Petersen

Staff writer

Aug. 31, 2017


Last winter as the snow flew in Spring City, Kayla Brunner thanked her lucky stars that she didn’t have to bundle up her two preschoolers against the cold and load them into her car to take her daughter Danielle to preschool.

Instead, many mornings she served breakfast to Danielle at the family computer where the girl enjoyed preschool in her PJs.

That’s because Danielle was enrolled in a free, state-sponsored online kindergarten readiness program, the Waterford UPSTART program.

Funded by the Utah Legislature, the individualized preschool program was developed for families across the state who are much like the Brunners—rural and low income (Kayla’s husband, Jesse, is a doctoral student), along with families who speak English as a second language.

Last year, close to 15,000 families participated statewide.

UPSTART, which has been around since 2009, has so far yielded impressive results. A Utah Board of Education study that followed UPSTART graduates through successive years showed that, across the board, UPSTART students outperform the state averages and continued to do so through the fourth grade, according to UPSTART’s outreach director, Isaac Troyo.

“Our students tend to do two to three times better than non-UPSTART peers,” Troyo said.

Brunner has seen such results with Danielle and her older brother Carson, 6, who is also an UPSTART graduate.

“I really loved it. The program made a huge difference for them going to kindergarten. They really thrived,” she said.

UPSTART, which takes just 15 minutes a day, five days a week, leads students through a series of interactive exercises and games in reading, math and science. Students move through an individualized program that adapts itself to the student, based on the student’s own interaction with the program, at the student’s own pace. When a student runs into trouble learning a certain concept, that concept is repeated until the student is able to master it. When students return to the program for each day’s lesson, it opens up where they left off the day before.

“It was great. There were no distractions or fluffy stuff—just 15 minutes and you’re done,” Brunner said.

Heidi Johnson of Fairview found the format worked really well for her son Lachlan, who is now a kindergartener at Fairview Elementary.

“It was really nice to do at home and on the computer,” Johnson said. “Kids now want that technology. It’s something that isn’t a chore to them. Sometimes I’d tell Lachlan it was time to quit and he would say, ‘I want to keep playing.’”

Both mothers already have their younger preschoolers preregistered for the program.

Along with the software, parents who sign up their children for UPSTART receive a one-hour in-person or online training on the program and are provided with educational materials.

“They provided tons of materials to motivate your child,” Brunner said.

Parents are also paired with a personal care representative who checks in with the family regularly and can be called upon to help with any problems that arise—although both mothers say they never had any issues.

The program also monitors individual participation and notifies administrators of missed days.

While the program was initiated to help rural, low income and non-English-speaking families, Troyo says currently there are plenty of openings, and the program is open to anyone with a preschooler. He encourages interested families to sign up by October so they can get the most out of the program.

If families do not have their own computer, UPSTART can provide one, along with Internet access, for free. In-person trainings have already been conducted in Sanpete County for this year, but Troyo says families can be trained via webinar or conference calls.

For more information on Waterford UPSTART or to sign up for the program, you can visit http://www.waterfordupstart.org.