A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Waterford UPSTART program offered at no cost to help kids get ready for kindergarten, thanks to KSBA


Just a few hours to our north, families in Indiana are getting their kids ready for kindergarten right in their own home. They’re utilizing Waterford UPSTART, an early education program that’s designed to reach those families who might not otherwise have a PreK option.

That’s the case for Greensburg mother-of-two, Barbara Martin. Martin didn’t have access to a traditional PreK program for her daughter, Penelope. So now, Penelope is getting ready for her first day of school by using the Waterford UPSTART program.

“I would totally recommend the UPSTART program to absolutely anybody. It has been amazing for my kids,” said Martin. “It has everything they’re going to need for kindergarten already on there. You don’t have to lesson plan; you don’t have to stress out about time,” Martin said.

At 8-years-old, Penelope’s brother, Pierce has struggled with reading. Martin was able to obtain an additional sibling profile for her son at no cost, and she’s seeing the program help him improve as well.

“It’s made him a lot more confident now. He’s willing to read out loud now. His words are like sliding together more. I wish I would have known about this program when Pierce went to preschool. When he went into kindergarten he was totally unprepared,” Martin admitted. “Whereas Penelope is going into this… she has all of her numbers down she can count up to like 25 I think at this point. She knows all of her letters in uppercase and she knows three-fourths of them in lowercase. She’s just so much more kindergarten ready than what he was, and I totally attribute it to the fact that she’s doing Waterford UPSTART because it’s so consistent.”

The Martins aren’t the only family seeing success. Toni Butler, a single mother of four in Rushville, is thankful for the UPSTART program because she says it’s giving her children opportunities that she never had.

“I don’t want them to struggle like I do,” explained Butler. “I didn’t get my full education when I was a kid. I dropped out of school and stuff and that’s just something I never want my kids to do and I’ll make sure they don’t do that.”

Butler’s 4-year-old son, Jansen is gaining the skills he needs to walk into school on the first day confident and ready to learn. Jansen uses the personalized curriculum online 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, while Butler receives the training necessary to become her children’s first and most influential teacher. Through the Waterford UPSTART program, computer and internet access is provided to families at no cost, as well as a parent coach who works with families to ensure they have the tools and support they need to help their children learn in these crucial, formative years.

“When he first started he did not know his ABC’s, he could count to like four, and colors, shapes… none of that,” explained Butler. “When I watch my son do the lessons in the UPSTART program, it’s just getting him ready for everything—for the school years ahead of him. He’s just going to be ahead and he’ll keep getting further and further ahead.”

According to Waterford.org, on average, 92% of children who participate in the Waterford UPSTART program are ready for kindergarten—compared to a 65% average nationwide and 48% for low-income children.

For children in Kentucky, the statistics aren’t much better.

“Here in Kentucky, we know that only half of our students are coming to kindergarten prepared. So that means half our students, once they start kindergarten and even finish, are already behind,” said Rhonda Caldwell, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. “I’d like for all Kentucky parents to know that the Waterford UPSTART program is an amazing opportunity that doesn’t come very often.”

The Waterford UPSTART program is now accepting applications for 2020. The program, provided by Waterford.org, is being funded thanks to generous donations made through the TED Organization. Waterford is one of 8 nonprofit organizations in the world named a 2019 TED Audacious Project. As a part of this recognition, the organization was tasked with reaching more four-year-olds in need, including 200 children in Kentucky.

Families with children who will enter kindergarten in 2021, can now sign for this at-home, no cost program by visiting WaterfordUPSTART.org


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