Waterford UPSTART | 2019

Waterford UPSTART

Delivering quality pre-K in the home to ensure every child arrives at school ready to learn

Kids without access to early education may start kindergarten already years behind their peers. Waterford’s UPSTART project will break through existing barriers, by coaching parents and providing personalized learning tools for every child.

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Research has well-established the importance of early education for a child’s continued success. But despite public policy pushes to fund it, about 2.2 million children in the United States — one-half of all the country’s 4-year-olds — don’t have access to an early education program. This disproportionately affects low-income, minority and rural learners. If you are a 4-year-old in a family living below the poverty line in Mississippi, or in a Spanish-speaking family in Arizona, or living on a farm in the rural heartland, you are likely to enter kindergarten on the first day already years behind your peers, and you may never catch up. At-risk children who start school without basic skills are 25% more likely to drop out, 40% more likely to become teen parents and 60% less likely to attend college.

Big Idea

Waterford UPSTART, developed by the nonprofit Waterford.org, is a proven, home-based kindergarten readiness program that offers a solution to those access barriers. Through Waterford UPSTART, access has been given to more than 60,000 children in 15 states who otherwise might have missed a life-changing early-learning opportunity. In 15 minutes a day, young students build valuable literacy skills, to help place them at the same starting line as their peers. Waterford UPSTART takes advantage of a key insight — parents are really a child's first teacher. By showing parents the value, giving them the resources, and empowering them to guide their child’s first journeys into learning and support their social-emotional development, Waterford UPSTART helps unserved and underserved children get ready for school and engages parents more deeply in their education. The goal: to see every 5-year-old in the US walk into their first school classroom prepared.


Waterford UPSTART’s model provides proactive family coaching with personalized learning software, empowering parents as their child’s first educators. Waterford UPSTART plans to open up access in all 50 states in the US through sustainably-funded programs. With the support of The Audacious Project, Waterford UPSTART will provide family support and software in pilot programs across the nation, delivering early education to more than 250,000 children. Families that need it will also receive a computer and internet at no-cost. As the pilots yield results that demonstrate more children are prepared, Waterford UPSTART will move into advocacy, working with legislatures to put their state’s pilot on the path toward funding. This is exactly what happened in Utah, where Waterford UPSTART began. After seeing strong results, the state opted to fund the program, which now serves 30% of all Utah’s 4-year-old children.

Why will this succeed?

Waterford UPSTART has operated pilots in 15 states — including South Carolina and Indiana, where state funding is also being implemented — and delivered incredible results, across geographies and demographics. More than 91% of children who use UPSTART the year before kindergarten arrive at school ready to learn, compared to a 65% average nationwide and 48% for low-income children. A longitudinal study showed Waterford UPSTART children outperformed their peers on state standardized tests in literacy skills — all the way through fourth grade. These gains were consistent across subgroups, including special education (SPED) and English Language Learner (ELL) children. Graduates of the program show similar social-emotional gains as those in traditional PreK programs. And parents report extremely high levels of satisfaction, saying they were impressed with the progress their child made and grateful the program engaged them in their child’s education.

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