BOUNTIFUL — One mom wanted to keep her youngest daughter home with her a little longer.
Another mom needed flexibility to get to medical appointments.
Both found a preschool that met their needs in an online program using individualized software known as UPSTART.
UPSTART, which stands for Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow, was developed by Salt Lake City’s Waterford Institute, a non-profit research institute focused on early childhood education.
There is no cost to families for the program, a pilot program funded by the Utah Legislature at $1,300 per child.
The purpose, according to the UPSTART website, is to “help Utah’s children better prepare for kindergarten.”
Other states have funded universal preschools, but Utah’s leaders cited cost, the limited number of qualified teachers and the importance of time in the home as reasons to focus, instead, on UPSTART.
“It works to get the children ready for school,” said Claudia Miner, vice president of development at Waterford and UPSTART program director. “It really is a partnership with parents and caregivers and gets parents involved early in their children’s education. We hope through the program that we help train them to be advocates with their children’s education.”
The year-long preschool starts with an assessment for the child and training for the parent or caregiver.
The family then takes the individualized software home. Families without computers or Internet access can receive both while in the program.
For 15 minutes a day, five days a week, preschoolers look at pictures, learn letters, hear songs and take tests.
“There are over 400 hours of instruction and new and engaging things for the children to do,” said Miner. “Our program focuses on cognitive development.”
The UPSTART support organization maintains frequent contact with participating families through written material, emails and phone calls.
The program is offered in both English and Spanish.
“We are trying to find the children who need the program the most,” said Miner.
Computer assessments are designed with pictures and pop-up responses, so that even children who don’t yet read can be measured. At the of the year, which mirrors the traditional school year, students are again assessed to measure progress, and a celebration for the families and children is held.
“We were amazed with how much she learned,” said Margaret Bennion of her daughter, Marilyn. “At the end she was a beginning reader.”
Music, science, math, language and culture are part of the program, according to the Bountiful resident.
“She was able to learn nursery songs from around the world,” said Bennion. “She found Wales on a map and clicked to learn a Welsh nursery song.”
Julia Sorenson of Bountiful said the program helped her daughter, Miriena, get a jump start for kindergarten.
“She needed to have that,” said Sorenson. “My daughter gets hyper and excited around other children, so she has learned more being at home in a self-governed environment than being out around other kids and trying to learn at the same time.”
Both parents said they incorporated time with playgroups and neighborhood children into their child’s schedule to help them develop social skills as well.
There are more than 5,500 children in Utah that have participated in UPSTART since its inception in 2009.
“We think it’s got some real possibilities for growing nationally,” said Miner, “especially in states that have a larger rural population,” where its harder for children to be in traditional preschools.
More information on UPSTART is available at utahupstart.org.