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GREENSBURG — Many children in need of an early education have found themselves at home without an option for schooling in the crucial months before they begin kindergarten due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to make sure children are prepared for that first day of school this fall, Waterford.org is providing the Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path to families across Indiana keep kids on track over the summer.
This program supports families who have been affected by COVID-19 either through personal economic hardship or due to the indefinite closure of many Pre-K and Head Start options.
The organization received charitable donations to provide the Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path to 1,000 families across Indiana this summer at no cost.
"Right now a lot of parents are kind of taking on this homeschooling role and they don't really know what to do," said Kim Fischer, the Director of Public Relations for Waterford.org. "So we want to do is kind of fit in there and give parents the tools that they need to do this at home."
One of those parents taking part in the program already is Greensburg mother of three, Monica Schafer. Her son Axton is excited to head off to Kindergarten this fall. He has been working daily on the Upstart program this school year.
"I knew that there were something that I was missing, that I was lagging on, and I wanted to give him the best because he is a smart boy," Schafer said, who is a working mom just trying to make ends meet. She found the Upstart program and applied.
Waterford.org provided a laptop for Axton so that he can take part in the daily courses. Waterford.org also provides a personal coach for Monica so that she can continue to engage and help Axton learn and stay on track.
"Coming from a kid that knew how to write a few letters, now he is able to sound out words," Schafer said. "He absolutely loves this Chester character that they have. It's a little bookworm that literally eats the words off of the page and then Axton has to fill in the words. It's really fun to see him interacting and become familiar with the characters."
But when the pandemic hit, libraries closed. Monica was taking Axton to the library daily to access the internet so he could do Upstart.
She feared without being able to continue with this program during the pandemic, he would lose some of the progress he has already made.
So Waterford.org also provided internet to the family so Axton can continue on with the learning program.
The average Waterford Upstart graduate enters kindergarten reading at an almost first-grade level.
Every year, roughly 2.2 million four-year-old children in the United States, particularly children from low-income households or who live in geographically isolated areas, are unable to access site-based preschool for a variety of reasons including cost and transportation.
Waterford.org looks to fill those education gaps with the Waterford Upstart program.
"We have a set time that we sit down everyday and he either does it with my significant other or with me and it's been really really nice," Schafer said. "They really really work to make sure he has all the aspects to be better at what he is learning."
With Waterford Upstart, parents will receive weekly calls from a personal coach to keep the family on track.
Through Waterford Mentor, families will also receive push notifications, letting them know what their child is learning and ways they can continue that engagement offline.
Waterford Upstart's personalized online program will be used 25 minutes a day, five days a week during the condensed summer program.
This will help students achieve the number of minutes necessary to be kindergarten ready and still falls well within the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) and World Health Organization's recommendations of no more than one hour of screen time per day for four-year-old children.
And the learning that takes place during those minutes is critical to a students' overall success in school for their futures,
"Getting them into kindergarten ready to go is so incredibly important," Fischer said. "Research shows that a child's brain forms 90 percent between the ages of one and fice, so if you think about it in kindergarten they are five. Because by third grade if a child is not at reading level, then it's going to be very very hard for them to catch up."
Families need to qualify for the program through an application process. They are looking for families 20 percent of the poverty line or below, and those who have been hit hard by COVID-19.
To apply, click here and the process takes about eight minutes to apply.
Applications for this summer's program need to be submitted by June 1.