According to Grand County Schools Superintendent Scott Crane, the Waterford Institute recently offered to provide its Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow (UPSTART) program to preschoolers in Grand County. Grand is among 18 rural school districts in Utah that have signed on to participate in the program after the Waterford Institute received an $11.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand UPSTART to rural communities.
“They’ve come to rural schools, and they’d like to provide help for our kids before they go into kindergarten,” Crand said. “The purpose is to close the achievement gap for high needs students.”
Since 2009, when the UPSTART pilot program was launched, approximately 7,000 students have participated, according to the program’s website, utahupstart.org. However, most of those students have been located in urban or suburban school districts. The expansion into rural Utah could provide significant benefits to local children. An independent evaluation of the program’s third year found that students participating in UPSTART, over the course of one year, fared two to three times better on early literacy tests than students who did not use the program.
The program will provide computer software to kids in the appropriate age range, Crane said. Participating students will be expected to log in to the program and use it for approximately 15 minutes a day.
Crane said approximately 70 percent of pre-kindergarten students in the area will be eligible to participate. If the students do not have access to a computer or Internet, the program will arrange to provide them with that access.
“They’ll monitor their usage of the program, and if they’re not working on it for the 15 minutes a day, [someone] will contact them and make sure they’re accessing the program,” Crane said.
The software will be provided for the students for the year before kindergarten, as well as during the summers after the students finish kindergarten, first and second grade.
Crane said the UPSTART program will provide the district with money to hire a liaison to administer the program and monitor the students’ participation.
“We expect there will be about 70 students using the program,” said Rhiana Medina, director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, which will serve as the UPSTART liaison. Medina will receive training from the Waterford Institute beginning March 25 and the center will begin a search for a part-time UPSTART coordinator once that training is completed.
Crane said the UPSTART program provides an opportunity for all the 2015 kindergarten students to begin school at similar learning levels.
“This is a great program,” Crane said. “What we want to do is help decrease that gap that they come into kindergarten with between the kids that get to go to preschool and get a lot of help at home and the kids that don’t.”
Next year’s group of preschoolers will be the only students to receive the UPSTART instruction, Crane said. The information about their academic achievement will serve as a longitudinal study for the UPSTART program.
Times-Independent reporter Lisa J. Church contributed to this story.