In Remote Valley, Technology Barriers Fall as Preschoolers Learn to Read with UPSTART

Learning at home is a viable preschool alternative—and in some rural areas, like Monument Valley and many others in Utah, it may be the only option.

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Four-year-old Cherrise Parrish sits crosslegged on her living room floor working on early reading activities on a Chromebook in her lap, even though her home–located on a remote parcel of rugged land in the red desert wilderness of Monument Valley, within the Utah side of the Navajo Nation–has no running water or electrical power.

How is this possible? Cherrise is part of UPSTART, a program that provides Waterford software at home designed to help her learn to read and prepare for kindergarten. The adaptive learning program teaches essential early literacy skills at the pace and level of each individual child, and its bilingual user support team partners with parents to ensure their child’s success in the program.

How UPSTART Works

image_Monument_009_RGB-1-e1453304462369In Utah, UPSTART is funded by the Utah Legislature and extended to extremely rural areas through a federal i3 grant. It is free for participants, and open to four- and five-year-old children the year before they enter kindergarten.

Since UPSTART’s inception in 2008, it has proven a highly effective program for all children, including reaching children in rural areas, low-income families and English language learners. Independent assessments show children who participate in UPSTART enter school, on average, at a “Kindergarten Advanced” reading level, and have two to three times higher academic growth rates the year before kindergarten than children who are not on UPSTART–a significant gain in preparing young learners for kindergarten.

To remove technology barriers, families who qualify receive use of a free Chromebook and free Internet service during the program if they do not have access to these resources at home.

But what to do when faced with a situation like Cherrise’s, where it’s not just a matter of a computer or Internet, but also a lack of power? Get creative.

A Solution for Cherrise

UPSTART provided Cherrise’s family with the technology necessary for her to access and use Waterford software, which included a Chromebook, solar panels outside of their home to provide power, and a satellite dish to provide Internet connectivity for running the software and uploading assessments on Cherrise’s progress back to Waterford.

This summer, Cherrise graduated from UPSTART and she’ll begin kindergarten in the fall with the ability to read at the first grade level. We’re so excited to see what the future holds for this UPSTART graduate!

Read more about how UPSTART reaches rural children in this Language Magazine interview.