The UPSTART at-home preschool program played a major role in teaching Altagracia Garcia’s son English, how to read and basic math skills, preparing him for kindergarten and teaching him that learning is fun.
Altagracia Garcia knew she wanted a better education for her son, Marco, and knew he needed to improve his English language skills prior to enrolling in kindergarten. Without these skills, Marco would begin school behind other children. One of Garcia’s friends recommended UPSTART.
UPSTART is an easy-to-use, web-based school readiness program that offers Waterford Institute’s adaptive reading, math and science curricula through a home-based approach. Children use UPSTART during the year before they enter kindergarten to gain essential skills that prepare them for school. Funded by the Utah Legislature and free to preschool age children throughout the state, UPSTART features more than 7,000 activities, songs and books to help children learn and retain reading, math and science concepts. By using UPSTART 15 minutes a day, five days a week, children are well prepared for kindergarten, can read at a higher level than those who haven’t participated, and know basic math and science concepts.
Challenges and Needs
Coming from a native, Spanish-speaking family, Marco only spoke “a little” English and struggled to understand basic numeracy concepts. Garcia and her husband, both native Spanish-speakers, speak even less English, but she knew Marco would need to understand, speak and read English to be successful in kindergarten.
Garcia recounts trips to stores prior to Marco using UPSTART. “He would often ask how much things were,” she said. “He didn’t understand numbers and couldn’t read the tags.”
Garcia hoped UPSTART could help Marco master some key literacy and math concepts before entering kindergarten. However, she worried whether she would understand the program enough to help Marco or if she would be able to communicate effectively with the UPSTART team if she had questions.
Despite her concerns, Garcia registered Marco for UPSTART online and attended an UPSTART training meeting. There, she learned how to establish a routine for using the UPSTART program and how to help Marco when necessary, all in Spanish. She was also given tips on how to help keep Marco motivated during UPSTART.
UPSTART has a full-time support team to help parents with questions and concerns, and each family is partnered with a dedicated team member who frequently follows up to see how their child is doing in the program. “I was initially worried about the support given to Spanish-speaking parents,” Garcia said. “The support UPSTART offers parents is really great. The support team is knowledgeable, easy to reach and there is always help in Spanish.”
With a computer and high-speed Internet connection the only requirement, the UPSTART program delivers thousands of learning activities using an adaptive software sequence that is unique to each child. This allows children to learn at their own personalized pace and maximize their comprehension and skill mastery.
“Marco was very excited to use UPSTART,” Garcia said. She recounts the many times he would say, “Let’s go study,” before logging in for his lessons. Garcia’s initial concern about Marco remaining interested in the program quickly dissipated as the animations captured Marco’s attention right away and kept him engaged during each session.
UPSTART’s reading lessons start with games and songs about letter recognition, phonics and spelling. They also include storybooks, which incorporate vocabulary lessons, teach listening comprehension and reading practice. UPSTART’s math lessons teach basic number skills, including recognition and counting, while the science lessons include explorations of the development of baby chicks inside an egg, volcanoes and plant life.
As time progressed, Marco began receiving his award medals for meeting the monthly program usage requirements. “When Marco earned each medal he was so excited,” she said. “He would display them like a poster and then we would tell him that he had to keep going. The medals really motivated him.” With his display of medals from the program, Marco felt successful and confident.
Today Marco is speaking both English and Spanish. He is in the first-grade and Garcia describes him as “a strong reader, who is also very good at math.” Because of UPSTART Marco was able to enter school ahead of many of his classmates, despite not being a native English speaker. He no longer needs help reading or with math and remains academically ahead.
Marco advanced through UPSTART and participated in the UPSTART graduation. “All of the children receive their own diploma and as a parent you think, ‘Wow! He did it,’” Garcia said.
“Honestly, I was surprised when I saw that my son was already reading, especially when he was reading in English,” Garcia said, “He also learned a lot in the math sections as well. I’m so proud of him!”
Using UPSTART has been a great opportunity for Marco and for his family. The songs used to teach various concepts in UPSTART are very “sticky,” Garcia said. “He would sing them while we were out as a family,” Garcia said. “When I would get the song wrong, he would tell me, ‘No, Mom. It goes like this…’ and would sing it for me.”
Garcia regularly recommends UPSTART to her friends who have children. “UPSTART gave my son a noticeable advantage in kindergarten,” Garcia said. “Your child will to learn to speak and read English and will be ready to start school by using UPSTART.”