How Utah Is Growing Its Online Preschool

EARLY CHILDHOOD WEBINAR: Utah, one of ten states without a publicly funded preschool system, is expanding its free online preschool program UPSTART—short for “Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow”—to serve 6,600 students this year, with a focus on growing rural access. For at least 15 minutes per day, preschoolers engage in lessons, songs and games to boost reading proficiency and other skills.

UPSTART was created in 2008 by the Waterford Research Institute, a nonprofit that also provides families with training, laptops, Internet access and even solar panels for electricity, according to The Washington Post. The program has claimed that students using the learning platform see a 28 point improvement on Brigance tests, a literacy assessment, versus those who don’t.

The program comes at a time when the federal government is committing more resources to promote greater preschool access. The Obama administration has made available Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grants and i3 grants, both of which promote innovation in early childhood education. UPSTART, which will be free for most families, will cost Utah taxpayers $5.3 million per year.

Pre-school is more than learning about words and sounds, however. UPSTART students won’t get to enjoy the social interactions that their peers on preschool playgrounds enjoy. And pediatricians, some of whom recommend that toddlers spend no more than 30 minutes in front of screens each week, may frown at the whole idea of taking preschool online.

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