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Utah Program Taps Technology to Close Kindergarten-Readiness Gap

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A program in Utah is aiming to reach preschool age children and close the kindergarten readiness gap. Many children are not attending preschool and are arriving to kindergarten already behind their more affluent peers. Some of these children do not speak English, are not able to sit still and haven't mastered basic skills necessary for learning. Many Utah children do not attend preschool due to cost or programs being inconveniently located. The Waterford Institute, a nonprofit, created a software platform for four-year-olds to prepare them for kindergarten.

Funded by the state of Utah, the program called UPSTART was launched 7 years ago. The 4-year-old and parent or caregiver are instructed to devote 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week using the software. UPSTART teaches the alphabet, numbers, how to spell your name and incorporates songs and games to entice the user. For families who didn't already have a computer and internet capabilities, the state provides these free of charge.

Nearly 20,000 Utah children have used the UPSTART program to date. A recent study demonstrated that after one year of use, the software had a positive, lasting impact and was able to provide students with a strong academic start. Use of UPSTART has begun to address the gap in achievement between lower income children and middle income students. All children using UPSTART made beneficial gains, including low income children, special needs and English language learners.

South Carolina and Idaho are now interested in the software and plan on pilot testing this year. The reports show that use of UPSTART is one way to begin to close the kindergarten readiness gap and provide low income children with a beneficial start.

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