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Recipient of i3 Grant Expands Pre-K in Rural Utah

A public prekindergarten program in Utah that recently received a federal grant has expanded access to pre-K by providing computers, Internet, and an online curriculum for rural families across the state.

The Waterford Institute, a Utah-based nonprofit, received an $11.5 million grant from the federal Investing in Innovation Fund, or i3, in 2013 to expand the existing in-home preschool program, UPSTART. The program was authorized by the state legislature in 2008 and Waterford was selected to administer the program in 2009. Since it's inception, the program has provided instructional software, and in some cases computers and Internet, to more than 7,000 children in Utah, with 5,000 children slated to participate this year. 

This fall, Waterford launched an initiative through UPSTART that is funded by the i3 grant and targets 1,000 rural children, each of whom will have access to either the math or reading portion of the program.

"We have children who don't know their ABC's yet, who don't know their name yet. We have kids who aren't read to," said Claudia Miner, vice president of development for the Waterford Institute. "Just having access to opportunity is an important part of this grant."

A growing body of research has found that high-quality pre-K programs can boost academic scores and teach children classroom skills like how to raise their hands and pay attention. An external evaluation of Utah's UPSTART program suggests that an increased usage of the prekindergarten computer program contributed to an increase in literacy development and school readiness. The program stipulates that children should use the educational software 15-20 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

As of 2013, Utah was one of 10 states in the country that lacked a state-funded pre-K program that met the criteria of the National Institute for Early Education Research. Most of the states that do not offer a pre-K have a higher percentage of rural students than the national average.

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