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Free Pre-K Program ‘Waterford Upstart' Prepares Connecticut Kids for Kindergarten

Waterford.org data shows kids that complete the program enter kindergarten reading at a first-grade level.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Getting your child ready for kindergarten can be as easy as carving out 15 minutes a day.

There's a new free Pre-K program that lets parents and kids work side-by-side on activities that prepare kids for school. It is called Waterford Upstart, and it is now available to children across Connecticut.

In Bridgeport, five-year-old Kaiden looks forward to completing activities every day.

“Look at this word. Read it out loud! Some of these words are not real words,” his laptop challenges him.  

The exercises are more than entertaining; they are helping him prepare for kindergarten.

“We've been doing a lot of getting his alphabets, learning his syllables, how to break up the words," Rakiya Smith, Kaiden’s mom, said.

Kaiden was part of the Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path pilot program this summer. He wraps up net week before heading to a classroom.

His four-year-old sister, Kailani, knows the word “kindergarten” well, and cannot wait to go. She will be starting the Waterford Upstart program in September, prepping to head to school in 2023.

“Every time that she sees him doing his work, she says, ‘I want a turn, I want a turn!’ And I keep telling her, ‘It's not your turn yet, your turn is coming!’” Smith said.

The free program offers personalized at-home activities. For 15 minutes a day, five days a week, kids learn how to read. There are optional math and science components.

“He's doing really good with his addition and subtraction,” Smith said.

Families can also connect virtually with a coach.

Although Kaiden and Kailani go to pre-school, their mom says these at-home activities are important in advancing their skills.

“At the beginning, he could count to 10 easily,” Smith said. “Now, I think the other day he counted to 70 without messing up. So big, big difference.”

The program is run by the national nonprofit Waterford.org.

“Our data tells us that on average, Waterford Upstart graduates will enter kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level,” John McCann, Waterford.org public relations manager, said. “So think about it. You're starting school, you're starting kindergarten, and you're actually reading as if you were in the first grade.”

The initiative aims to promote equity in education.

“What our program does is remove many of those barriers, whether it's being able to afford preschool, or whether it's being able to just get to a location,” McCann said. “The parent is right there alongside the child, because we're big on family engagement.”

In Connecticut, there are 200 slots in the program for children entering kindergarten in 2023. So far, 68 families have enrolled.

“When you talk about equity, and we talk about leveling the playing field, we know that when kids get off to a good start in school, that's going to lead to better outcomes. Not just in school, but also in life,” McCann said.

The nonprofit will also cover the costs of necessary tools if needed, like internet service and a laptop.

Each child’s personalized program, putting smiles on faces, and ensuring Connecticut children are ready to start school on par with their peers.

“It doesn't really seem like work,” Smith said.

Registration for the program is online at here.

The deadline to enroll a child starting kindergarten in 2023 is Nov. 1.

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