Federal Grant Provides Montana Families a Free Early Education Option


More families will be able to use the Waterford Upstart program at home this year

(Helena, MT) June 22, 2021 — For the second year, Montana families can prepare their children for kindergarten at home, at no cost. Montana is one of five states without a state funded early education option, so the United States Department of Education awarded the nonprofit organization Waterford.org an Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Expansion Grant to see if Waterford Upstart could be a solution for Montana families.

Waterford Upstart is an in-home, early education program that prepares 4-year-old children for kindergarten. Families are given the tools they need to be their child’s first and most influential teachers, including a computer and internet at no cost. The program provides positive parent-child interactions while delivering personalized, online instruction that is fun and engaging for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Families are also given a family coach and tips to continue engaging their children offline. On average, 92% of children who participate in Waterford Upstart are ready for kindergarten—compared to a 65% average nationwide and 48% for under-resourced children.

Early results show Montana children who graduated from Waterford Upstart last month saw great improvement. Through the first 26 weeks of the 2020–2021 pilot program, the average overall reading score for students was 83.79. A score of 80 or higher within the Waterford Early Reading Program represents mastery. Additionally, 83.5% of students taking part in Waterford Upstart’s Early Math and Science program had an overall math and science score of 80 or higher.

“Digital learning is a great tool that supports strong family engagement and school readiness for our young learners. We are seeing extraordinary results through Montana’s collaboration with the Waterford Upstart grant program,” said Superintendent Elsie Arntzen. “Thank you to our Montana families that have embraced this school readiness digital tool. This public-private partnership is what makes Montana a leader in providing flexibility in digital educational services for young children and families in rural Montana.”

Families who have children heading to kindergarten in 2022 can apply by going to www.waterfordupstart.org. Spots are limited.


Waterford.org is an early education nonprofit with a mission to achieve universal literacy for children through equity, access, and parent empowerment. Waterford develops educational tools that guide students along adaptive, individualized learning paths toward fluent reading and lifelong learning. We empower parents as a child’s first teacher, and we support teachers in taking the right actions at the right time for their students. In total, Waterford.org serves more than 300,000 children every year through all of our programs, and that number is continually growing.

Waterford Upstart

Waterford Upstart helps four-year-old children prepare for school at home and at no cost. Children develop foundational reading and social-emotional skills, and families are empowered to become their child’s first and most influential teachers. The children use adaptive software just 15 minutes a day, five days a week in the year before they start school. Waterford Upstart also fuels family involvement in their child’s early education through family coaches and fun educational activities parents can complete with their children offline. Waterford Upstart has been rigorously tested and proven, earning the program a federal EIR grant and the title of a TED Audacious project. Independent research shows the average Waterford Upstart graduate enters kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level and maintains those gains through the fourth grade.


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