The Cottam family lives in gorgeous southern Utah, on the edge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The natural beauty of this small city makes it a special place to raise a family, but its location is hours from the nearest city or freeway. This means that the region lacks much of the infrastructure available in other areas.
With the nearest grocery store over two hours away, mother Tari Cottam relies heavily on online shopping– in between her monthly Walmart runs– to feed her growing family. The same challenges arise when it comes to her children’s educations. With a total town population of just over 800 and only 100 students between kindergarten and 6th grade, class sizes are smaller than those in larger Utah cities.
When on-site preschool in Escalante was discontinued four years ago, Tari Cottam had to find an alternative to get her daughter ready for kindergarten. After successfully using Waterford UPSTART with her daughter, Tari’s son Declen is now using it himself. The town’s preschool has now re-opened, so Declan goes to site-based preschool during the day and works on Waterford UPSTART for 15 minutes after school with his mom.
Utah legislators realized that many rural families lack the educational resources they need. In 2009, the state partnered with Waterford.org to develop Waterford UPSTART as an in-home kindergarten readiness resource. As the most rural district in the state of Utah, Garfield County School District (which includes the city of Escalante) has a mere 5,200 residents living in 5,200 square miles—approximately one resident per mile. The geographic size of the district often results in long bus rides for students and makes on-site preschool for the district’s youngest learners a difficult goal to achieve.
To help address equity issues in Utah’s 18 most rural school districts, Waterford UPSTART was awarded an i3 validation grant in 2014 to expand to new parts of the state. Today, Waterford UPSTART helps nearly 1/3 of four-year-olds in Utah (approximately 15,000 children) every year learn the skills they need for kindergarten in just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
For families like the Cottams, access to quality kindergarten readiness options is no longer unique to major cities or bigger towns. Thanks to Waterford UPSTART, towns like Escalante across Utah can prepare their four-year-olds for school with quality instruction from the comfort of their homes.