Rural PreK Program Expands Statewide through State Funding


800 additional children can prepare for kindergarten at home, no cost

(Bismarck, ND) – October 5, 2021 – A federally funded program aimed at helping the most rural children in North Dakota prepare for kindergarten is now available to any 4-year-old in the state. Waterford Upstart came to the state in 2019 through a federal grant provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Families who were a part of the pilot program are seeing great results.

“It’s amazing how he’s picked it (reading) up. He couldn’t verbally spell his name before he started. They did some working with names, and two weeks in he was walking around spelling his name,” said Waterford Upstart mom Stephanie Ewert.

At the end of the 2020-21 pilot program, children’s outcomes averaged at the “Kindergarten Advanced” level, with 91.18% of children scoring “Kindergarten Beginning” or above. As for the parents, 97% were satisfied with the program saying it helped their child prepare for kindergarten. After seeing the positive outcomes from the program, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and Department of Human Service decided to use ESSER funds to provide an additional 800 spots for North Dakota families.

“We are excited to have this wonderful resource here in the state of North Dakota,” said North Dakota Head Start Collaboration Administrator Carolyn Kueber. “Waterford Upstart is proven effective in boosting not only academic learning but also family engagement. Combine that with the hard work being done in our Head Start centers every day, and we will see improved student success.”

Waterford Upstart is an in-home, early education program that prepares 4-year-old children for kindergarten during the year before they start school. Families are given the tools they need—including a computer and internet at no cost—to be their child’s first and most influential teachers. The program provides for positive parent-child interactions while delivering personalized, online instruction that is fun and engaging. Children use the program for 15 minutes a day, five days a week, and families are supported by a family coach and given 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 a 48% average for low-income children.

Chris Jones, Executive Director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services, says, “North Dakota sees this as an opportunity to empower families to create time and space to learn and play together.”

Families who have children heading into kindergarten in 2022 can apply by going to Spots are limited. 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, 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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