The State of Mississippi Partners to Bring Early Education Innovation to Families Amidst the Pandemic

by Andy Minshew


Registration for the Waterford Upstart Pandemic Recovery Path program is now underway

(Jackson, MS) – October 26, 2020 – A big tent of educational, governmental and nonprofit entities and organizations in the state of Mississippi are uniting to bring an innovative learning solution to vulnerable families during the COVID-19 pandemic., along with the Mississippi Head Start Collaboration Office, the Mississippi Head Start Association, The Office of the Governor, numerous public school districts, STEMPOSSIBLE, Excel by 5 and eighteen different local Head Start providers in the state are coming together to ensure the state’s youngest learners have the tools and support they need to arrive at school, on day one, ready to learn.

Often underestimated, the state of Mississippi has been leading the charge in educational innovation for students during the pandemic. Following the State Legislature and Mississippi Department of Education’s recent commitment to provide every student with an electronic device for learning, this latest partnership will have the early education nonprofit,, launch the Waterford Upstart Pandemic Recovery Path, a 16-week educational program to serve under-resourced families with preschool-aged children affected by the pandemic. The aim of the program is to meet critical equity needs for Mississippi students as a supplement to the state’s broader commitment to expanding early education programming in all instances. Registration for the Waterford Upstart program is now open and Mississippi families with 4-year-olds are encouraged to enroll.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, has zeroed in on meeting the equity and resource disparities that families are facing right now, goals that we share with the state of Mississippi’s educational community,” said LaTasha Hadley, Vice President of State Education Partnerships at “Through the Waterford Upstart Pandemic Recovery Path, we believe can provide a critical parent empowerment tool that will amplify overall early education efforts in the state.”

The Waterford Upstart Pandemic Recovery Path program will serve 2,500 preschool-aged children from Nov. 1, 2020 to Feb. 5, 2021. Mississippi’s Governor’s Educational Emergency Relief Fund (GEER) will allocate nearly $2 million in funding for the duration of the program. As part of the program, any family that needs internet access or a laptop will receive it, and children will be served educationally through an adjusted version of’s flagship at-home kindergarten readiness program, Waterford Upstart.

“Mississippi is taking the lead in not only investing in innovative early education efforts during the pandemic, but also in recognizing the need for wide educational partnerships such as the Waterford Upstart Pandemic Recovery Path program,” said Governor Tate Reeves. “By providing a strong foundation through early education, the State of Mississippi and its partners are working together to help ensure all children in our state are afforded the ability to get the same start to academic, life and career success.”

Students will use Waterford Upstart’s comprehensive and adaptive reading software for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Families will also be connected with a program coach that will help monitor the child’s progress and provide guidance to parents on building lasting academic routines. With its focus on boosting parent engagement, Waterford Upstart has been an effective model for families with preschool-aged children during the pandemic.

“Our state has made a huge commitment in supporting the work of its early educators. Through the Waterford Upstart program, we will work to reach children who may not be captured by existing entities and improve equity throughout the state,” said Nita Norphlet-Thompson, Executive Director of the Mississippi Head Start Association. “Boosting parent engagement is really the magic of’s programming and has been tremendously beneficial to our Head Start families in the past. The Waterford Upstart Pandemic Recovery Path program will be an important supplement to our overall efforts to educate preschoolers as we work to get children back in the classroom safely.” has established a deep partnership with Mississippi’s grassroots educational community to deliver high-quality programming to vulnerable students in recent years, including a 2017 pilot program as well as a 2019 pilot where Waterford Upstart partnered with the Mississippi Head Start Association and the Mississippi Head Start Collaboration Office to serve 800 high-need students attending Head Start programs in 10 rural Mississippi counties.

“As the superintendent of one of the largest public school districts in Mississippi, I can tell you just how important providing robust early education is to children’s long-term success as they continue their formal education,” said Dr. Errick L. Greene, Superintendent of Jackson Public Schools. “We are proud to be partnering with in this bold initiative to prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.”

“Even amidst a global pandemic, the mission of Head Start and Mississippi’s early education community remains the same: to provide both equity and opportunity to every child so that they can succeed,” said Holly Spivey, Director of the Mississippi Head Start Collaboration Office. “We’re thrilled to be joining and partners across our state to provide an innovative learning solution that addresses the needs of families who have been most affected during this time.”

Registration for the Waterford Upstart program is now underway. All Mississippi families with 4-year-olds are encouraged to enroll. Deadline to register is November 8, 2020.
Media inquiries for can be made by contacting Kieren Weisert at or at (606) 304-9278.

About and Waterford Upstart is an early education nonprofit with a mission to achieve universal literacy for children through equity, access and family empowerment. Waterford develops educational tools that guide students along adaptive, individualized learning paths toward fluent reading and lifelong learning. Waterford empowers parents as a child’s first teacher and supports teachers in taking the right actions at the right time for their students. Currently, serves over 300,000 children across 43 states every year.’s programs have been supported by a variety of governmental and philanthropic organizations, including support from a federal EIR grant, The Studio @ Blue Meridian and TED’s Audacious Project.

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 parents 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 program 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.

About the Mississippi Head Start Association (MHSA)

The Mississippi Head Start Association’s (MHSA) mission is to provide Mississippi Children and families with a range of individualized services in the areas of education and early child development, medical, dental and mental health, nutrition and parent engagement. Embracing a set of core value which promotes wellness, respect families cultures and diversity, supports family empowerment and community development. Head Start programs are designed to build on the strengths of families and communities.


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