Early Learning Digest

Waterford UPSTART South Carolina: Kindergarten Readiness Program Prepares Rural Children for School

"I think the children using UPSTART now will enter kindergarten ready. . . they'll be ready academically, and I think we'll see them flourish for years to come." -Stacy Willbanks, Principal, Academy of Early Learning

Waterford UPSTART, an at-home kindergarten readiness program, recently launched a pilot in South Carolina, where many families in rural areas do not have access to needed resources – such as PreK programs and even Internet access in some places – that can be crucial in preparing children to enter kindergarten.

In this video, we speak with parents whose children are using Waterford UPSTART in South Carolina, as well administrators who have witnessed the benefits of the Waterford UPSTART program when students enter kindergarten with the foundational skills they need to be successful already in place. “I think my kindergarten teachers are going to be able to tell which children participated in the UPSTART program,” says Principal Janice Kiser.

Watch the video to learn more about Waterford UPSTART South Carolina and hear from those parents and administrators, in their own words, how their children and students are preparing for kindergarten.

To learn more about Waterford UPSTART and how to prepare your child for kindergarten and beyond, read more here.

To stay updated with the latest from Waterford’s UPSTART program, subscribe to Waterford’s YouTube channel and follow us on Facebook.

Waterford UPSTART South Carolina Video: Full Transcript

KANDACE BETHEA (Superintendent for Marion County School District): We have students that are coming in eager to learn, but they may not have been exposed to an environment that allowed them to learn. And our parents are wanting to help children, but they don’t always necessarily have the resources available.

JANICE KISER (Principal Petersburg Primary School): The boys and girls coming to my school are typically not ready to learn. Many come from homes of poverty. And so, with that come the challenges of a lack of resources and a lack of parental education as to knowing how to prepare their children for school, and if they do have a sense of what they need to do, they don’t have the resources or the education or the ability to provide it.

MELISSA LITTLE (Principal, Cheraw Primary School): Unfortunately, being in a rural area has its challenges. And I can make this personal because I don’t have Internet in my house because I live in a rural area, and it’s not, we cannot get it there.

STACY WILLBANKS (Principal, Academy of Early Learning): The children in Marion County are not always ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. Some of the challenges we face, I think, are communication with parents. They don’t know what their child should know in order to be ready for kindergarten; what are the exact skills in early math and early literacy that the children need in order to be ready for kindergarten and first grade later.

KANDACE BETHEA: We are thrilled to be a part of this pilot program with our students using Waterford. I feel that is making a tremendous difference. It is providing our students with a resource that they would not have had. Waterford is a comprehensive research-based program that gives the targeted skills that our preschool students need to be successful in terms of their academic foundation.

JANICE KISER: The UPSTART program provides really everything the parent needs. I think it answers and solves all of, all of the problems that could come into play for them. They’re given a resource, a wonderful, laptop computer. They’re given the Internet service to host the program on that computer for the child if it’s needed.

MELISSA LITTLE: The UPSTART program allows the boys and girls to learn everything they need to be successful with their literacy because the main focus is on your letters and your sounds, which is essential. The boys and girls take an assessment, so it’s catered to each individual boy and girl; no two programs are exactly alike. That’s what makes the program unique because the boys and girls know exactly what they need to do to help them be successful.

ALLYSON HENRY (Parent): With UPSTART, cause, in before-k and kindergarten they come home with a little bit of homework, but they don’t really interact with their homework, and UPSTART interacts with them on the computer. My UPSTART coach sends me weekly e-mails and it has vocabulary words for and it helps me know that she’s staying on track. And it keeps them going and it keeps them motivated by having fun stuff. Like my daughter, she got to watch a baby chicken hatch. Every day she watched the egg grow on the computer, and then the baby hatched. And she loved that part.

ALEXIS JOHNSON (Parent): I talked to my Waterford coach, and if I have a problem or if he falls, falls short 5 to 10 minutes or a day, she would call and let me know that he missed a day or he missed a few minutes. It’s wonderful because if it wasn’t for that then I wouldn’t know what he’s failing or what he’s excelling on.

MELISSA LITTLE: Because the parents—I mean this is not BS—the children love, it the parents love it, it’s engaging. I have had parents and children come up to me all the time to tell me how much they love it. Some parents cry because they could not afford this for their child.

STACY WILLBANKS: The communication between the ladies and gentlemen that have brought it here along with myself and the teachers has been excellent, we sent some reports. I was maybe a little apprehensive about children really using it at home because it was a commitment and it really has surprised, when we look at the reports, the children are using the program. The time and the effort the parents have put forth and the children is pretty obvious.

ALEXIS JOHNSON: It changes a lot because now that mommy, Mommy-son time that we wasn’t getting, we get it now plus more.

ALLYSON HENRY: My hope for my child from the program is that she’s opened up more in school. She’s already know a little bit so she ain’t struggling and she don’t fall behind.

ALEXIS JOHNSON: I feel like if Cameron show up for kindergarten, the teacher is going to feel like he is too good, too smart, to be in this grade.

JANICE KISER: I think my kindergarten teachers are going to be able to tell which children participated in the UPSTART program.

STACY WILLBANKS: I think the kindergarten teachers are going to be thrilled that they were gonna receive students that are academically and socially ready for school.

MELISSA LITTLE: The kindergarten teachers are going to be super excited to have all of those boys, we have 60 boys and girls that are ready, truly ready for kindergarten.

JANICE KISER: In my opinion, the Waterford UPSTART program is a wise use of resources because of the excitement I’ve seen in the children, the way the parents have taken it on.

STACY WILLBANKS: There just seems to be a lot of communication between all the parties involved and I think that makes it really unique.

KANDACE BETHEA: I’m a firm believer as an educator that when you invest in your smallest, youngest learners then you’re not playing that game of constant catch up and intervening into your primary, elementary, secondary years. That if you devote that solid foundation that Waterford provides it becomes a savings because you’re not having to again remediate and intervene. You’re off to a great start.

STACY WILLBANKS: I think the children using UPSTART now will enter kindergarten ready. I think they’ll be ready socially emotionally. I think they’ll be ready academically, and I think we’ll see them flourish for years to come.