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Online preschool program to expand with help of new grant

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Oct 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-12 21:22:42-04

SALT LAKE CITY – More than 7,000 children across the state will be attending preschool this year on a computer.

Thanks to an $11.5 million grant from President Obama, Utah’s online preschool program is expanding to more children in low-income and rural areas.

Upstart is a preschool without playtime, nap time or spending time with other kids, but legislators say the online program is just as effective as regular preschool. And they’re trying to get it into the homes of more families with 4-year-olds.

The Upstart website shows examples of the games children are required to play 15 minutes a day.

“Games, songs, books, puzzles, highly visually engaging content that children enjoy using, but they’re actually learning at the same time,” said Isaac Troyo, director of outreach for Upstart.

Because of Utah’s high population of children and low spending per pupil, in 2009, legislators created the program as an alternative to regular preschool.

“To add additional tax burden to the citizens of our state to do a pre-K is very, very difficult for a state with twice the birth rate of the national average,” said Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who sponsored legislation to create the program.

Because UPSTART has grown in popularity, the Obama Administration in 2013 granted the Waterford Institute—the creators of UPSTART—$11.5 million to expand it to rural locations and provide funding for research on its success.

Legislators say studies show Upstart has proven to be more effective than regular preschool.

“It costs a lot of money to build schools – bricks and mortar – and if you can get twice the outcome, at less cost, seems like a good deal,” Stuart said.

Even though critics argue online preschool lacks social opportunities that are vital to a child’s development, creators say the program is for academic purposes and a child’s social opportunities are left up to the parents.

“We’re here to work primarily on the cognitive side and to close the gaps for children to be successful in school,” Troyo said.

Families who qualify for the program are given a representative who walks them through the process step-by-step and helps keep them on course.

But there is limited space, so families in low-income or rural homes are given priority. For more information, visit http://www.waterfordupstart.org.