An $11.5 million grant from President Obama will help expand a Utah online preschool program. More than 7,000 kids in the state will go to preschool online this school year, and the grant has allowed the program to reach out to low-income and rural areas.
Legislators say that although the program, Upstart, has no playtime, nap time, or interaction with other children, it is just as effective as sending a child to a normal preschool. This is why they are starting a push to get more kids enrolled. The Upstart website also gives previews of the games children play for 15 minutes each 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.
The program was created in 2009 in response to a high population of kids with a low spending rate for each child. It is meant as an easier and more accessible alternative to normal preschools.
“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, who sponsored the creation of the program.
In recent years, Upstart has grown in popularity, serving 13,000 families in 2014. The Obama Administration took notice in 2013 and granted the creators, the Waterford Institute, the $11.5 million grant. Since then, legislators have noted that the program may actually 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.
Critics have brought up the lack of social interactions as a result of learning online but the creators say they are focused on the academic side. From ages three to five, children are typically learning everything from counting numbers one to 25 to sorting objects by shape, color, and height.
“We’re here to work primarily on the cognitive side and to close the gaps for children to be successful in school,” Troyo said.
A representative is given to each family enrolled, who helps them in the process and keeps them on course throughout the child’s education. There is limited space, so those who are interested should apply now.