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Virtual Pre-K Reading Program Struggles To Find Children During Pandemic

Young girl reading in library

An external review of Waterford's UPSTART program recommends Indiana lawmakers continue providing funding for it, since it has a significant impact on literacy for young learners. (FILE PHOTO: WFIU/WTIU)

An online literacy program aims to help children in poverty learn to read as they prepare to enter kindergarten, but the group is struggling to find families because of the pandemic.

Waterford.org's UPSTART is a computer-based program designed for parents to help their pre-kindergarten children learn to read. 

Kim Fischer is the spokesperson for Waterford. She said the target audience is families who don't qualify, or have access to state funded preschool. 

"We work with parents in the home, so it's really similar to what we do in the classroom but we give parents what they need to become their child's first teacher," she said.

The program offers free software, and a coach to work with them and answer questions. Waterford also provides families with a computer and internet access.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana’s Legislative Session? Here’s Your Guide To Demystify The Process

But Fischer said it's hard to find families who need the service the most this year. COVID-19 has limited opportunities to go out and connect with people in the places they would usually be. 

"There is no database for 4-year-olds and so literally you don't know where these children are – you have to go out and just try to find them," she said.

Fischer says the program has been critical for young learners – according to internal and external evaluations it has a strong impact on literacy development. 

Lawmakers approved funding for the Waterford UPSTART program in 2017. But it's unclear whether the program will continue to receive funding in the state's next budget.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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