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Program Offers Free Pre-K for 200 Hawai‘i Families

July 30, 2022, 2:00 PM HST
* Updated July 30, 11:50 AM
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A generous donation is giving Hawai‘i families the option to prepare their children for kindergarten at home and at no financial cost to them. Philanthropic dollars from the TED organization have positioned pre-K education nonprofit Waterford.org to bring its research-based and third-party validated Waterford Upstart program to the Aloha State.

Across the United States are roughly 2.2 million 4-year-olds who have no access to publicly funded early education, and more than half of those children are from marginalized communities with no early education options at all. Waterford is one of eight nonprofit organizations in the world distinguished as a 2019 TED Audacious Project. The designation tasked Waterford with reaching even more 4-year-olds lacking access to PreK education, including 200 children in Hawaii.

“When a child begins school behind his or her peers, it’s very hard to catch up. It’s even harder for children from marginalized communities or for families whose native language is not English,” Waterford.org national spokesperson Kim Fischer said.

Waterford Upstart is an at-home, early education solution for unserved and underserved families. Caregivers are given tools that empower them to become the first and most influential teachers of their children, including a computer that they get to keep at the end of the program. If a household needs internet access, then Waterford provides that. All participants receive support through a coach who offers tips that help caregivers continue engaging their children offline. There is never a financial cost to families for any of those tools and supports.

The program provides positive parent-child interactions while delivering personalized, online instruction 15 minutes a day, five days a week. On average, 92% of the children who participate in Waterford Upstart are ready for kindergarten, as opposed to a 65% average nationwide. That number drops to 48% for children who qualify for free and reduced-priced meals at school.

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“We know there are barriers to access in communities across Hawai‘i. We want to help fill those gaps with this at-home program so children can walk into their first day of class confident and ready to learn,” Fischer said.

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Registration for Waterford Upstart is open for children entering kindergarten in the fall of 2023. The limited spots are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis when caregivers apply at waterfordupstart.org.

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