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Nevada Prepares Pre-K Students With Software Program

Nevada Department of Health and Human Services helps fund Waterford Upstart, an at-home early learning program that provides 4-year-olds with educational foundations in key areas.

(TNS) — Children in Nevada are near the bottom of every list in the 2024 Kids Count Data Book, which reports on well-being, education and several other areas, noting two-thirds of Nevada kids ages 3 and 4 do not attend any form of preschool.

Among the findings of the Kids County Data Book, produced by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, Nevada is ranked 47th overall for child well-being, 46th in education and 45th in family and community.

The data reveals 16 percent of Nevada's children live in poverty, and 67 percent of children ages 3 and 4 — approximately 50,000 children — do not attend any form of pre-K programs. Some 73 percent of Nevada's fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 79 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math.

The state does fund a program to help families bring their children up to speed before entering kindergarten., a nonprofit early childhood education group based in Taylorsville, Utah, receives Nevada Department of Health and Human Services funding for its Waterford Upstart program, an at-home early learning program providing 4-year-olds with educational foundations in key areas. United Way of Utah and dozens of other foundations provide funding for the program.

Registration for the fall program is underway, the company said. Families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible, as are families with foster children and families who live in rural areas.

"We have been partnering with different groups, whether philanthropic or state or charter schools across Nevada, off and on since 2020 and just trying to figure out what are the areas across Nevada that could use a program to fill gaps in early learning? And so we've done that through philanthropic dollars first, then we partnered with a charter school over the summer that we're working with right now," said Kim Fischer, a Waterford spokesperson.

"We use our program either in the classroom and the childcare setting or in the home. The child uses our program 15 minutes a day, five days a week, to set a foundation for early literacy and the year before they go to kindergarten," Fischer said. "There's also an additional 15 minutes of math and science if the family chooses to use it."

Fisher said one school district offers the program to children not enrolled in pre-K centers "so that those children will walk into school with that basic foundation of knowledge, so that they are prepared for kindergarten."

"It allows the child to start strong, so you're not having to worry about paying for remediation or interventions later," she said. "That's why a lot of nonprofit organizations, philanthropic partners and states really want to partner with us, to provide that kind of opportunity."

Fischer said the program is looking for families in the Elko region and other rural communities in northeastern Nevada.

"The restrictions for our funding are families who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line or rural families," she said. "Elko is more rural than, say, Clark County, so there are probably a lot of families in your community that qualify, even if they're not at 200 percent of the federal poverty line or below."

"I think the big thing that families need to understand — and this is actually something that I'm working on with my communications team right now — is, the more we talk to families, they say, 'Isn't that what they're going to learn in kindergarten? They just need to color and stuff in Pre-K, right?' No, that's not true."

"All of the research on children's brains shows that from zero to 5, that's when their brains are growing most," Fischer noted. "And so if you can get them at 4 years old to start setting that foundation of early learning, they just do so much better when they get into kindergarten and beyond." said its program has shown significant positive impacts, particularly for multilingual learners.

In a study involving 740 kindergarten students, those using Waterford outperformed their peers in all outcome measures. Notably, dual language learners demonstrated greater gains than in the comparison groups with other dual language learners and native English-speaking groups.

"For us, all that really matters is that kids are getting access to the things they need to be successful. We're a nonprofit. We're not looking to make a bunch of money," Fischer said.

Fischer said she wants to tell families "no matter what you do, no matter how you do it, just make sure you're helping your child get a foundation."

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©2024 Elko Daily Free Press, Nev. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.