A 4-year-old takes online classes offered by the Waterford Upstart program. Waterford.org

Waterford.org, an early education nonprofit, is set to launch a pilot program to help Maine’s youngest learners prepare for kindergarten and the long road of education ahead.

The program, Waterford Upstart, is an in-home early education program designed to cater to the learning needs of 4-year-olds. It will be offered free to as many as 200 children from low-income families.

According to Kim Fischer, the national spokesperson of the nonprofit, the program will start on September 7 and end on May 29, 2022. “The duration of the program is the same as a school year,” Fischer said.

Currently, the organization has enrolled just eight children into the program from the state. Program coordinators are taking help from local nonprofit organizations to identify children who fall under 185% of the poverty level, just so they could enroll those students in the program, said Fischer.

According to Fischer, it is not easy to find these families.

“The hardest part of our job is going out and finding these families,” said Fischer. “Through our recruitment and partnership efforts, we try to partner with other nonprofit organizations that work with these underserved families. Moreover, we are also trying to partner with school districts to see if we can reach out to families that way as well,” added Fisher.

Sarah D. Pittocco of Thomaston, who enrolled her 4-year-old son, Anthony, in the program said that it looks promising.

“We enrolled our son Anthony in the program because we moved from Connecticut where we had tons of options for preschool when compared to Midcoast Maine where the options are slim,” said Pittocco. “We wanted to supplement his experience with something and discovered this program.”

Pittocco added: “Anthony will be attending preschool for three days a week and we will use Waterford Upstart program to supplement the days he is at home with me and his younger brother, who I hope will benefit as well from this program by watching.”

The Education Week report mentions that the most severe enrollment losses occurred in Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Vermont. “The most significant decrease was in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, in which the population decreased by 16%, compared to a 3% decrease in all other students,” said the report.

Meanwhile, various online studies state that early childhood education provides a strong base for lifelong learning and improves learning abilities.

“There were a lot of children who just went missing from the education system and that is going to have long-lasting effects on these kids as they continue through their education,” said Fischer. “With the launch of this program in Maine, the parents don’t have to worry about the learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The online pilot program is being funded by donations. The children can take lessons on a computer for 15 minutes a day, five days a week. The organization is also providing computers and internet to all students free-of-cost.

More details about the program are available at waterfordupstart.org.


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