Software program bridges the education gap

In an effort to address the achievement gap now and at an early age, the state is providing funding to an education nonprofit to help with equity and access that's contributing to the growing issue.

With the potentially long-lasting effects of coronavirus pandemic learning, there's a plan to catch up those who may be falling behind. 

While many school districts started off the school year logging in remotely, a critical group was missing.

"You saw anywhere from 1% to 5% of students not in school in any way, shape or form," said Kim Fischer. "With Pre-K, that number was 22%."

Fischer said the past year really affected young learners. As a spokesperson for, a nonprofit that sets the foundation for literacy, there's a heightened focus on closing the achievement gap.

"We bring our early education solution into the home, and we partner with parents to become their child’s first teacher, so children get an adaptive software program to use five days a week for 15 minutes a day and then we give parents the tools they need to engage with her child offline," said Fischer.

The program targets six districts with persistent reading gaps including Milwaukee Public Schools and the Racine Unified School District.

"The Waterford UPSTART Program is an awesome opportunity for them," said Amy Shepherd.

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Shepherd said RUSD participated in the pilot program and saw promising results.

Virtual learning

"Within the first 11 weeks of school, roughly 71% of our students were at mastery with their early reading skills based on age, so that alone was amazing to see," said Shepherd.

Coaches guide students in their native language along adaptive, individualized learning paths toward fluent reading and lifelong learning.

"The UPSTART Program also provides a social-emotional learning model for the family. Social and emotional learning is critically important to the early childhood level," said Shepherd.

It's an effort to provide a solid base to prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.

"This is a lifeline for your child, and it’s a great way to start their education," said Fischer. 

The Waterford UPSTART Program is free to low-income families with 4-year-old children in six districts across the state. The software is provided and families who qualify will get a computer and internet access as well at no cost.

Registration is open but spots are limited.