Online learning program looks to expand number of users in South Dakota

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 10:49 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on online education.

Now, one web-based learning platform is looking to expand in South Dakota with a focus on early childhood education. is a non-profit organization that offers online lessons to introduce skills like reading and writing.

Their research shows that 2.2 million children do not have access to public-funded early education.

The organization’s Upstart Program is aimed to help parents get their kids ready for kindergarten.

“We provide parents with everything they need to become their child’s first teacher, that includes an adaptive software program that children use 15 minutes a day 5 days a week,” said Kim Fischer, National Spokesperson for Waterford.

The program also gives parents support in helping guide their child’s education.

“Parents also get coaching, they get a live coach, they get push notifications to know how their child is doing. If they need a computer or internet access, we provide that as well all of it for no cost to the families,” said Fischer.

Statistics show that children who start school with no basic skills are 25% more likely to drop out of school and 60% less likely to attend college.

Getting those skills in rural areas can often be more challenging.

“Rural children have probably the hardest time in terms of getting that early education because if you are out in a small community where you may only have 20, four-year-olds in the entire area, you’re not going to have the funding for a brick-and-mortar school,” said Fischer.

Amber Bodell’s son is currently using Waterford’s “Upstart Program,” she says she can already improvement in her son’s skills.

“He is actually in advanced math right now because of Waterford, he has excelled in a lot of different areas, I don’t know if he would have gotten just from my home-schooling experience,” said Bodell.

She plans to continue having her son use Upstart but is glad he will be starting school so he can learn some things that can’t be taught online.

“The only thing I think they are missing out on is the social interactions with other younger kids and having a teacher instead of having your parent trying to teach you,” said Bodell.

This year, Waterford has 200 children enrolled in Upstart.

They hope to double the number of South Dakota users to 400 next school year.

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