Online personalized learning may change rural schools as young children are enrolling in Upstart, a personalized learning preschool program that children work with at home.

This year, eight future students of Escalante School are enrolled in Upstart.  The Escalante School enrolls 75 children from kindergarten through sixth grade.

“When we talk about the differences between rural and urban low-income families, rural low-income families just may not have as many opportunities or resources available to them, just because of the area that they live in,” said Melinda Dalton, a coordinator with Upstart. Dalton is a liaison between the nonprofit tech and research firm Waterford that runs Upstart, and two rural school districts in Utah.

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In 2009, Upstart launched in Utah as a option to expand preschool for a low cost, as the state did not have a state funded program.  Since that time, it has proven to be a boon for rural areas.  Approximately 30,000 children in Utah have completed the program during the past eight years, and 14,150 are participating this school year. Upstart has spread to seven more states, serving 700 early learners.

The focus of the Upstart program is low income children, children who live in rural areas, and English language learners. There have been waiting lists for several years, as high as 1,700 families two years ago. After more funding was authorized, the list became smaller.

Families use the program 15 minutes a day, five days a week, to develop literacy.  The program also has science and math options for students who are interested. If participating families do not have internet access or a computer, the program will provide it. Other members of the family may use the software, as parents are learning English and other children are developing literacy as well.

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