Free early childhood education program accepting applications for South Dakota pilot program

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota families who live outside of Rapid City or Sioux Falls may struggle to find a traditional preschool education for their kids.

Now a new pilot program is coming to the state to help 4-year-olds in rural areas get a jump start on education before kindergarten.

“Early childhood education is important for all kids to give them the same start for when they go into kindergarten,” Morgan Von Haden said.

Morgan Von Haden is the project director for South Dakota’s statewide Family Engagement Center.

“We know that when kiddos are learning and hearing words and are engaging with their families and hearing stories read to them, it gives them the vocabulary so they’re ready to go when they go into kindergarten,” Von Haden said.

That’s also the goal of the Waterford UPSTART program.

“This really is a parent engagement piece where the parents get involved in their child’s learning,” Director of Public Relations Kim Fischer said.

South Dakota families who enroll in the Waterford UPSTART program will gain access to their online learning center.

“It is 15 minutes a day, five days a week on the computer.  What’s really great about it is it’s adaptive, it figures out what the child is doing, where they’re excelling, where they’re falling behind and then we take all of that information and give it to the parents,” Fischer said.

The goal is to make sure four-year-olds and parents have access to the program no matter their location or situation.

“Some parents may not have internet access or a computer, they think well how is this going to work for me? Well we offer a computer and internet service for families that don’t have that. When they come in for training they get their computer, they get their internet hook up, so they’re good to go so they have the program,” Fischer said.

And all of it is free for participating families thanks to a federal grant. 

“The Waterford program is an amazing blessing to our state, its truly getting additional resources into the hands of kiddos across the state, especially in those rural areas, that may not have the opportunities in areas where we have more opportunities in our larger communities,” Von Haden said.

The program only has 200 spots for its first year in South Dakota. Its open to all four-year-olds living outside of Rapid City and Sioux Falls. Visit the Waterford website to learn more or to apply for the program.

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