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Free, Online School Offered To 200 Children In Iowa

Online schooling option Waterford.org will be providing 200 children in need in Iowa with free early education starting in August. "It will end in May, we do a graduation, we celebrate their successes. It's incredibly cute," Kim Fischer, the national spokesperson, said.

Waterford Upstart, the early education program run by nonprofit Waterford.org, will be offered to 200 children in need in Iowa for the first time. Applications are open now for families of all backgrounds, but the spots are limited.

Kim Fischer the national spokesperson, said the program focuses on Iowans who don’t have access to brick and mortar schools due to things like cost, transportation or language barriers.

“Those are the children we want to reach. So truly, it is about finding the children that don't have access and giving them this access to early education," Fischer said.

The organization will go to areas around the state to try to find some of the students who would most benefit from the early education program. Fischer said that outreach will take place in community centers, churches and other places that can help reach the hard-to-reach populations.

Waterford started outreach in Iowa after receiving funds from the TED Organization in 2019. That gave a number of different states to start pilot programs in. Iowa's rural and diverse populations prompted its name to join the list.

Previous CDC research found Hispanic students have the lowest rates of access to in-person schools. It theorized this could be because families of an ethnic/racial minority are concerned about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on their communities.

The program offers free software and internet access to work with children and parents through online lessons. The students' lesson itself is only about 15 minutes per day for five days.

A Waterford Upstart graduate poses for a photo with his certificate. "Every story is so incredibly different. Every person situation is different, but the outcomes are all very similar. And that's I get to see happy smiling faces on these children, because they are confident, and they know that they are ready," Fischer said.

The rest of the learning takes place between the parents/guardians and the child. It also offers education through the sixth grade, but the free program is only available for Iowa children who are entering kindergarten in the fall of 2022.

The focus will be on literacy, but also on a lot of emotional preparation. Fischer said the program helps a child build confidence before entering kindergarten.

"If a child walks into school, and they are already behind their peers, they may not know what the school teacher is talking about. They recognize that and it really damages their confidence," Fischer said.

Fischer explained that parent involvement in early education, and future education, is imperative. That's why Waterford Upstart offers coaching in any language the parents speak.

"What you find with populations whose native language is not English, or maybe they don't speak English at all, is that they don't feel confident really engaging. And that's at the detriment of the child, right? Because then that makes the child not do as well in school. And so it is so important to make sure that these families feel like they are welcome in the process of learning," Fischer said.

U.S. citizenship is not a factor in the process, as Fischer said, "all we care about is if you have a child that's going to kindergarten in 2022, we want to help them learn."

As of right now, Waterford Upstart has enough funding to continue its efforts in Iowa for one school year. It can apply for other grants and funding, but its duration in Iowa really depends on further financial support.

"The idea is not just to come in, help 200 kids and go away. We want to stay in Iowa, you know? But it just depends on if it makes sense for the state, and if we get that funding," Fischer said.

Applications are available online or interested parties can call 888-982-9898.

Note: This article was updated with a clarification from Fischer.