A free summer education program is now available to pre-kindergarten students in Escambia County.
The program is designed to help kids make up for lost learning due to the coronavirus and enhance their overall school readiness.
It’s a sampling of what will be available to the children who take part in the Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path.
“We are so lucky to be bringing this technology to our students and families who will be entering kindergarten this August,” said Kimberly Krupa, executive director of Achieve Escambia, which collaborated with the advocacy group Children’s Movement of Florida to secure the program.
“Waterford is a free summer program available to 500 Escambia County children,” Krupa said. “It comes with evidence-based curriculum. So, this is not something free you’d get on the internet. This is high-quality programming that’s directly related to what students need to know as they’re starting kindergarten in August.”
Waterford educational software, purchased by the Escambia County School District, has been in use at the elementary level for some time.
According to Krupa, what’s new is this extended access to Waterford through the summer months for preschool children.
“They’re entering the Florida summer learning environment for the first time,” she noted.
“It’s really designed for families who’ve lost access to summer learning, families who’ve been laid off or are unemployed as a result of the pandemic, families concerned about summer learning loss, which is already a problem, and families who want that extra boost to make sure their children are ready for the first day of school.”
A checklist of the things students entering kindergarten should be able to do, include handling a book, identifying some letters and letter sounds, identifying shapes and colors, and counting to 20.
“Ready for counting? Touch the numbers and sing along,” begins the Waterford “Funky Counting Song” video.
The entire Waterford Upstart summer program, including the educational songs, activities, and curriculum, will be provided online.
“Every family gets a free laptop and every family who needs it will also get a Wi Fi hotspot for the duration of the summer, (and it’s) technology they do not have to give back,” said Krupa, explaining how the program works.
The virtual aspect allows flexibility for families to complete the work, which amounts to about 1,600 minutes of learning over the three months offered. That breaks down to about 20-25 minutes a day, five days a week for the duration of the summer, which Waterford defines as June 1 through Aug. 31.
“What’s great about Waterford, is that in addition to getting the free technology, families also get a weekly coaching call, by a coach that speaks their language,” she said.
“So, the weekly coaching call is going to really help understand what their children are learning, what gaps they might want to work on and what are the results or outcomes of time spent in this digital platform. So, families will be able to see their progress on a weekly basis.”
Achieve Escambia is a leading coalition of local agencies working together to significantly improve outcomes from cradle to career.
Waterford helps kids prepare for kindergarten, while the local Enroll Escambia initiative focuses pre-school registration for younger children. Both enhance Achieve’s efforts to attain a goal of 75% school readiness by 2025.
“We know with Enroll Escambia that pre-school enrollment and participation makes a huge difference in kindergarten readiness to the effect where 70% of pre-school students are ready for Kindergarten, which compared to our overall Escambia County numbers, which in Aug. 2019 was 47%,” Krupa pointed out.
“So, we see that kids who go to pre-school, who attend regularly and then complete their pre-school year are really ready for Kindergarten far better than their peers, who may have started or dropped out, didn’t attend regularly, or who even never went at all.”
Krupa adds that one of the focuses of this Waterford Upstart program is the summer slide issue.
“Think about how young a child is, 5 or 6 (years old), going to kindergarten. Then, you add on 5 or 6 months of learning loss. That could be a significant time in their life, where they’re not learning, not in school,” Krupa offered for consideration.
“So, Waterford is an intentional program designed to bridge that gap between the end of preschool - which for some kids happens in March - to the beginning of kindergarten, which we hope will happen in August.”
Waterford is spending $9 million to provide Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path in nine states, including Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas.
In Florida, the program is open to 3,000 children, with most of the slots in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties. Registration is now open for the 500 slots available in Escambia County.
In a recent development, Waterford decided to extend eligibility to all Escambia families of rising kindergarten students, regardless of income. However, applications from low-income families and those impacted by COVID-19 will still have priority.
“It is first-come, first-served, so I encourage parents to register today,” declared Krupa. “The program starts on June 1 and ends on Aug. 31, but it is an hour-based program, so if you’re starting after June 1, you can catch up quickly on the (1,600 minute) requirement. But, I’d say seats are filling fast.”