eLuma is committed to impacting lives with the help of each and every individual we work with. We want to make sure that you have the chance to get to know these amazing people through our Leaders in Education series. In this profile, we feature Claudia Miner who is the co-founder of Waterford Upstart.
Claudia Miner is an education innovator. She is the co-founder of Waterford Upstart, a research-based curriculum for four-year-old-children and their families. For nine months, children spend 15 minutes a day five days a week learning songs, phonics, and other lessons to prepare for kindergarten. Children graduating Upstart enter kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level and outperform their peers, who did not have early childhood education, on the fourth-grade standardized test.
Claudia and her team empower families. During COVID-19, we’ve seen that virtual learning is more than sitting kids in front of a school laptop. This is something Claudia has known for more than a decade. She believes family involvement is more than a big brother in his pajamas helping his little sister login, and a dad working with his son before leaving for the swing shift. That’s why the Waterford Upstart program provides families a coach (in their native language) to answer questions, set up routines, and interpret the student’s progress reports. Upstart also provides computers, internet access, and their adaptive educational software. The program is accommodating for families.
Families get encouragement from their Waterford Upstart coach. Claudia told me about one student who didn’t want to do Upstart because it was “just” not cool. The father spoke to the Upstart coach, and they got the father an Upstart account. As soon as the student saw his dad doing Upstart every day, it became him and his dad’s special “cool” thing. The Waterford Upstart coaches are focused on empowering families.
Upstart is about kindergarten preparedness, which means preparing families as much as students.
One of the stories Claudia shared was of a young mother who took her son to the pediatrician. The boy did not talk to the doctor; this worried the doctor. The mom showed the pediatrician her son’s Upstart progress, and they had an inclusive conversation. Waterford Upstart gives families the tools they need to truly advocate for their children in school.
Waterford Upstart will not replace in-person preschool. They currently collaborate with in-person centers like daycares and Head Start. The program is used as reinforcement at home. Early childhood education is a parent’s choice. Some states provide early childhood programs, but the parents are responsible for transportation. Other children don’t attend preschool because they would end up spending more time on a bus than in the classroom. But a lack of early education can be detrimental. Research shows children without early learning enter kindergarten nearly two years behind their peers. Waterford believes it is possible to get every child kindergarten ready and uses technology to support families.
The struggle is all too real for many families facing barriers. The refugee families who live in an apartment complex near the freeway; the school is too far to walk to and too close for public transportation. Native American families preserve their cultural heritage on their traditional tribal lands yet have no internet service. Single parents who pick up extra work shifts; pay rent and utilities but do not earn enough to send their child to a private preschool.
Waterford Upstart is remarkable because it is about individual families but replicated throughout the country in urban and rural communities. Preparing a child for kindergarten means they enter school ready to learn, and the teacher can focus on how to build on their knowledge rather than worrying if they will be left behind.
When Claudia co-founded Waterford Upstart, she wanted to give people opportunities. Her mother could not attend high school because there was no transportation to get her to school. Throughout her life, Claudia has worked on different projects, but as the years progress, she increases her focus on programs that have real and immediate results.
In 2019, nearly 16,000 children graduated from the Waterford Upstart program. Statistically, if they had not participated, these children would never have academically caught up to their peers. Because of the Upstart team’s dedication, there are 16,000 families prepared for their child’s academic future. Claudia Miner is a leader in education because she exemplifies how technology and innovation can empower families and enable children.
About the Author
Joy Marie Curtis, eLuma CX Operations Coordinator, Master in Education with an emphasis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, B.S. Early Childhood Education with a minor in International Relationships, experience teaching kindergarten on the Navajo Nation reservation and in rural Utah at a title I school.