Online program brings early education to rural Indiana families

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RUSHVILLE, Ind. – Preparing kids for the start of school can often be difficult for rural or low-income families. Many have little access to preschools or limited resources to afford them.

Now, a non-profit program is being made available to these families across central Indiana.

The Upstart program from Waterford brings online lessons to the home. Each one is modified to meet the child where they are and help them get ready for the next step.

In Rushville, one mother says education is the top priority in their home.

Standing on the porch on a sunny afternoon, Toni Butler watches her kids play hopscotch and tag, laughing with jubilation like only children can.

As a single mother of four, she takes these moments when she can get them.

“I mean it’s busy,” says Butler as she reflects on their daily schedule. “From the time we get up, it’s just nonstop. We’re constantly doing something.”

Her three oldest children are already in school, and each is involved in several extracurricular activities.

Toni helps them stay involved in each one, all while meeting the demands of a full-time job.

“It makes everything worth it just to see the kids happy,” she says.

It also created a challenge when it comes to helping her youngest Jameson. He starts kindergarten in the fall.

“I would be so busy with the three that are in school. Then once I got done with them, their homework and all that, then it’d be like 9 o’clock at night.”

It left little time to attend to Jameson’s educational needs.

Then Toni heard about Upstart. Her family qualified for the program, and she immediately implemented it into Jameson’s daily schedule.

“We do it from 1 to 2 every day Monday through Friday. That’s when he’ll sit over here in his little desk, and that’s where he does his school work while I’m at work.”

They go over the lessons together when Toni gets home.

“Before he started he knew some colors, some shapes and could count to like 7 or 8 without skipping a number. Now it’s like every color, every shape, and he can count to 53 without messing up.”

Toni says she’s also noticed a change in the 4-year-old’s confidence. He now proudly proclaims, “I like getting smart.”

The words are a joy to hear for Toni who hopes her children’s educational story will be different from her own.

“That’s my main goal,” she says. “It is to make sure my kids get the best education. It’s something I didn’t get. I dropped out of school, and I will never let my kids do that.”

She hopes Upstart will help lay a foundation for the rest of Jameson’s future.

State Senator Jean Leising hopes Hoosier children across the state will experience the same.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that kids that are prepared for kindergarten—from whatever Pre-K—they’re going to be at an advantage when they get to school,” says Leising. “They’re going to feel better about themselves. They’re going to feel better about going to school.”

Leising says she hopes that confidence will be available to all children, even in circumstances that may be difficult.

“For these rural kids that didn’t have the opportunity before. I think upstart opens a whole new world for them.”

For Toni, it’s hope that her children will find success in school and long after.

“I still struggle to raise them,” says Butler. “I don’t want them to grow up and not get the education they need, to get a good job so that they don’t have to struggle.”

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