Maui News

Imua Family Services prepping keiki for kindergarten

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Dean Wong, executive director of Imua Family Services.

Imua Family Services is positioning families to offset recent reporting out of the National Center for Education Statistics that shows a decline in reading performance among 9-year-olds in the United States.

Examining student achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCES found that average reading scores in 2022 for those students dipped five points, the largest average score decline since 1990. But philanthropic dollars have enabled Imua Family Services to partner with to bring its research-based and third-party validated Waterford Upstart program to Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi. Waterford Upstart offers families the option to prepare their keiki for kindergarten at home and at no financial cost to them.

“It’s about meeting families where they are, which tends to be in the home. Waterford Upstart allows us to do that, empowering parents and caregivers to be the first teachers of their children. The end result is a solid academic foundation for our keiki and, just as important, strengthening family engagement,” said Imua Family Services Executive Director Dean Wong.


Nonprofit Imua Family Services is committed to serving the early childhood developmental needs of children and their families by providing inclusive services and programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning at developmentally appropriate levels. is a PreK education nonprofit with a mission to achieve universal literacy for children through equity, access and family empowerment.

Keiki using Waterford Upstart will learn the basics of reading by engaging with Waterford Upstart 15 minutes a day, five days a week. On average, graduates of the program enter kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level. Waterford Upstart has a math-and-science component families can take advantage of as well. The recent NCES research also showed a decline in math performance among the nation’s 9-year-olds.


“When children walk into their first day of kindergarten ready to learn, they are confident and have better outcomes in school,” national spokesperson Kim Fischer said.

Done in the home and online, Waterford Upstart equips caregivers with tools that empower them to become the first and most influential teachers of their children. Those tools include a computer that they get to keep at the end of the program. If a household needs internet access, then Waterford provides that. All participants receive support through a coach offering tips that help caregivers continue engaging their children offline. There is never a financial cost to families for any of those tools and supports because of the philanthropic funding.

Registration for Waterford Upstart is open to all children in Hawaiʻi entering kindergarten in the fall of 2023. The limited spots are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis when caregivers apply at


Families may take advantage of in-person registration opportunities during pau hana come-and-go informational sessions on:

  • Oct. 14, 4-6 p.m., Imua Family Center, West Maui, Lahaina
  • Oct. 15, 10 a.m.-noon, Will Smith Imua Discovery Garden, Wailuku 
  • Oct. 15, 4-6 p.m., Will Smith Imua Discovery Garden, Wailuku

The informational sessions include pūpū and other refreshments. Registering at is not required but would help toward planning purposes.


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