MnAEYC, along with generous support from Greater Twin Cities United Way, managed one of the largest Accreditation Facilitation Project (AFP), called the Childcare Accreditation Program (CAP), in the nation, concluding in June of 2016. We offered technical assistance, consultation, training, incentives, and motivation to hundreds of early childhood programs pursuing accreditation and quality improvement.
Learn more about CAP and view the final report here!
Check out the articles below that highlight the many success stories of programs working hard to achieve national accreditation and improve the quality and services they provide to the children and families they serve.
By Kristen Wheeler Highland, Early Childhood Specialist, MnAEYC-MnSACA
Learn & Grow Child Care Center has three locations in the Twin Cities, each with the capacity to serve 60-75 children, infants through school-agers. Two of these sites achieved NAEYC accreditation in 2015 through their participation in the Accreditation Facilitation Project and the generous funding of Greater Twin Cities United Way.
We sat down with Nicole Elvidge, the Director at Learn and Grow, and the program’s coordinator to discuss their experience going through accreditation.
Tell us about your program. What is your mission? What services do you offer? What are some of the challenges the children and families you serve face?
It is our philosophy that, “Our children are our future, and when child care works, everyone can work.” Our mission is to provide a high-quality, affordable program using best practices in which all children – as unique as they are – can be healthy in a safe, loving and nurturing environment, that will help them Learn & Grow developmentally, cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally.
Taking into account their abilities and interests, we will offer challenges and encourage their imagination and language, while stimulating critical thinking and motivation. We will provide access to materials and opportunities to discover themselves and practice their skills in authentic situations where they can learn to problem-solve in an unbiased atmosphere. They can create friendships, as well as build confidence and the self-esteem needed to enjoy life productively and to be responsible, successful adults.
We use the Creative Curriculum for Infant & Toddler Two's and High Scope Preschool Curriculum. We offer bilingual staff, occasional night care and drop-in care. We offer school-age care with a curriculum to prepare children with unlimited early childhood learning opportunities in our program and on field trips.
Both centers face challenges, such as helping parents with children who have special needs (medical and behavioral), families battling poverty and transportation limitations, and families who need support in finding education, employment and financial assistance programs. These have always been something we assist the parents with in any way we can through printing or delivering forms, making calls, offering discounts for care or helping them fill out scholarship applications.
What prompted you to go through the accreditation process?
It is our goal to provide the best possible services to our families. If accreditation marks the highest standards out there, that is what we will shoot for!
What did you think about the process? What was beneficial? What was challenging?
It was a long learning process, more than we expected, but it was worth it. It was great insight on best practices and things to change for the better. We learned a lot about family support and involvement, and the staff really grew during this period and became a better team. They are now proud of what they accomplished, of what we did as a team, and what they now do every day as teachers!
One of our challenges was finding a lot of repetitive criteria and the fact that they were sometimes worded in a complicated way. But the hardest part was the struggle to find time to work on the portfolios without taking away from the time teachers had with children – one-on-one or preparing curriculum.
We sometimes had to come back at night or stay late to get everything done, after we already worked full days with the children. The program had to absorb the cost of extra staff and lots of overtime for those teachers to work on their portfolios and adjustments needed in their environments.
How has accreditation affected your program, the staff, the children, the families? How has your program changed?
Better practice allows more growth. Staff are more involved and educated, and the requirements were not so out-of-reach. With Parent Aware offering trainings and classes that benefit our teachers, we decided we should also follow research-based best practices, as we have always felt like our programs provided exceptional care. The teachers and families seem closer. There is better communication between staff and families. We now have smaller ratios, which allow more individual teaching time.
Would you encourage others to pursue accreditation? Why or why not?
We definitely would. It is a lot of work, but it is worth it. We take more pride in what we do, we have built a better team and are capable of assisting families with all situations, from challenging behaviors to finding the resources they need to succeed and help their children succeed.
What advice would you give other staff currently going through accreditation?
To be patient and not overthink things, such as the criteria questions. Work together as a team. Try to schedule and allow time during each day to work on portfolios, and stay focused and on-task.
Photo credit: Learn & Grow Child Care & Learning Center
By Amanda Mason, Newsletter Writer, MnAEYC-MnSACA
Elim Preschool, nestled within Elim Church in North East Minneapolis, has been providing childcare services for children from 3-5 years old since 1961. Elim Prechool seeks to provide a high-quality, affordable early childhood program in a faith-based environment to prepare children socially and academically for kindergarten. In addition, Elim also aims to equip parents with the resources and skills they need to best nurture their child's growth and development. Elim offers both half-day and full day classes, and serves a diverse population of families.
Despite being one of the oldest operating preschools in Minneapolis, about 10 years ago, Elim was struggling and nearly closed. At that time, the school put in some serious work to revive their program. They changed the program operation hours to their current half-day and full day options to allow kids to come when it worked for families, then decided to look into accreditation, as it seemed the next logical step to improving their program.
Pam Thompson, Curriculum Director, was part of the team that initially looked into accreditation. She said that the process of collecting the information, as well as receiving accreditation, showed her and her team all the wonderful things that were already happening in their program. Their confidence in their program has increased greatly, and it has allowed the teachers of Elim to better explain the “what” and the “why” of their lesson plans, as well as understand what each activity does developmentally for the children.
Director Jill Jezierski noted that the difference in their classrooms is palpable, and that their entire team has a stronger bond after going though the accreditation process. In addition to having a stronger bond, some staff members have also seen the advantage of pursuing continued education, and have sought to compete CDA work, as well as take advantage of professional development opportunities.
Lead teacher Allison VanLoon said the accreditation process definitely made her a better teacher. Despite the extra work that went into creating her classroom portfolio, she felt it was well worth it, and it opened her eyes to the many aspects of the standards. Recently, when a parent came in to share some musical instruments with her class, she was pleased to find she could list five standards that he met off of the top of her head. The standards come to mind often for her when she is planning art projects or doing assessments.
While knowledge of the standards has shown the Elim team many things TO do, Thompson also reflected that it has also allowed them to be more purposeful in what they DON'T do. For example, although it is fun (especially for parents) to sometimes have an art project that looks cute, it is not as important as process art.
While acknowledging the extra time and work that goes into becoming accredited, the team at Elim all recommend pursuing it. VanLoon suggests keeping lots of lists for teachers working on their classroom portfolios. Making lists of the pictures and documentation that was needed helped her to keep pushing though. Jezierski advised keeping a team-oriented mindset: don't do it TO your staff, but rather WITH them. Empowering as many people as possible in the process allowed the team to come together and learn from each other during the process. She also advocated networking with families, as well as other programs going though the accreditation process. She said Elim's relationship with MnAEYC and the AFP was incredibly valuable during the entire process.
Thompson would encourage other programs to not worry about the process and just do the hard work; it’s worth it. It brings recognition and professionalism to the field, and helps people understand the importance of early childhood education.
By Barb Wagner, Accreditation Specialist, MnAEYC-MnSACA
Little Bees Child Care is an accredited program found in the northern suburbs of Spring Lake Park, open since 2005 and the daytime home to 60 children from infant to school age. When entering the building you are met with a bright atmosphere filled with children’s artwork, photos of the recent activities, and the sounds of laughter. The teachers are dynamic and engage the children in a wide variety of activities that are based on their current interests.
Not only does one feel the passion and enthusiasm from the staff, the design of the classrooms sets this program apart from others. Teachers have the opportunity to connect with each other via the half walls that separate the classrooms. This open design encourages the children to get to know the other children and staff and encourages a welcoming community. Immediately when you enter the building, you feel right at home.
Yelena Klimenov, the program owner and director, was very excited to participate in the Accreditation Facilitation Project. She says that she is always looking for ways to improve the quality of care in her program and encourage her teachers to improve as well. Through the process she feels they have gained so much with regards to curriculum. They are much more knowledgeable about classroom set-up, lesson plans and have become more prepared. The children are now offered more variety, more structure and engage with teachers that are excited to teach.
While Yelena said she loved the process of working with MnAEYC, timing was a challenge. She said, “You have to push yourself and make time for it.” She also mentioned how she felt it was hard to ask her staff to put in extra the time. However, in talking with the staff, they had great things to say.
China Wakulenko, a longtime employee, said there was so much to learn and that she discovered things that she never would have thought of. Her advice to any new program considering accreditation is to do it. She said the process benefits the whole center. She mentioned how they recently looked at pictures of the classroom prior to accreditation and remarked how before everything was boring, plain and dull. Now it looks like a child care center! And what’s more, the children comment on the wall displays. She said it has sparked many conversations.
Joy Brennan, a toddler teacher, said it was a tough process, but she learned so much about curriculum. She said before accreditation, she didn’t have a focus or goals for her classroom, but now she feels more prepared. One of the main tasks to achieve accreditation is to put together classroom portfolios, a bin compiled of evidence, such as photos and lesson plans demonstrating how the program met specific criteria. While taking time to complete the portfolios was a challenge, Joy says now she feels so accomplished.
Besides individual goals, Yelena also talked about how the process really brought the staff together. There was an excitement in the air as the teachers banded together moving toward new areas and growth. She also said that her staff is more professional and has a sense of pride in their program.
Photo credit: Little Bees Child Care
Minneapolis Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program
By Helen Meissner, MnAEYC-MnSACA Newsletter Writer
The Minneapolis Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPPP) exists to help student parents stay in school and be successful, and to provide children with a high quality child care program with a focus on meeting the individual developmental needs of each child.
The TAPPP program sites have been licensed since the 1970s. Initially they were known as MICE (Mothers, Infants, Child Education). TAPPP has four sites and serves 147 children. One of the services offered at the child care sites is Teen Parent Services (TPS). In addition to child care, TPS offers parents prenatal and parenting education, case management (support services), and transportation. They are currently serving parents that attend seven different high schools.
TAPPP recently became accredited using the supports of the Accreditation Facilitation Project (AFP), and Kristen Wheeler-Highland, Program Director, said they decided to become accredited to show evidence of national recognition. Kristen explained that they had a four star rating with Parent Aware and meet all criteria to be considered quality care in the state of Minnesota. Kristen said, "With four separate sites one of our goals was to use this process to increase cohesiveness across our sites."
"We saw this process as a way to continue conversations among staff within sites and across sites about quality standards and a variety of ways of demonstrating those standards." She added, "The process created lots of conversation (some of it heated) about what quality looks like, how we can demonstrate it and how we could keep what we saw as important, individually and as a program. We did not want our sites to become cookie cutter, we wanted them to be 'speaking the same language' when it came to quality practices."
There were challenges during the process. She said, "Our staff are contracted and belong to a union, so we were bound by some strict guidelines about time. It was also difficult to get staff to buy-in at multiple levels. Helping staff to see all the possibilities was challenging, when frustrated people wanted a quick, black and white answer."
They were fortunate enough to have a staff person who was tasked with leading the accreditation effort. She created tools to help and support the staff. The Accreditation Facilitation Project Specialists were instrumental in helping the program achieve accreditation. They helped at all levels programmatically, in the classroom and with staff.
When asked how the accreditation benefited TAPPP, Kristen was quick to answer that the staff developed a common language for speaking about quality and now have a shared understanding. The children, being at such high risk, benefit daily from the quality of the program. Also, because the parents are so young and have not yet had any other child care experiences, Kristen believes that the biggest impact will come when they step out into the "real world" and have to choose another program for their child. They now have a model of quality to compare other programs to.
When asked if she would encourage other programs to pursue accreditation Kristen said, "Yes, even if you have to slow down, delay or step back from the final pieces of the process, this is a very illuminating process for everyone in the program. It helped us achieved a much higher level of cohesiveness that we were looking for. Within the school district this has given us a higher profile and more visibility."
Triple AAAs for Lifetrack Accreditation:
Action. Accountability. Affirmation.
By Jan Keaveny, MnAEYC-MnSACA Newsletter Writer
The newly opened Green Line brought me to Dale and University to visit the Families Together Program at Lifetrack, a non-profit organization located in St. Paul. Their mission is to "Work together to develop the strengths within children, families, and adults facing the greatest life challenges.”
Lifetrack has programs that serve immigrant and refugee populations, people seeking employment, the deaf and hard of hearing, and child and adult therapies. They have been a change agent in Ramsey County for decades. I came to visit their therapeutic preschool program, which has recently completed the NAEYC accreditation process, with support from the Accreditation Facilitation Project (AFP). MnAEYC, with generous support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way, manages the largest AFP in the nation. The AFP supports programs as they seek accreditation by providing technical assistance, consultation and mentoring services.
I was greeted warmly by Barbara Otto, Families Together Program Manager, and shown around the facility. The children and families who are served have all experienced trauma; primarily in the areas of homelessness, mental health or domestic violence.
There are four mixed-age preschool groups with up to 12 children in each group. Children come for three half-day sessions a week. Transportation, meals and snacks are provided. Licensed teachers, play therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, bus drivers, and teaching assistants work with patience and dedication to provide a safe, accepting and welcoming place where children can learn and play.
The children in the group I observed were quick to put on superhero and princess costumes as they arrived. It was explained to me that taking on these invincible characteristics served to calm the children. It gave them a sense of power and control that they often do not feel at home. The emphasis on engaging in, sustaining and enhancing play is evident in the environment. Teachers support rather than direct the play. Story time and fine and gross motor activities are also part of the daily routine. There is an outdoor play area with lots of equipment to climb.
Last year the staff made the decision to begin the rigorous NAEYC accreditation process. The evidence-based portfolios are specific and thorough. The program, unique because of the population served, has proven its worth. They not only provide effective and needed interventions for children living with toxic stress and the inability to self regulate, but they include high quality curriculum, assessments, parent connections and community involvement.
Barbara said she appreciated the support and direction provided through the Accreditation Facilitation Project through MnAEYC. As a result of carefully examining all aspects of the program, staff firmed up policies in the health area and in the assessment process. (Lifetrack uses Creative Curriculum, Work Sampling and Developmental Repair Anne Gearity.)
"Although Families Together Therapeutic Preschool is not a typical preschool program, they were able to successfully pursue the NAEYC Accreditation process. The teachers and administrators worked together as a team to document their quality practices and show how they meet the accreditation standards on a regular basis. Based on the needs of the children they serve, Lifetrack staff was able to take the research-based standards and interpret them in a way that worked for the children and families in their program. Rather than creating an environment for the sake of accreditation, they were able to stay true to their mission and values while incorporating best practice into their classrooms,” said Kara Lomen, Senior Project Coordinator and Lifetrack’s AFP Consultant, MnAEYC-MnSACA.
Christine Dudero, program assistant, spent several hours with me as we observed a class (through a one-way mirror) and I looked through the accreditation documents she had put so much time into preparing. She and Barbara both felt the process was a great vote of confidence for the staff. They know without question that they are providing high quality programming with all of the essentials for a superior preschool experience.
The teachers and support staff at Lifetrack meet bi-weekly to review children’s growth and areas of need. Families are visited in their homes on a monthly basis and are included in several school-based celebrations throughout the year. The greater community is aware of their positive impact and they have several partners who donate resources on an ongoing basis.
Christine shared her philosophy about teamwork. She said they were not about "saving” children or families. They were about "teaming” with them, offering support to people who might not feel like anyone is on their team. The Lifetrack staff has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. The families who participate do not have to face all of life’s challenges alone.
Barbara Otto said, "The field of early childhood, and consequently all young children, benefit with increased adherence to quality standards across the field.” As I prepared to leave she directed me to the bakery next door for "the best almond croissant outside of Paris”. And I knew as I took the first bite that I had experienced an entire morning with "the best”!
Seward Child Care Center
By AJ Dombeck, MnAEYC-MnSACA Newsletter Writer
In the heart of Minneapolis lies a unique child care option. Seward Child Care Center operates as a teacher collective without a director. A parent board governs the center. Seward Child Care Center began as a baby-sitting cooperative in 1973 and evolved into a cooperative child care center in 1974. One of the teachers, Mike Huber, describes the evolution of the center, "We started with a nursery school model with children coming either in the morning or afternoon, because most of the families had one parent at home. Over the decades, most families have either both parents working or are single parent families. We stopped offering part day care 15 years ago." This center seeks to leave a positive stamp on the community by integrating participatory democracy, anti-bias skills, and environmental awareness into the daily curriculum.
Seward Child Care Center worked through the Accreditation Facilitation Project to pursue accreditation. MnAEYC, with generous support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way, manages the largest Accreditation Facilitation Project (AFP) in the nation. The AFP supports programs as they seek accreditation by providing technical assistance, consultation, and mentoring services.
When Seward Child Care Center sought accreditation, they were motivated by a desire to continually improve. "We see quality as a moving target, so we are always trying to improve,” Huber explains. He goes on to further emphasize the value of accreditation. "Frankly with the AFP, Minnesota has so many accredited centers that you sort of have to become accredited if you are a high quality center that wants to compete with other centers.”
The accreditation process is long and can be challenging as well as rewarding. "It was an intense process,” says Huber. "It was overwhelming at first. The AFP coach helped us break it down into steps.” The process can also help remind teachers why they are doing things the way that they are. "Most of the process was simply documenting what we already do. This helped me re-commit to what I do and helped me clarify why I do it,” Erin Bergevin, another teacher at the center, added.
The teachers at Seward Child Care Center recognize many ways in which the program has improved during the accreditation process. Bergevin says, "All of the teachers, including assistant teachers, became more aware of what the other teachers were doing. This helped all of us grow and learn from each other and helped us understand each of the classrooms and age groups.” Huber went on to say, "We are more intentional with our parent communication in terms of the learning going on. We also put into place policies that help us prepare for more language diversity in our center.”
The unique structure of Seward Child Care Center helped to ease the workload on any one staff member. "As a teacher collective, we were able to delegate the 10 accreditation areas among five lead teachers. It was still challenging, but it would have been much harder if only one staff person took on the program portfolio,” Huber explains.
The theme of teamwork is carried over into the center’s advice to other programs thinking about seeking accreditation. "It really helps to work with each other. Learn from each other. It will improve the quality of each teacher and make the teaching team stronger,” advises Bergevin.
The staff spoke highly of the AFP as an integral part of becoming accredited. When asked about encouraging others to pursue accreditation, Huber had the following words of advice: "I would encourage programs to become accredited, especially using the AFP. The AFP breaks up the process into steps that are manageable. It really does improve the quality of you program, but it is a lot of work, so you must have commitment not just from a director, but the teaching staff as well.”
Seward Child Care Center is a unique program that sounds great in writing but exceeds expectations in person. Those seeking more information about the center can find that on their website at www.sewardchildcare.org or by emailing email@example.com.
Memories & Milestones Academy
By AJ Dombeck, MnAEYC-MnSACA Newsletter Writer
One crisp, autumn morning this past October, I was fortunate enough to visit Memories & Milestones Academy in New Prague. The warmth of the staff and obvious joy of the children helped to quickly melt the chill of the morning out of me.
Memories & Milestones has been in business since 2008. They currently serve approximately 60 children ranging in age from six weeks to school age. Their slogan is "Making Memories, Achieving Milestones, One Child at a Time.” This is clearly reflected in the gentle, child-centered approach that the staff in the center use with children.
MnAEYC, with generous support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way, manages the largest Accreditation Facilitation Project (AFP) in the nation. The AFP supports programs as they seek accreditation by providing technical assistance, consultation, and mentoring services. Memories and Milestones decided to seek accreditation using the supports from the AFP.
Programs have many different reasons for seeking accreditation, and for Memories & Milestones it came down to providing quality care. "We knew we had a high quality daycare center. We wanted parents to know that and be proud of us and the center they bring their children to,” explained Assistant Director Alyssa Ondich. Owner Chantel Dacas explained the importance of quality care, "Children need to feel loved, safe, and comfortable at home and at school.” She said that choosing a quality child care center, "is as important, if not more important than, choosing a college or university.”
The accreditation process is lengthy and filled with both challenges and rewards. The staff at Memories & Milestones seemed to agree on the challenges of the process. Infant Teacher Kristine Hoekstra summed it up well, "It was time consuming, but educational at the same time.” Every staff member echoed the sentiment that the process was worth the effort.
Ondich described it as "a fun learning experience.” The center gained a new perspective on their work with children through the process. "It was interesting to see all of the activities, projects, and games that we were already implementing take on a more meaningful purpose,” said Toddler Teacher April Buffie.
One key element that helped Memories & Milestones achieve accreditation was having excellent support from their leadership. Buffie remarked, "We were lucky that our owner, Chantel, was supportive, excited, and positive about our accreditation process.” Supportive leadership can make the whole accreditation process feel less intimidating.
Memories & Milestones noted many improvements to the program that came from the accreditation process. Preschool Teacher Melissa Mayes was encouraged to see, "family involvement is greater and more encouraged.” Buffie added, "We are all on the same page as far as expectations and goals in our classroom.” Ondich said it was a great sense of accomplishment and gave Memories & Milestones, "good self-confidence.”
When asked if they would encourage others to pursue accreditation, they were in agreement that it was worth working toward. Ondich said, "[Accreditation] helps you learn a lot about your program.” Many of the teachers said that the accreditation process was not as intimidating as they had thought initially. Hoekstra advises, "You are probably already doing many things that are required.” Dacas gave advice to owners or directors who are thinking of pursuing NAEYC accreditation, "Do it, get recognition for ALL the wonderful things you and your team do each day.” She added, "This proves to parents you truly care and want what is best for their children.”
As I drove away from New Prague, I was filled with the joy of the children and buoyed by the gentle guidance from the staff. I couldn’t help but smile as I pictured a bright future for those children and the staff members at Memories & Milestones Academy.
Little Voyageurs’ Montessori School
By Helen Meissner, MnAEYC-MnSACA Newsletter Writer
Little Voyageurs’ Montessori School (LVMS) is an educational program whose purpose is to nurture the development of each child’s unique potential promoting independence, respect, lifelong skills, and an appreciation for elders. LVMS opened in 1968 and currently serves about 40 children. They recently became accredited and I had the opportunity to interview Director Karen Smith about their experience pursuing and achieving national accreditation.
LVMS was motivated to go through the accreditation process for a number of reasons, including the pressure to meet new program standards in Parent Aware and the ability to access the child care assistance program’s accreditation differential to cover some of the cost for a child to attend LVMS. The AFP also offered financial assistance and mentoring, which were also strong motivators.
When asked to reflect on the process of accreditation, Karen pointed to the demanding nature of accreditation. "We fine-tuned many things without compromising our Montessori program, which was a challenge at times. The most beneficial part of the ‘process’ was having a great mentor that guided and gave suggestions on how to meet particular requirements.” We broadened our parent communication by posting themes, classroom rules, daily schedule, and playground rules. We had these in place, but not posted for parents to see daily. We fine-tuned some activities in the room and incorporated more community activities.”
Smith points out, "the program staff must realize it is a lot of work and be willing to put in the time and effort to do it well. Fine-tuning and being open to improvements benefits all.” Teamwork was essential, evaluating coworkers’ classrooms, making suggestions, offering help, and supporting each other.
Michael Soboleski, Montessori Guide, said, "The cohort meetings gave us ideas for compliance with the criteria. Sometimes we were not sure what the criteria wanted and we tended to make it more complicated than necessary. Having discussion with other programs that had been accredited helped us to realize the amount of activities we needed to meet specific criteria and activities that could be incorporated into the program.”
Debbie DiGirolamo, Extended Day Teacher said, "Kate, our mentor, was able to look at our environment and suggest specific things that could be added to the environment or tweaked to meet criteria. Kate gave us reassurance that we were on the right track when the process seemed overwhelming. Kate was calming and had to remind us to stop over-thinking everything. She was great!”
The most challenging part of the process, came when everything was completed and they had to wait for the accreditor’s determination, but everyone agreed looking at the program and themselves was beneficial. They knew they offered a quality program for children but really enjoyed seeing the evidence made visible. They enjoyed their creativity being stretched and how the strategies they implemented made them more effective.
Smith said, "Taking a closer look at ourselves, fine-tuning various movements and transitions, helped us be stronger and more aware — making us better role models. Evaluating and observing more closely and making changes more timely is a benefit to staff, children, and families. Sometimes it is the little things that help a program run more smoothly and have better communication between everyone.”
When asked if they would encourage others to pursue accreditation, Smith said, "The process is definitely worth pursuing if you are willing to put in the work, want a four star rating [in Parent Aware] and need higher reimbursement rates.”
Sandcastle Child Care
By Emily Beckstrom, MnAEYC-MnSACA Newsletter Writer
Order and organization, spontaneity and humor: these are the words that came to mind as I walked through the halls of Sandcastle Child Care.
Assistant Director Wendy Jackson greeted children warmly by name. Children in each area were self-directed, calm and engaged. Staff effortlessly stepped in to help children when they needed it. Pictures of families, displayed from a recent community event, made the gap between "child care” and "home” seem minimal.
Housed in a light-filled building that was originally the convent for St. James Catholic Church, Sandcastle Child Care has been in operation for 32 years. Staff members have served in their capacity for an average of 15 years. Several have been there much longer. Enrollment is steady and strong.
In September 2011, Center Director Jennifer Franta decided "(w)ith so much emphasis on quality early childhood education in the state of Minnesota, we wanted to make sure that we were doing everything we could to provide the best quality care we could.”
So when Ms. Franta learned about the Accreditation Facilitation Project managed by MnAEYC, she and her staff made the commitment to begin the accreditation process. "Becoming accredited was a way that Sandcastle could measure its quality and make improvements, " said Franta.
Becoming accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) means Sandcastle Child Care achieved endorsement of their center’s ability to meet research-based quality standards. NAEYC accredited programs go through a rigorous quality improvement process and are assessed by a NAEYC representative to ensure that they meet the standards of the highest quality care and education.
With generous monetary support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way, MnAEYC manages the largest Accreditation Facilitation Project (AFP), which supports programs as they pursue national accreditation by providing technical assistance, consultation, and mentoring services.
The AFP facilitates the path toward accreditation with training sessions, networking, on-site consultation, and telephone and email communication. Programs participating in accreditation facilitation receive specialized tools to help them understand, navigate and succeed within the accreditation process.
"The process,” said Franta, "made us examine each and every part of our center and to make improvements as needed. It also made each teacher accountable for quality care.” It required the center to take a look at all of its policies and procedures; many of the changes made have improved the overall quality of their center.
For instance, one teacher describes that the process "made us get out of our comfort zone” and "redefines what was quality teaching and a quality environment.” This helped them to think of their own teaching abilities differently, and to think differently about their children’s capabilities.
The end result? "Our classrooms are better and our teachers have more focus and are providing better care and experiences for the children,” said Franta.
Franta and her staff are honest in saying the accreditation process was challenging, citing time as a big factor. Part of the accreditation process includes creating a portfolio that provides evidence for each criterion. As those in the early childhood field know, finding time when you are not with children to work on a special project is a real challenge.
The staff had to make a specific plan to complete the process – and then they had to stick to it. Sandcastle’s teaching staff underscored this point, giving the following recommendations to other centers considering the process:
"Make sure that you allow enough time to work on the classroom portfolio and don't fall behind in your monthly goals.”
"Ask a lot of questions so that you understand the whole process before you even begin.”
"Definitely have a MnAEYC coach - we couldn't have done it without ours!”
Franta claims the accountability required within the accreditation process made each teacher much more responsible for ensuring quality care in their classrooms. One tangible benefit of this accountability was that teaching staff united as they worked on their portfolios –working toward the same purpose and goals made them work as a team.
This sense of unity flows throughout their center. Franta says, "At Sandcastle, we emphasize treating one another with respect, dignity, warmth, kindness and fairness in an educational environment. Staff model these values…” in their interactions with each other and with the children in their care.
As I wrapped up my visit, Assistant Director Wendy Jackson mentioned that enrollment for next year is strong and families are reserving spots for new babies due soon, "That feels really good," she said.
Caring for Children
By Angèle Sancho Passe, NAEYC Governing Board Member
Caring for Children is a nonprofit Christian child care center serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in South Minneapolis. It received NECPA accreditation with support from the AFP. The center is also 4-star rated through Minnesota’s quality rating and improvement system, Parent Aware. NECPA is the National Early Childhood Program Administration.
Diana Hoffman, Director of Caring for Children and Kari Beckstrom, Assistant Director, graciously agreed to be interviewed and gave us their insights about the accreditation process.
Here is an edited transcript of our email conversation.
Please tell me about your program.
Diana Hoffman: Caring for Children is a mission of the Richfield United Methodist Church. Our goal is to help children learn and develop in an environment rich in choices. We give each child experiences that are relevant to his or her stage of development. Our educational program is based on each child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical developmental needs.
We provide a warm, secure, and comfortable setting where children are respected as individuals. We also promote children’s autonomy and privacy and encourage their growing faith in God.
We feel our program’s unique component is the support we give parents and the personal way in which we respond to their questions, desires, and concerns. We have a family atmosphere and our teachers have close relationships with our parents. We have many first-time parents and our teachers are available to give them advice and support them in raising their children. We also occasionally offer classes on issues that parents may be interested in.
What prompted you to go through the accreditation process?
Diana Hoffman: We really wanted to provide the highest quality education and care possible to our families. Because the first few years of a child’s life are so important, it is our top priority to provide developmentally appropriate experiences for each child. In our program we want to help each child grow and learn in a nurturing environment and help them build a foundation to help them enter kindergarten successfully.
What did you think about the process? What was beneficial? What was challenging?
Diana Hoffman: The process of becoming accredited can be difficult at times, because there are so many details to attend to. But it is worth it in the end. The process of accreditation can be very demanding on teachers who are already busy in their classroom. Each teaching team had to work together to create a plan to make the necessary changes for their classroom. Our staff came together as a team to make the needed improvements. We learned a lot about each other as we worked together on it.
Kari Beckstrom: The accreditation process was challenging, but extremely rewarding. Although there were frustrating moments with all there was to do, we were really proud as a center when we became accredited.
How has accreditation benefitted your program, the staff, the children, the families?
Diana Hoffman: Our center was actually already doing a lot of the requirements of accreditation before we began the process. Some of the improvements we made included using Creative Curriculum, posting children's projects and pictures at the child's level, and a larger focus on outdoor play.
Kari Beckstrom: I feel like the accreditation process has allowed us to showcase our wonderful center and challenge us to use best practices in all we do.
The accreditation process really improved the look of our center, as many classrooms found themselves redoing many of their boards and decorations. It also challenged us to make sure we were adhering to best practices regarding supervision of children, safety, infant sleep practices and many more areas. Most of all, becoming an accredited center gave us confidence that we are offering high quality early childhood education to the children we care for.
Would you encourage others to pursue accreditation?
Diana Hoffman: Yes. We think that the accreditation process is a great way for centers to evaluate the different areas of their program and make improvements where needed. It is also a great accomplishment to share with prospective families and your community.
What advice would you give other staff currently going through accreditation?
Kari Beckstrom: Tackle each task one at a time so you don’t become overwhelmed, and give yourself the freedom to take small breaks when you need them. Getting accredited is so much work, but the pride you gain after completing the process is completely worth it!
by Sara Benzkofer, MnAEYC-MnSACA Director of Policy and Communication
"I feel that it is our job as early childhood educators to provide the best possible care. Knowing that we are following the best practices set forth by an accrediting body is one step that we can take to ensure that high quality care for children and families is being met at our center,” said Sue Marusic, Director, St. Paul Childhood Center.
St. Paul’s Childhood Center (SPCC), located in the heart of the Grand Avenue business district, is a non-profit child development center sponsored by St. Paul's United Church of Christ since 1970. In addition to being NECPA accredited, the center is also 4-star rated through Parent Aware. SPCC serves children 6 weeks to 12 years old, and includes a before- and after-school program and a summer school-age program.
When I visited the center, I saw children reading, doing yoga, playing games, and enjoying the sunshine-filled day. The program includes spacious classrooms full of natural light, a large muscle room, an art studio, and a playground with a playhouse.
Marusic chose to have SPCC go through the accreditation process because it encouraged them to re-think what they do, from their policies and procedures, to how they interact with the children. "Accreditation most likely includes change, but in a field where ideas and philosophies are in constant flux, change may be challenging; however, change produces positive end results not just for children and families, but for staff as well. Achieving accreditation allows you to tell families, we want the best for your child and we've proved that we can do it by going through this self-study and becoming an accredited center,” said Marusic.
"The process was lengthy,” said Nils Hoeger-Lerdal, SPCC Preschool Teacher, "but the anticipation kept us all on our toes. The things that made it difficult are the same things that make it beneficial; you are forced to self-reflect and make changes to benefit the children and the center's overall competency." For SPCC, this self-reflection resulted in a better use of the physical space and more intentional interactions with children and with parents. "Through the parent and staff surveys, we were able to connect with families and understand where the center-family relationship had been excelling, and where we could improve. Our rooms became more multicultural, and we began to approach learning from those new perspectives,” said Hoeger-Lerdal.
When asked what advice they would give to programs thinking about accreditation or currently undergoing the process, Marusic said it’s important to make sure all the teachers understand why accreditation is valuable to their work, to understand the advantages of going through accreditation and to give them ownership over the process. Hoeger-Lerdal echoed the importance of making sure staff are prepared to undergo the process and is committed to changing what needs to be improved. He added, "Be honest on your self-evaluation. Value your families and their opinions. Don't stress.”
"We all are in this field because we love children, and want the very best for each and every one of them. Accreditation is one way we are able to publicly declare this. I encourage all centers to seek accreditation. Each may move at a different pace, but all are working toward quality care.” Marusic said.
East Creek Child Care
by Sara Benzkofer, MnAEYC-MnSACA Director of Policy and Communication
East Creek Child Care, a licensed, newly accredited child care center, opened in 1998. It is integrated with the New Beginnings Program, through the Carver-Scott Educational Cooperative. New Beginnings is a high school completion program for pregnant and parenting teenage students from member school districts, primarily in Scott and Carver Counties. New Beginnings has been serving teens for over 30 years. Families in this program face several challenges. They are primarily teen parent families. They also deal with chemical dependency/abuse, domestic violence, poverty, learning disabilities/special needs, mental illness, and homelessness.
East Creek Child Care has been interested in the accreditation process in the past, but budget and time constraints made it too challenging. Denise Hedtke, Director, East Creek Child Care, said, "In recent years, it became more apparent that it was necessary to pursue accreditation more wholeheartedly. In addition to wanting to document quality care, the Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program offers higher reimbursement rates for accredited programs and the Greater Twin Cities United Way encourages accreditation, too. It was clear that East Creek Child Care already offered quality care, so it was time to "prove it.”
The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) was the best fit for East Creek Child Care. They felt the process was highly detailed and thorough. Although the process was challenging because of the time involved, Hedtke said it was beneficial for staff, because they had to work together to ensure each requirement was met. East Creek Child Care was recently accredited, so they are looking forward to seeing the impact on children and families. "The children & families will benefit from more organized classrooms, carefully planned lessons, and well-trained professionals,” Hedtke said. "East Creek Child Care encourages all other centers to pursue accreditation. It offers opportunities to showcase the splendid experiences each program has to offer and highlights, to families, the efforts made toward improving safety and quality of care.”
The Family Child Development Center
by Sara Benzkofer, MnAEYC-MnSACA Director of Policy and Communication
I visited The Family Child Development Center (FCDC), on a cloudy, dreary day outside, but there was a lot of laughter and fun going on inside. Children were singing songs, playing games, writing, and reading. The children are big hockey fans and had recently built their own "rink,” along with their own Stanley Cup.
The FCDC has been providing child care and early childhood education services in the community for more than 20 years. Their mission, as a community based nonprofit center, is to provide early childhood education by nurturing the potential of every child through active partnerships with parents and families. FCDC offers childcare and early childhood education programming for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Their programming includes a kindergarten-readiness program that prepares children to be successful in an academic environment. FCDC also has a strong commitment to early intervention and is one of only a small number of child care centers in Hennepin County that serves children with special needs.
According to Heidi Hagel Braid, Executive Director, FCDC has always had a commitment to quality and a desire to be nationally accredited, but the cost of accreditation felt out of reach for their small program. When they discovered the Accreditation Facilitation Project, they jumped at the chance to enroll. The project removed all the financial barriers and the technical assistance was integral to their success. FCDC believed the process needed buy-in from all of the teaching staff and everyone needed to understand the national standards. They created the space and the tools for the teaching staff to gain confidence in each of the criteria, and they provided training opportunities to work on classroom portfolios.
"For me, it was critical that every team member understood the standards in order for us to achieve, but more importantly, maintain the standards over time,” said Hagel Braid.
They found numerous benefits to accreditation. Their teachers are more intentional in the classroom. "Gone are the days of doing a project because it looked cute hanging on the wall,” said Hagel Braid. "Now, our teachers are more consistent in scaffolding learning experiences, accessing diverse materials and resources, and creating an inclusive learning environment. They have increased their abilities to think outside the box and are more willing to try something new and different in their classrooms. Teachers are reflecting on their work with the entire picture in mind, and are confident in their decisions, knowing that they are teaching in alignment with national standards and the latest child development research.”
All of this has had an immediate and positive impact on the children: they enjoy exploring concepts and materials in a variety of innovative ways. The teachers are finding balance between teacher-initiated and child-initiated activities. They are willing to be open to what is interesting to the children and respond by providing programming on those topics.
"First and foremost, it provided an opportunity for our staff to increase their knowledge and capacity to deliver excellent programming based on research-based best practices. It opened our center up to changing trends affecting our field, and put us in touch with the latest changes. Although our families already believe in quality of programming, it’s nice to have a seal of approval attached to what we do every day. I would encourage any program to pursue accreditation: it can only benefit the children enrolled in your center,” said Hagel Braid.
Washburn Center for Children
by Sara Benzkofer, MnAEYC-MnSACA Director of Policy and Communication
Washburn Center for Children, a non-profit community mental health agency in south Minneapolis, achieved accreditation in July 2011. The preschool program serves families with children age birth to kindergarten who are having social or emotional difficulties and/or experiencing stressful events in their lives. The program offers an intensive combination of in-home family therapy, a therapeutic preschool classroom for children and periodic parent groups.
"Our program strives to provide children with positive preschool experiences, providing developmentally appropriate practice that provides children with opportunities to learn and practice new skills,” said Natalie Kendrick, LMFT (Family Focused Program Clinical Supervisor). "We strive for children to feel safe and valued in a place where their physical and emotional needs are met.”
Washburn chose to pursue accreditation so they could obtain additional grant monies to expand the population of families and children they serve. While Washburn found the process to be time consuming for staff, they improved the quality of their learning materials and the structure of their policies and procedures. They were able to develop classroom portfolios that allow the teachers to be more intentional and purposeful in their classrooms. In addition, Washburn is able to offer more culturally sensitive programming and new learning opportunities for the children.
"The biggest frustration at the beginning of the process was not knowing what the end result would be,” says Kendrick. "Having an Accreditation Specialist was incredibly helpful to show us what that might look like. She managed the process, answered our questions, and kept us on track. It would have been very difficult without her assistance.”
Kendrick adds, "We would encourage others to pursue NAEYC accreditation as it strengthens and improves the quality of care and learning provided to children.”
If you are interested in becoming accredited, or are currently pursuing accreditation and would like some additional information, contact the AFP hotline at 651-646-8689, Ext. 36 or toll free at 800-711-5690. Or, you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.