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MSU network helps centers provide quality on a budget
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Quality child care does not require a large budget. Dewberry Daycare and Hazlehurst United Methodist Church Child Care and Preschool prove it.
Both centers attained a four-star classification in Mississippi's Quality Rating and Improvement System. Commonly referred to as Quality Stars, the voluntary program is designed to help licensed care and education centers meet and maintain high standards in five areas: learning environments, professional development, administrative policy, parent involvement and evaluation.
Centers can earn ratings of one star through five stars based on the implementation of criteria required for each level. Quality Stars is a nationally recognized measurement tool. It is implemented by the Early Years Network, which is managed by the Mississippi State University Extension Service and funded by a grant through the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
“A large budget is not a necessity to meet the standards, and many of the components that impact evaluation scores have no cost associated with them,” said Monica May, Quality Stars project director with the Early Years Network. “Shelving, tables and chairs can be costly, but many times a center’s existing equipment can be reconfigured, and educational toys and materials can be made or bought through less expensive retail outlets to improve learning environments. Those are the kinds of things we can help centers with.”
Etheldra Haynie, who has owned and operated Dewberry Daycare in Batesville since 1985 has participated in the program for many years.
“My favorite part of working with the Early Years Network is their hands-on approach,” Haynie said. “When I began the Quality Stars program, the evaluators came in and helped us lay out our center to best serve our children. We had furniture and learning materials, but our setup needed tweaking. They also gave us ideas about how to use the things we had in new ways.”
Haynie said she moved through the four tiers in about 18 months without spending much money.
“We are a very small center, and we are on a budget,” she said of the center that serves 22 children. “I want to do anything I can to make things better for the children and prepare them for kindergarten. To be able to do that, we’ve made a lot of the toys and other educational materials that we have. We also take advantage of the free support services that the network offers.”
Jan Coleman, director of the Hazlehurst United Methodist Church Child Care and Preschool, said she has stayed in the Quality Stars program because it helps ensure the 160 children who attend the center get quality care.
“I want to make sure we are providing excellent care, and being accountable through this program helps us do that,” Coleman said.
The center recently earned a four-star rating. Coleman said community organizations provided equipment at little to no cost that helped her meet some of the Quality Stars program requirements before she began the program six years ago. She and the staff earn educational hours required by the program through the Early Years Network, and they make some of the toys and materials used in the classrooms.
“I also involve the parents quite a bit by having book parties, where parents donate books to the center based on specifics we provide, and inviting them to special programs around Thanksgiving, Christmas and at other times of the year,” Coleman said.
A dedicated team is vital in earning and maintaining quality stars.
“Because of the size of our center, I could not do this by myself,” Coleman said. “I have a wonderful office manager who handles the paperwork, and our teachers keep up with their continuing education hours.”
May said these centers are a great example of using creative, low-cost ways to provide a quality learning environment.
“Children reap many benefits of quality early care and education programs that impact them far beyond the preschool years,” May said. “Children who attend high-quality centers are more likely to be prepared for kindergarten, graduate on time and attend college. Children benefit from having access to developmentally appropriate activities and goals that are achievable, yet challenging to promote progress and interest. The positive, secure relationships developed between children and educators are just as important to learning as what they are taught.”