Education

Roza Sharifi has always loved children. As a certified midwife in her home country of Iran, she delivered more than 1,000 babies over the course of her career.

When she and her husband moved to the United States in 1998, and she learned that her Iranian credentials would not certify her to work in an American hospital, Sharifi launched a new career, pursuing licensing to start a childcare business within her Prince William County home.

This past spring, Sharifi became the first family day home provider in the state of Virginia to be rated. She earned a level 4 quality rating with Virginia Quality, a voluntary program that offers resources to help Virginia’s early childhood care providers to constantly improve.

Virginia Quality is supported by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the Virginia Department of Social Services through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Locally, it is part of Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area.

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Above and beyond the standard

Since first earning her license in 1999, Sharifi had always looked at state licensing for care providers as meeting basic standards and requirements.

“I have always tried to achieve more than the standard,” she said. Her family day home’s curriculum emphasizes hands-on, open-ended activities. Sharifi is a talented artist whose oil paintings have won awards in Manassas, and she always incorporates art into her day with the children.

“Teachers here know me. They love my kids,” she said. “They say they are ready for kindergarten.”

“Providers that enroll in Virginia Quality show their desire to provide quality education to the children in their program,” said Courtney Harris, Expansion Coordinator with Virginia Quality. “They are taking the steps to go above and beyond and focus on best practices versus just meeting the standards.”

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A manageable commitment for unlimited improvement

When Sharifi first heard about Virginia Quality in October 2017, she worried a little that it would add to what was already a busy workload at her home-based business. But a friend who was familiar with the program encouraged her, saying she’d get credit for all the work she was already doing to constantly improve her facilities and curriculum.

Sharifi signed up and discovered that her fears were unfounded.

“You can do it at your own pace, and there are a lot of resources that can help you run your center and give you ideas,” she said. “There are online trainings that you can do at night, and they are very helpful. At first, I thought it would be a lot of paperwork, but I encourage everybody to do it because it’s not really hard, and you can learn so much.”

Providers who participate in Virginia Quality work their way up a continuum of five quality rating levels. Each of these levels gives providers a specific area to improve in.

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“Virginia Quality is a leveled system,” Harris said. “There are 5 levels starting at Level 1, which is basic health and safety, followed by education, curriculum, environment and ending at Level 5, which focuses on quality interactions. Centers are provided a Technical Assistance Specialist. They provide direct support to the Directors and Teachers by way of trainings, mentoring, classroom observations and modeling best practices in the classroom.”

Specific goals improve outcomes for children

To get from level 1 to 2, Sharifi had to show she had earned education credits in specific areas related to early childhood. Her school transcripts included courses that counted for much of the requirement. If classes are required, some providers are able to access scholarships.

Getting from level 2 to 3 involves ensuring that all of a provider’s curriculum is aligned with the milestones of child development.

As she worked her way toward level 4, Sharifi knew she would be getting an unannounced visit from a Virginia Quality rater. Despite some nervousness at the outset, she said the visit was extremely helpful and pleasant.

“They are very friendly. They come in and they try to help you,” she said. “They are trying to help you achieve your goal, they are trying to help you improve the quality of your childcare.”

The process also introduced Sharifi to new resources to help her manage and improve the environment in her care center. That ultimately makes the time children spend in her care more enriching.

One book included exhaustive lists of the supplies and setups every care provider should have. “I read that book twice and went through every single part of it,” she said. Sharifi added details like having picture labels on supply boxes, so that children could play a bigger role in cleanup and learn to get supplies they need on their own. She learned about the importance of having pictures on the walls that show diversity, and that expand children’s worlds.

Another book on classroom interactions helped her fine-tune the way she delivered what was already an open-ended, project-based curriculum.

“There’s always a better way to say things,” she said. “Now I try to challenge the children more, whether it’s about a book we’ve read or a problem we’re working on. I speak to them more about everything, I ask them more open-ended questions.”

Parents can search for participants

Sharifi has never advertised her business, but she said being involved in Virginia Quality is a form of free advertising for childcare providers, because participants appear in a searchable database at virginiaquality.com.

“When parents see that you are a quality rated program, they are more confident to bring their kids to you,” she said.

Sharifi says the work she does keeps her young, and that Virginia Quality has provided her with a way to feel that she is constantly learning in a fulfilling career.

“At the end of the day I am so happy,” she said. “I love what I do.”

Heather Gudowicz, Program Specialist, stated “As a former Director of a Virginia Quality participating program, I found out how many resources and how much support is available in assisting with providing quality early learning experiences and how to better prepare children to be successful in school and life. Virginia Quality focuses on continuous quality improvement, recognizes early learning programs commitment to excellence, and supports programs with tools and services to achieve top quality. If you would like to commit to providing quality care for young children and become a participant of Virginia Quality, please visit our website at virginiaquality.com or call Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area at 540-479-6944.”

Parents and childcare providers can learn more about Virginia Quality at virginiaquality.com.

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