How do you choose a quality daycare or preschool program for your child? It is an important choice for parents to make and one that requires a little homework.
Nine years ago, when my husband and I felt it was time for our oldest daughter to go to preschool, I toured a few centers, observed a couple of classes, and met the directors. The factor that probably influenced my decision the most, however, was recommendations from other moms. I wouldn't say I did a whole lot of homework because there weren't many resources out there to help me make an informed choice.
Fortunately, today there is a resource available for parents who want to research local childcare centers who are taking a step toward quality. The Virginia Star Quality Initiative was created to provide a consistent way to distinguish the level of quality in early education programs. The VSQI is a sort of consumer report for finding quality preschool and childcare centers in our area. Knowing the quality level allows families to make more informed choices and also allows childcare providers a way to assess and improve the quality of their services.
Providing the best possible program for the children in her care was the main driver for Sherilyn Preston to participate in the VSQI. Preston, co-owner of Minnieland: A Child's Place II in Spotsylvania, said she decided to have her center participate in the VSQI because she is always looking for ways to improve quality. "It's a matter of excellence and providing the best possible program for our families. We provide a quality care and educational environment for our children, but we are always looking for ways to improve," Preston said. "The VSQI provides us with the tools to assess our current program and define a path to enhance it," she added.
The VSQI, a partnership between Virginia's Office of Early Childhood Development and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, is implemented locally by Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area, which serves Fredericksburg, Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area (SBRA) is a coalition of more than 40 public and private agencies, business and individuals working toward a common goal – to ensure all children arrive at school healthy and prepared to succeed in school and in life.
One of SBRA's main goals is to increase the number of local preschools and childcare centers participating in the VSQI. SBRA began local coordination of VSQI in 2008 by working with 4 local childcare and preschool programs. To date, 7 programs have been rated and 7 more are scheduled to be rated this year. At least 6 new programs are expected to be added next year.
Star Quality Mentors
Participating in the VSQI, is a rigorous process for childcare centers involving documentation review and on-site classroom observations by trained and experienced Star Quality Raters, who are rated themselves for reliability. The assessment focuses on four key areas: education, qualifications and training of staff; interactions between children and their teachers and peers; staff to child ratios and group size; and program environment and instructional practices. Once centers are rated, they receive one of five star levels of increasing quality. It is important to note that every star a center earns is above and beyond the minimum standards for childcare centers in our region.
Once rated, SBRA assigns a Star Quality Mentor that works with the center to identify areas of improvement and develop a Quality Improvement Plan. The Quality Improvement Plan sets specific goals and outlines strategies to increase quality, targeting such areas as teacher training, new curriculum, classroom materials and equipment, as well as scholarships. SBRA typically spends anywhere from $1,500-$3,000 on each program providing mentor hours and purchasing items identified in the Quality Improvement Plan.
Nicky Morley, preschool lead teacher for Ron Rosner Family YMCA of Spotsylvania County, said participating in the VSQI helped her center's preschoolers be better prepared for kindergarten. "Continuing education is so important when working in an early childcare setting," Morley said. "The knowledge the teachers receive from the offered training, the new equipment, supplies and mentor services and support, all filter down to the children, which better prepares them for their transition to kindergarten."
With 90 percent of brain development taking place before a child even reaches kindergarten, it is critical to invest early in children to help them develop a strong foundation for lifelong learning. The more parents know about quality early care for their child, the better opportunity they have to provide a Smart Beginning!
If you are interested in having a preschool or childcare center rated, please contact Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area at (540) 373-0041 x318 or visit www.smartbeginningsra.org.
Beth Rabatin, mother of two girls, lives in downtown Fredericksburg and is Executive Director of Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area.
Is Your Child's Center Rated?
Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area is working to increase the number of preschools and childcare centers in our local area who participate in the Virginia Star Quality Initiative. Check out www.smartbeginningsra.org to view the complete VSQI rating.
If your child's center is not rated, encourage them to sign up and get rated!
Local Preschool and Childcare Centers that have been rated:
Agape Preparatory Academy, Stafford
Four Seasons Daycare, King George
Learn 'n Play, Spotsylvania
Lil Sunflowers, Stafford
Minnieland: A Child's Place II, Spotsylvania
Spotsylvania YMCA Preschool
Stafford County Head Start
Scheduled to be Rated this Year:
Salem Fields Learning Center, Spotsylvania
Spotsylvania County Head Start
John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center
Lee Hill Elementary
Stafford YMCA Preschool