PROGRAM MEETS HUNDREDS OF STANDARDS THAT EXCEEDS LICENSING REQUIREMENTS
After an exhaustive review by professional raters from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the Jewish Community Center’s Early Learning Center has achieved Two-STAR accreditation for both infant care and early childhood care. STARS is Kentucky’s voluntary quality rating system for childcare programs, and the J’s ELC is the only Jewish school in Louisville to be accredited by the state.
In preparation for the accreditation which requires child care programs to meet hundreds of standards that exceed basic licensing requirements, the J’s ELC worked with a STARS coach to ensure everyday operations are the best. It took a lot of work by the entire staff.
To thank them, Cahen kept the results secret for a couple of weeks. Then at the regular staff meeting the evening of February 25, she made the announcement. To make it a true celebration, the staff donned party hats and Keren Benabou, one of the parents, prepared a special dinner.
For Cahen, the effort was well worth it. The process “shapes and molds teachers into a team,” she said, “and gives everyone a shared vision of what quality can be.”
As a result of the hard work, she noted, the program is already at capacity for next year.
The program received its first Two-STAR rating three years ago, and, ELC Director Norma Cahen explained, the renewal means the ELC continually strives to improve its program. In fact this year, the school was just two points shy of reaching the next level.
“Now that we are accredited, you might be asking, what difference does this make?” said Cahen. “This achievement lets you … know that we strive on a daily basis to have better parent-child relationships, and that our teachers engage in quality programming that is designed to help the children develop greater thinking skills, better attention skills, enhanced academic performance and a better relationship with their peers. Following a developmentally appropriate curriculum allows each child to develop on their own as these years are not a race, but a journey.”
A child care program license guarantees a minimally acceptable level of care. The STAR ratings show how far above and beyond a school goes. A quality childcare program is “more than just watching babies all day,” she added. “It’s helping them develop.”
The raters visited the school for an entire day, checked the environment in each classroom, observed routines, hygiene procedures, interactions among teachers and children, communication with parents, teacher/student ratios and examined every detail to ensure that the school meets hundreds of standards for each age group.
They checked to ensure that the furniture is the correct size for the children in each classroom. They checked the arrangement of the rooms to ensure that an area for reading and quiet activities is separated from the activity area where children can be more active.
They checked the pictures on the walls for diversity so children of all backgrounds can recognize people like themselves. They checked the art projects to ensure that they are age-appropriate and child-created. They checked the availability and appropriateness of books.
Everything the teachers do was evaluated from personal care to the way they talk to children and parents. Ensuring the right balance of active and passive activities, options so older children can make choices, activities that help children develop a wide range of verbal and motor skills, as well as many others.
The outdoor and indoor play areas were carefully checked, too. The raters were particularly impressed with the indoor climbing space.
“They came here on a Friday morning,” Cahen said, “and watched our Kabbalat Shabbat program and loved it. They couldn’t believe that all the children from infants to five year olds were actively engaged in singing and clapping with the songs. They loved it.”
In the infant room, the raters checked the position of the children as they napped, diapering procedures, nursing mothers’ access to their children and experiential learning opportunities. As an example, Cahen explained, teachers put paint in sealed plastic bags and let the infants feel it and mush it around as an introduction to textures and as a precursor for when they are able to do art projects.
The snacks the program serves were scrutinized, too. By law, each snack must include two of the three kinds of food: dairy, fruit or vegetable, and a grain. At the J’s ELC, the snacks are kosher, Orthodox Union-approved dairy options. That means, Cahen elaborated, “there’s no lard in them and they’re low sodium and low sugar.”
By achieving the Two-STAR accreditation, The J’s ELC demonstrates to parents and to the community that the teachers and administration are committed to delivering the highest quality program they can and that the children’s development and success is their focus.