SALISBURY — Partners in Learning Child Development and Family Resource Center is the only child care facility in Rowan County that has received accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The center, which recently wrapped up a yearlong process to renew its accreditation for five years, is also one of 112 centers among the more than 7,600 in the state to receive the designation.
“We’re in an elite group,” said Executive Director Norma Honeycutt. “I’m so proud of what we do and this just really validates that we’re doing a good job and we’re making a difference for these children and these families”
Although parents can use the state rating system to determine which center to send their children to, Honeycutt said even those with the same rating can be drastically different. But the accreditation gives Partners in Learning an additional boost.
A rigorous process
Honeycutt said the accreditation process is rigorous, requiring all 12 of the center’s teachers to keep portfolios, which are five-inch binders filled with work.
“They have to prove through pictures they are fully implementing every area of the curriculum,” she said.
Kelly Lowman Kirk, a pre-kindergarten teacher, said the portfolio was no problem for her.
“I take millions of pictures, so the hardest part for me was picking which ones to use,” she said. “But it is a lot of work and a lot of second-guessing yourself. I was constantly checking myself thinking ‘OK, this is what they want, this is what I’m doing.’ ”
Honeycutt said teachers can feel overwhelmed by the process.
“It was a challenge, but they rose to the challenge and it felt real good that they achieved it,” she said.
Honeycutt helped put together a program portfolio, which includes a digital compilation of the center’s policies.
The final step in the process is a visit from the representative of the association to observe half of the classes during a two-day period.
Programs have to meet 10 standards to receive the accreditation. Those standards include relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment of child progress, health, teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment and leadership and management.
“(The association) wants to ensure the quality of children’s daily experiences in early childhood programs and promoting positive child outcomes is the goal of the 10 standards,” Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt said to receive the accreditation, the center also had to meet 400 criterion at 80 percent or higher.
“This is important for a lot of reasons, the main one being it validates we are a quality program,” she said. “This shows we are providing the highest quality education according to the latest research in early childhood education.”
Honeycutt said the criteria for accreditation changes each renewal cycle in response to research.
“That bar is constantly being raised,” she said. “There was a lot of emphasis this time placed on math skills.”
To get the center’s math curriculum up to par, Honey-cutt said teachers have received additional training and started including a math component in every lesson.
“That means authentic math and literacy, so that means real life examples,” she said. “It’s a lot harder than handing a child a worksheet. It takes a higher knowledge base.”
Honeycutt said the center received excellent marks during the accreditation process for its relationships with families and the community.
“The teachers would tell you this is their family and all the families here are part of our family,” she said. “Teachers communicate with parents via text messages and emails. They go to children’s birthday parties. They don’t stop caring when children leave their classroom at the end of the day.”
Honeycutt said the center starts building those relationships before children ever set foot in the building.
“About a year ago, we started doing home visits to help with that home, school connection,” she said.
Kirk said the center wouldn’t be as successful without all the support of the families and community.
“Their input makes our facility complete,” she said.
During the five-year accreditation period, a representative from the association can drop in at any time, Honeycutt said.
“Portfolios and policies have to be kept current,” she said. “Once we achieve accreditation, we have to commit to maintaining it.”
Honeycutt said that includes ongoing staff development and teacher assessments.
“Our classrooms are all evaluated by someone on the leadership team monthly to provide staff feedback so that they know what’s working and what they need to work on,” she said.
The accreditation process also gives the center new goals to strive for.
Honeycutt said they are currently working to reduce their teacher-to-student ratios.
“That’s expensive because you have to hire new teachers, but we’re getting there,” she said.
The center is currently in the process of translating all of its printed materials to Spanish.
“We have three Spanish-speaking staff members now. That’s come out of going through the accreditation process,” Honeycutt said.
Assessments were one of the center’s weakest links during the last accreditation process five years ago, but that’s no longer an issue, Honeycutt said.
“We really worked on how to link assessments to curriculum,” she said. “You don’t know what to teach unless you know where the child is at. That’s why assessment are so important.”
Honeycutt said the accreditation process constantly pushes the center to be better.
“It forces us to look at things differently, to look at where we want to be and how we’re going to get there,” she said.