CRT Center Re-accreditation Proves Rigorous, Rewarding
March 11, 2010
"I'll pass around the brain now. Don't worry, everyone will get a chance to touch it, but only a gentle squeeze."
Luis Rivera, from the Injury Prevention Dept. of the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, visited Classroom 4 of Community Renewal Team's Grace Street Center in Hartford.
Grace Street's Early Care and Education center was re-accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) on Feb. 24, 2010.
Rivera's lesson in bicycle safety is one example of Community Renewal Team's (CRT) curriculum and opportunities. He brought with him a plastic cranium, complete with squishy brain, to emphasize the importance of safety. Each child was given a pink or blue helmet to take home, funded by a grant from Kohl's.
"To protect our smart brains!" said one child.
Teacher Mayra Pino invites local people like Rivera, to broaden the children's knowledge and give them a sense of community.
The bright and bustling energy of Classroom 4, sweeps over you the moment you step through the door. The Grace Street Center has six classrooms, each with 17 or 18 students.
The center was re-accredited two weeks ago, but the change did not happen overnight. NAEYC re-accreditation is a lengthy and rigorous process.
In order to receive the re-accreditation, a center must meet 10 program standards: relationships between children and adults; relationships with the community; health education, promoting nutrition and protection; a physical environment that fosters growth and development; effective teaching, curriculum, leadership and management; a systematic and ongoing self-assessment process; and reciprocal relationships between programs and families.
During the rigorous self-study process, centers produce huge binders that create a portfolio of evidence for each standard. Hundreds of detailed and specific additional criteria are added into the portfolio. Then finally, after a few days of on-site visits by NAEYC representatives, accreditation is granted.
In 2006, NAEYC changed their criteria, making it more difficult to quality, said Kristen Wood, Unit Manager of the Grace Street Center. Last year, Grace Street was up for re-accreditation and began their process.
"It's really helped us be sure that we're doing our best for the children," said Wood. "You can see the energy of the classroom. The children are excited to learn."
"What's this shape?" said 'Miss Mayra'.
"A diamond!" cheered the children.
"Nope. Remember? It's called a rhombus."
"A rhombus!" shouted the children, hands up in the air.
After opening circle and breakfast, the students move to different discovery areas. "We like our classroom," said a student as he chopped his blue play dough.
Everything in the room is labeled in English and Spanish. Even the rack full of neon-colored toothbrushes is labeled. Each brush has a student's name - an initiative to brush after every meal and teach children about personal care.
The children are given breakfast, lunch and snack. The center requires a specific nutritional curriculum that includes education and seminars for parents. "We don't know what they eat at home," said Dr. Paul Copes, CRT Executive Director of Education, "but here they get a healthy, balanced diet."
NAEYC accreditation is only granted to about 9 percent of the nation's preschool programs, said Nancy Pappas, CRT Director of External Affairs.
"It proves what very good quality of service you're providing," said Pappas, "when both parents and staff know you've gone through an intensive self-study and have been thoroughly inspected."
There are eight free-standing CRT centers in Hartford. Six are NAEYC accredited. Four, including the Grace Street Center, have recently been re-accredited under the new criteria and one is diligently underway.
From 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. the children engage in the Head Start program which is free of charge to parents and federally funded. Children in CRT centers can also enroll in a year-long program that runs from 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and charges tuition on a sliding scale according to parents' income. The rest of the cost is funded by Connecticut Dept. of Social Services and the City of Hartford.
Dr. Copes is encouraged about the services offered by CRT. He said children who receive this kind of education while they are young are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and be less dependent on others as adults, "all this from getting a good beginning."