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Ready Or Not, Part 3: Reaching For 'Stars'

vpr-albright-katie-jackson.jpg
Charlotte Albright
/
VPR
Katie Jackson gathers on her front porch with the children she cares for in her Springfield home. The 23-year-old is working with a more experienced provider to improve her program's rating.

Beginning in 2015, every public school district in Vermont will have to subsidize at least 10 hours of pre-kindergarten per week for 3 and 4-year-olds.

Some schools do that within their own buildings. Many others partner with private providers or a local Head Start program. Springfield, for example, outsources all its preschool education.

But that kind of public funding flows only to those with top rating from the state. Vermont rewards high quality child care using a system called Step Ahead Recognition System, or STars. Getting a lot of STars will be challenging for 23-year-old Katie Jackson, who provides child care in her home.

Reaching For Stars

On a raw, rainy day, five children are racing up and down Jackson’s covered front porch on the outskirts of Springfield. The youngest is a baby crawling amid the runners. The oldest is 5, headed for kindergarten next year.

As soon as the rain lets up, the kids head to the backyard swing set. Katie Jackson jogs after them.

Vermont rewards high quality child care using a system called Step Ahead Recognition System, or STars.

“I love being able to do my own schedule and have my own business,” she says, quickly preventing a little boy from heading too fast down a hill.

Jackson doesn’t have a college degree, but she did complete six classes at Community College of Vermont’s child care apprenticeship program. Her program has earned two out of a possible five stars from the state. She hopes to improve her rating by working with a more experienced provider named Rachel Hunter.

Providers Mentoring Providers

Hunter’s five-star home-based program in Springfield has met all the licensing criteria to provide early education for the Springfield school district. Hunter also works for a non-profit group, mentoring other child care providers in the area to earn stars in teacher training, interaction with children and assessment methods.

At Hunter’s house, five pre-schoolers dive into a costume box in a room brimming with books. There’s a felt board calendar and a poster with class rules. On one wall, bins hold a neatly-organized supply of educational materials.

“Everything we do is play-based. We have set times of the day that we have certain activities, they know what’s going to happen, they know that there’s circle time with set expectations and rules,” Hunter says.

"We have 100 percent STars enrollment between registered home providers and center based programs as well … It's just amazing, and you can see the programming increasing and the pride of the providers." - Rachel Hunter, Springfield child care provider

Hunter started her own program to get her daughter out of a dangerous child care setting. But these days, she says, the STars system is weeding out bad apples in the Springfield area.

“We have 100 percent STars enrollment between registered home providers and center based programs as well … It’s just amazing, and you can see the programming increasing and the pride of the providers,” Hunter said.

Raising Standards

Not far away, at Springfield’s Elm Hill Primary School, first graders are waiting in the cafeteria to catch a bus home.

Gladys Collins coordinates pre-school education, helping private child care programs to raise standards. She says those partnerships empower those local business. Collins says a recent survey shows 51 percent of  Elm Hill’s students are prepared to tackle kindergarten. That’s 2 percent over the state average.

“It may not look like a lot to some people but if you go back to before we had pre-K we were at 20 percent readiness in all five domains.”

"We can't do this alone. We can't do this just in the public sector. The private sector can't do it alone. We have to work together to provide viable, meaningful, sustainable solutions for all our kids." - Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe

The five “domains” are social and emotional development, communication, physical health, cognitive development, and approaches to learning, according to the Vermont Agency of Education.

To help kids reach those goals, Springfield does not have its own preschool. Instead, it provides vouchers for about 10 licensed private centers. Currently, though, many home-based child care programs do not meet state quality benchmarks for pre-K. To qualify, teachers must have a college degree or comparable training in child development and the curriculum must be aligned with Vermont’s early learning standards.

"We Can't Do This Alone"

But as demand for publicly funded preschool rises, more home-based caregivers may be needed.

Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe acknowledged that at a press conference to mark the signing of a new law requiring all districts to offer some pre-K.

“We can’t do this alone. We can’t do this just in the public sector. The private sector can’t do it alone," Holcombe said. "We have to work together to provide viable, meaningful, sustainable solutions for all our kids."

Holcombe says that means bringing private and public child advocates together to bring high quality early education to children in every community of the state.

This is the third installment in Ready or Not, a five-part series on expanding early childhood education in Vermont. 

Ready Or Not, Part 1: Kindergarten Is The Big Test

Ready Or Not, Part 2: Ensuring Pre-K Quality

Ready Or Not, Part 3: Reaching For 'Stars'

Ready Or Not, Part 4: Teaching The Teachers

Ready Or Not, Part 5: Doing The Math

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