The Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project, or QIP, an initiative launched in August 2010 to enhance the kindergarten readiness skills of young children in Niagara County, is set to graduate its first cohort of child care centers.
More than 400 children ages 3 and 4 in Niagara County and 20 child care centers in Niagara Falls and Lockport are currently being served by the project. The premise of the program is that high-quality early childhood settings will provide preschool-aged children with developmentally-appropriate activities, thus introducing them to basic learning skills that will better prepare them for success when they enter school.
The collaborative initiative represents an unprecedented partnership across the county - a partnership that involves Niagara University, the United Way of Greater Niagara, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the Niagara Area Foundation and several local business leaders. Funding for the three-year, $625,000 program is provided by the Grigg-Lewis Foundation and The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation.
"Niagara University and its partners are committed to improving the academic achievement among all children in our community, including our youngest, because this is the catalyst for change and transformation," said the Rev. Joseph Levesque, C.M., president of Niagara University. "Providing this foundation for future success is an integral component of our mission as a Catholic and Vincentian university."
The project seeks to enhance the quality of early child care delivered by child care centers in Niagara County and to improve the school readiness of children entering kindergarten and pre-kindergarten.
Over the course of the project, QIP mentors conduct objective pre- and post-assessments of child care learning environments using the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale; develop individualized quality improvement plans based on pre-assessment scores; and offer a 45-hour professional development certificate program and other workshops for child care staff members, working with them to establish sustainability plans for ongoing professional development and continuous quality improvement.
"I felt that there were cutting-edge teaching ideas that would really engage our youngest children as we address school readiness," said Lynn Gross, director of the HANCI-Trott Child Learning Center in downtown Niagara Falls. "With the support of the project, my classroom is becoming optimal for childhood learning, bringing a sense of excitement and renewal to our center."
More than 30 child care center staff members from the first cohort are expected to earn completion certificates. Another 30 child care staff members are slated to begin the professional development certificate course next week.
"I am so thoroughly impressed with the professional development courses and the changes I have witnessed in the preschool class," commented Rebecka Swindlehurst, director of Sweet Angels Daycare and Preschool on Dysinger Road in Lockport. "These courses have provided my staff with so many new tools and ideas that they have been able to implement them in the classroom almost immediately. With these changes, I have noticed a difference for our teachers, our classrooms, and our children."
Another of the unique aspects of the QIP is the involvement of local business leaders as part of this educational initiative.
"I cannot stress enough how critical this program is to both the human and economic development of the Western New York region," stated Ken Franasiak, CEO of Calamar Enterprises and former chairman of NAF. "There are numerous scholarly articles that illustrate the impact that high-quality early childhood development has on the local economy, the most notable of which is The Heckman Equation."
James J. Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at The University of Chicago and a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics, has conducted detailed research to understand the great gains to be had by investing in early and equal development of human potential. His oft-referenced "equation" posits that investment in early human education supports a better trained and skilled American workforce for the 21st century.
New York state has also recognized the importance of early childhood education. In July, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York will compete in the federal Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge. The Early Learning Challenge will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards and meaningful workforce development.
"More and more states are aiming to develop high-quality early childhood programs that serve children from infancy through preschool," said Lynnette Haley, director of the QIP of Niagara. The QIP of Niagara offers child care providers the support to improve the effectiveness of their programs through professional development and on-site coaching. In many ways, our program can be used as a model for establishing other QIPs throughout New York state - a very timely model given the emphasis on a quality rating system."
The faculty in the College of Education would agree as they have implemented a new Master's degree program in early childhood and special education (birth - grade 2) to support the project and have included candidates in the school psychology program in the assessment components of the QIP.
With 20-plus years as a teacher and educational administrator, Haley possesses the experience and enthusiasm to steer the project forward. She began her professional career as a preschool teacher, and has served in public school, child day care, and Head Start settings.
A "graduation" ceremony for the QIP's first cohort is slated for Jan. 18, 2012. Shortly thereafter, a comparative analysis of the pre- and post-program ECERS and ESI scores will be announced.
For more information on the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project, contact Haley at 716-286-8567 or [email protected].