Connecting Henry, Inc., Coordinated Services Director Daryl Dotschay (from left) has forged educational partnerships with Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Bobby Cagle and Communities in Schools of Henry County Executive Director Pam Carter.
McDONOUGH — Henry County early education leaders are the first in the state to make use of new grant monies earmarked to better prepare needy youths for Pre-K and elementary school.
The Communities In Schools / Connecting Henry, Inc., partnership has obtained a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to help Henry County day cares improve the services they are able to offer.
The Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) recognizes day cares with its “Bright from the Start,” Quality Rated designation.
The CDBG funding will assist day cares in obtaining the Quality Rated designation.
The program is designed to assess, then improve the level of quality in early care and education programs in Georgia, according to Pamela Carter, executive director of Communities in Schools of Henry County.
“We’re the first county in the state to take on this initiative,” said Carter.
The Quality Rated Designation, she explained, is a voluntary “seal of approval” informing parents that a particular day care or preschool has met standards exceeding the state’s minimum licensing requirements.
Carter, formerly an educator in the Henry County School System, said Communities in Schools and its partner organizations are involved in piloting a program that promotes the designation among day cares who lack it.
“The Henry County E2: Economics & Education Initiative spearheaded by the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the [Henry County] Board of Education, outlines school readiness as one of its goals,” said Carter. “The quality rated initiative is an avenue to assist with that goal by helping young children to be more fully prepared to begin school.”
Carter said a majority of children coming from day care settings are not prepared for the structure of elementary school.
That inadequate preparation, she added, forces teachers to spend several weeks at the beginning of the school year acclimating pupils to the classroom environment and teaching them the basic social and academic skills that help them perform best in their new schools.
Community Development Block Grant funds worth $45,000, will be used to aid select day care centers with obtaining the Quality Rated Designation. Funds also will be used to offer the centers technical support as well as materials and resources.
Carter said some funds may be go to help expand participating day care centers in order for them to accommodate more students, particularly those from low-income families.
“Our hope is that we would be able to grow each facility by 30 students,” said Carter.
The Communities in Schools director said the collaborative effort will target day care centers that participate in Georgia’s Child and Parent Services (CAPS) Program, which subsidizes day care tuitions for needy families. CAPS is administered by county offices of the Department of Family and Children Services. Most eligible families share in the cost of care by paying a fee based on their income, family size and the number of children receiving child care subsidies.
Two day care centers have already been selected to take part in the Quality Rated Designation Program.
They are Kidazzle Learning Center in Hampton and Cornerstone Academy in Stockbridge.
“I think there is certainly a need for CAPS participants to be enrolled in high-quality programs,” said Michele Hill, owner of Kidazzle Learning Center. “We are the only NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accredited center within the 30228 zip code.”
Back in March, Hill took management over the day care center. It serves a mix of youngsters — children of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees and of others living in and around the Hampton area.
The day care opens daily, weekdays and weekends, at 5:45 a.m., and operates until midnight. It presently has 25 children enrolled, but it is licensed to accommodate 100 children.
Hill said part of being a high-quality day care is the level of attention early learning instructors can give each child in the program. It means low student-to-teacher ratios, and adding more instructors as the day care enrolls more youngsters.
She said that increasing the day care’s enrollment, while maintaining a Quality Rated Designation and staying within a reasonable operating budget, will be a challenge for the Kidazzle Learning Center.
“It is going to be tough, but it’s important to the children and the families that we serve,” she said. “It’s clear that children’s brains develop more in the first three to five years than they do the rest of their life. While other income groups have always had access to good preschool programs, sometimes folks that can’t afford it have just gotten good baby sitting. But we can do better, and we should.”
To learn more about Communities In Schools, visit www.cis-henry.org. For more information of the Quality Rated Initiative, log on to www.decal.ga.gov.