Finding just the right fit for your child and your busy schedule can take some time when looking for a quality child care program or preschool.
Walla Walla Community College’s Child Care Aware of Washington program can help. In partnership with the state’s Department of Early Learning, Child Care Aware is an online or phone referral service affiliated with Early Achievers, a system that helps parents evaluate how early learning programs are preparing children to succeed.
Tami Sirmon and Stephanie Kytola are the local Child Care Aware advocates. They offer referrals to high-quality child care or preschool programs, as well as information on how parents can evaluate the child care environment, tips for understanding child development and support for other parenting questions.
Advocates also offer information about average child care rates and availability.
In her role with Early Achievers, Sirmon visits local providers to assist in enhancing quality child care environments that foster a love of learning, promote each child’s skills and supports the development of the whole child. To this end, Early Achievers has developed a voluntary assessment system for providers.
“We are here to support and encourage child care providers as they move through the process,” said Sirmon, who with Kytola guide participants through the program. “Participants are happy to learn that they are eligible to enroll in three free online courses as well as three in-person classes.”
There are five levels of quality in Early Achievers:
Level 1: Includes all licensed childcare centers, family childcare, military, tribal, Head Start and other state-funded programs.
Level 2: Involves program leadership completing a series of activities, including professional training and self-assessment.
Levels 3-5: Consist of ratings based on child outcomes, curriculum, learning, environments and interactions, professional development and training, as well as the degree of family engagement and partnership.
Along with gaining a greater sense of their individual program’s strengths and weaknesses, participants also are eligible for a “tiered reimbursement system” by Early Achievers with funds provided through the Department of Early Learning.
Child care centers that reach Level 5 will be awarded $9,000; Level 4 achievers, $7,500; and Level 3, $5,000. Family childcare centers also are offered incentives, with awards reaching $2,750 annually for Level 5.
Another aspect of the program is its focus on family engagement and partnerships, aimed at strengthening parent-child bonds and their vital connection to school readiness and achievement.
Through Early Achievers, families provide valuable information about their children, which is used to best meet the needs of each child’s developing strengths. A child’s culture, language skills and abilities are considered in a quality program.
“It is a good thing to do,” said Walla Walla Catholic Schools Director of Early Learning Catherine Wolpert of participating in Early Achievers. She said she plans to educate her staff on Early Achievers and anticipates that there will be modifications to her program .
Tracy Thompson is Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition’s communications and outreach coordinator.