Two weeks ago we learned that CCS has gained accreditation from the National Association of Young Children—only the sixth school in west Philly to do it! NAEYC is the national standard bearer for early childhood education, and to gain their accreditation programs must go through a rigorous process to demonstrate their quality in ten different areas.
Accreditation took us over two years. It included multiple surveys of families and staff; in-depth self-examination of our program; creation of new policies and practices; and detailed documentation of everything from how we create curriculum to how children wash their hands before snack. After two years of preparation, it all boiled down to what the assessors would see on the day of the site visit, which came on June 15th, right at the end of last school year. We knew we were a good school, but what if our documentation didn’t do enough to demonstrate our quality? What if one of the classrooms just had a rough day? What if, what if?
As it turned out, our preparation paid off. We not only passed, but received commendations in seven out of ten categories, in which we scored 100% or above. Two classrooms were observed individually, requiring scores of 70% or above to pass—Redbud scored 95%, Magnolia scored 96%. The bar was set very high, and though it may be immodest to say it, we went even higher.
The job isn’t done, though. Maintaining accreditation over time means engaging in continual program improvement. This year and beyond we’ll be working on developing ourselves, both in areas of our school that NAEYC indicated, such as our science curriculum, and areas of our program that we’ve identified ourselves, such as our social justice initiative. NAEYC accreditation is a big step, but as lifelong learners we know we’ll always have more to do to become the school we want to be.
So why did we do it? Why go through so much?
Well, in part, there are a lot of ways being accredited will benefit our school. For instance, accreditation will open us up to the possibility of accepting children through Pre-K Counts and Head Start, helping us reach a wider range of children and families as well as diversify our funding. Accreditation will also open us up to grants—most funders will barely pick up the phone for a school that’s not accredited.
In part we also sought accreditation as an indicator of our quality. NAEYC sets the most widely-recognized standard for quality in early childhood education, and their seal of approval makes people pay attention. Many educators from other preschools have made a point of complimenting us: “Wow, NAEYC? Congratulations! And in your sixth year, that’s huge!” And many families search out NAEYC accredited programs when looking for preschools—we’re looking forward to more Philadelphia families knowing who we are.
But a huge part of the the benefits of accreditation start well before actually getting accredited—the process itself did us a lot of good. Accreditation involves a rigorous self-examination process aimed at helping schools examine existing practices and implement positive changes. Going through accreditation led us to articulate and define practices that we had previously done anew each time, such as codifying our curriculum around community-building. It led us to create important policies and practices that we had never quite gotten around to before, such as a clear hiring procedure. It led us to ask new questions of families and create new ways to meet more of their needs, such as our community email group and new kinds of workshops and events for families. And it led us recognize and recommit to our core strengths as a program, such as relationship building and communication.
When we assess children, we work hard to make sure that our assessments are not merely measurements of children’s learning, but learning experiences in and of themselves. Similarly, we knew that NAEYC accreditation would be a good fit for us because it was so clear that it was not just a measurement of our quality, but a process by which we would improve our quality. There is a lot of good that being accredited will do for us, but the best is that we’re a better school than we were before we started.
Onward and upward!