Improving early childhood education is the goal of a state program that works with day care providers.
The program, Step Up to Quality, is operated through a partnership of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education.
North Platte has 21 in-home licensed providers and nine licensed day care centers. Stephanie Phye is contracted by the state Department of Education as an early education consultant to work with day cares in the program.
“I’m a coach in the Step Up to Quality program,” Phye said. “I go in and work as a partner with the facilities who are working with Step Up and help them through the process.”
Step Up to Quality programs go beyond state licensing requirements and, for most providers, it is a voluntary program. However, programs that receive more than $250,000 in child care subsidies are required to participate.
“You have to be a licensed provider to participate in the Step Up to Quality program,” Phye said.
Providers and educators “have a mutual understanding of what quality looks like in the child care environment,” she said.
The providers earn financial incentives through the process, Phye said.
“(The program) is the state of Nebraska’s quality improvement rating system,” Phye said. “Every day we see parents looking for child care. The thing that the state of Nebraska is recognizing, along with so many states, is understanding that from ages zero to 3 is the most important time in a child’s life.”
She said workers aren’t necessarily getting the training they need. Her task is to help them identify what they are and aren’t doing.
“Many of the day care workers are already doing a lot of this stuff,” Phye said. “They just don’t realize it.”
The training provided by Phye helps improve the environment for learning.
“It’s so very important for parents to know the quality of the provider they are looking at for their early childhood care,” Phye said.
Angela Blaesi has had Angela’s Day Care since 2010 and is currently working through the program.
“They started Step Up to Quality a few years ago and I just entered stuff into a computer and started there,” Blaesi said. “It’s a five-star rating program for day cares. The state of Nebraska sent out this list of classes in 2013, and we have to complete so many classes.”
The requirement was to complete a group of classes to enter the Step Up program.
“The state licensing says we had to complete one class by 2017 and I’ve completed all of them,” Blaesi said. “I have certificates on my wall showing when I completed my computer stuff and when I completed the classes.”
That allowed Blaesi to move up a level and she had the opportunity to have a coach.
“Stephanie comes in and she has a book that shows me what they want to do with the kids,” Blaesi said. “Before this, I never had a curriculum because kids learn when they play, so we learn our colors, our numbers.”
Blaesi said it is important to her that parents know their kids learn something under her care.
“I don’t want them to just say, ‘Oh, we send them there, she watches them and then we go home,’” Blaesi said. “I want them to know they learn, because that’s what I wanted my kids to do when they were young.”
Phye said even though Blaesi didn’t necessarily have a structured curriculum, she used play as part of the method for teaching.
“We want them to be an intentional educator,” Phye said. “How do you turn a sandbox into learning, learning math facts, creative teaching.”
Blaesi uses crafts and other everyday processes to teach the kids under her care.
“Like the craft that we’re doing right now is not part of a curriculum, but it teaches the fine motor skills,” Blaesi said. “And it teaches the placement of patterns and buttons and noses and eyes, things like that I never thought of.”
She added that the younger kids need to learn various life skills, so she has them sort and clean.
Children learn through their play and Phye said more and more that is being taken out of education. The Step Up program encourages learning through normal playtime.
Her purpose as a coach is to encourage learning in all aspects of the day care environment, she added.
Providers who want to get involved with the Step Up to Quality program can apply online at education.ne.gov/stepuptoquality, where more information is available as well.
Information for parents and families is also provided on the website, where there are resources and links to find a quality care provider, information on “School Readiness” and a list of the benefits of quality child care.