Sand Hills Preschool has signed up to be a part of a new initiative within the state of NJ called Grow NJ kids. Grow NJ Kids is a collaborative effort of the state of NJ and the Departments of Children and Families, Education, Health and Human Services. It is a rating and improvement system designed to assess child care and early learning programs, provide training and incentives to improve them and communicate their level of quality to the public.
I first heard about the program through a flyer asking for volunteers to sign up to for the pilot program. I applied to be a part of this new initiative right away as I wanted to be a part of the initial process where I felt I could have the most impact on early education in NJ. Sadly, we were not chosen. Information was then sent out about a year later for schools to volunteer for the first phase. I signed right up! Many factors went into my decision to sign up.
We get money! As a non-profit school, I am always on the lookout for ways to reduce our budget and anytime I can get something for free, I jump at it! So when I found out that we could receive incentive money to make improvements to our program and obtain free training for all staff, needless to say, I was very excited.
We get help! Yes! We are assigned a Quality Improvement Specialist who helps throughout the process. Our QIS meets with us regularly to assist us in understanding the self-assessment process and informing us of training and any changes made to the program. It’s like having your own specialist at your beck and call!
We are validated! What we do is important! GNJK is a collaboration between the Department of Children and Families (the organization that regulates childcare and preschool) and the Department of Education (the organization that regulates public education – kindergarten through high school). I had always felt that there was a disconnect between what we as preschool and childcare professionals believe are the benefits of early learning and development and what the general public felt. For lack of a better term, I had always felt like childcare was viewed as babysitting rather than an essential part of a child’s education. There has been a lot of research done lately revealing that children’s earliest learning experiences (birth – 5) have a huge impact on their learning outcomes later in school. Hooray! Finally, the conversation has changed and people are realizing that preschool is crucial to educational success. The cooperation between these organizations raises the bar and validates the benefits of quality early education. When an institution like the Department of Education is involved, we move from a “babysitting” mentality to an “education” mentality.
Sand Hills Preschool celebrated 20 fabulous years of serving our community this year. We are an accredited preschool with a high quality program. In order to stay that way, we need to keep up with the latest research and information in the education field. If we want to be here 20 years from now, we need to make sure we are recognize the changes coming and adapt accordingly. I feel that Grow NJ Kids is helping us to do that.