QUALITY CARE: Marley Stivers, 4, left, and Sarah Schneider, 3, play during recess at the Hanover College Center for Child Development. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
QUALITY CARE: Marley Stivers, 4, left, and Sarah Schneider, 3, play during recess at the Hanover College Center for Child Development. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Jefferson County parents had only one choice of a nationally-accredited child care program for several years, but now parents have two choices of the highest level of child care in the nation close to home.

The Hanover College Center for Child Development, 360 File St., Hanover, earned national accreditation - the highest achievement for child care programs in the state and nation - through the National Association for the Education of Young Children this summer. Sheila Barron, director of the Hanover College Center for Child Development, said each of the teachers and assistants at the center decided when they began Indiana's voluntary Paths to QUALITY program in 2010 that they would take the time to achieve all four levels in the program - even though national accreditation would take quite a lot of time outside the normal work day.

Paths to QUALITY, developed by Indiana in 2008, allows parents to make informed choices when choosing a child care program. The program features four levels that child care providers can attain to show the center's level of care. Providers can chose to stop at any level on the Paths to QUALITY scale. Providers must wait six months before moving between levels if choosing to continue up the levels.

Level 1 indicates that all safety measures required by the state have been met, while Level 2 shows parents that the facility offers activities, schedules and other programming to help children learn. Level 3 focuses on age-appropriate curriculum for students, and the mission and procedures of the center, while Level 4 shows parents that centers have taken the time to achieve national accreditation.

Barron, lead teachers Kim Lyons and Jessica Brawner, and assistants Erica Rohrig and Amanda Vest, learned in June that the center had earned national accreditation in their first try. Another Jefferson County childcare provider - The Learning Center, 124 Crestwood Drive - earned the Level 4 designation in 2008.

"We did realize we were doing a lot of things great," Barron said.

While the center already had age-appropriate curriculum in place before beginning the Paths to QUALITY program, the self-study allowed teachers to see that the program was on-target with other providers nationwide. The center also found out through self-study and anonymous surveys by parents that parent relationships, student relationships and communication were also on target.

"We just continued to do what we were doing," Barron said.

Even though many standards and procedures were in place, the center's teachers learned they needed to focus on training programs a little more throughout the year. While teachers attended an annual training, the National Association for the Education of Young Children required more training hours to stay up-to-date on child development.

Teachers and assistants learned of several new developments in balanced curriculum that help with behavioral issues at the center while updating their training hours, Barron said. Teachers also have learned that wording and allowing young children to make their own choices can make a significant difference in a child's learning ability.

 "These years are very important years," Barron said.

Parents have begun to take notice of the choices offered in early childhood development centers, which makes the Paths to QUALITY program even more valuable to area centers.

"I've had people calling because we were a Level 4," Barron said. "People are starting to get on board with early childhood learning."

More information about the Paths to QUALITY program can be found at www.in.gov/fssa/carefinder/2554.htm. Child care provider information - including inspection, complaint and enforcement information - can be found online at https://secure.in.gov/apps/fssa/carefinder/index.html.