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Low ratings prompt improvement in child care

By Robyn Wiggill, Times Staff Reporter
On February 28, 2013

When approached with the problem of low quality ratings for Wisconsin child care facilities, Dr. Wilma Bonaparte, interim dean at MATC's School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Education & Families (DCF) to find a solution to improve the level of child care facilities in and around Milwaukee.
The final product is a totally free offering of four courses, up to six credits, geared solely toward the success of child care professionals hoping to broaden their skill sets: infant and toddler development, child development, family and community relations, and credit for prior learning which gives credit to educators with more than 20 years of experience and/or no formal education.
With the child care rating system, "Youngstar,"  a star rating is given in regards to the quality care and improvement of child care facilities. With one star being the lowest and five being the highest, a five-star rating means financial incentives and a better learning environment for children.  Currently at a two-star rating, many of Wisconsin's child care facilities have room to improve.
In order to be eligible to apply for the free courses, the required must have three or less early childhood college credits, and currently be employed by a two-star school.             
"The courses were selected carefully to not only gain credit to move to a three-star rating, but also to create a pathway leaving the door open for students to finish a diploma or degree," said Dr. Bonaparte. Of the success of the program, Bonaparte added, "The biggest stake stakeholders of this whole initiative are the children. This has become so successful it's beyond our dreams."  
The first run of the program took less than a week for all available spots to be filled as 241 people took part in the opportunity; a 94.5 percent retention rate was recorded.
The project received a grant of $150,000 with a timeline for completion by June 30, 2013, and specific criteria which involved the identification of classes needed, the schedule to be used, the buildings to accommodate courses, and lastly the method of delivery of instruction.
"If this was to be their only interaction with MATC education," said Dr. Bonaparte, "we wanted [the students] to be successful."  Courses were offered at seven locations, nights and weekends, in English and Spanish as well as in Hmong through a translator.
Mentors were also on hand to assist with the courses and keep in contact with the students, as well as members from WECA (Wisconsin Early Childhood Association) at the course sites to offer advice on financial resources, potential diplomas, certificates and degrees.
"This project has empowered many providers, to not only earn college credits, but to enroll in the MATC Early Childhood associate degree and diploma programs," said MATC's early childhood educational assistant Lamonte Blades. "This project was absolutely needed in the field of Early Childhood to enhance and promote best practices in the quality of services provided for children and families," added Blades.     

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