Carter County Head Start receives national accreditation

By Megan R. Harrell
   The Carter County Head Start program recently received its accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The accreditation process requires childhood programs to demonstrate that they meet national standards of excellence.
   The process is entirely voluntary and programs seeking accreditation undergo an intensive self-study. The review includes the collection of information from parents, teachers, administrators and classroom observations. Early childhood professionals trained by the NAEYC conduct on-site visits to validate the information collected during the self-study. The information is then reviewed by a team of national experts who award or deny accreditation.
   Educational Coordinator for Head Start, Sheila Ellis, was in charge of circulating the questionnaires needed for the self-study. Ellis used the NAEYC's form parent questionnaire to get parental feed back and to gain a better understanding of the parents' perspective. "The specific form parent questionnaire has 25 questions that helped us to see how much the parents have been informed about the program, and let us know their satisfaction with it," Ellis said.
   All of the paperwork needed for the accreditation was completed in one year; however, certification is an ongoing process. Every three years Ellis must re-circulate the paperwork in order to show the program remains up to national standards. Ellis stated that she will update the NAEYC on any changes that have taken place within the program on a yearly basis.
   "We are very proud of this," Ellis said. "There are very few programs in the state that receive this recognition and we are just so excited." Only seven percent of pre-school programs in the nation have received accreditation from the NAEYC.
   Creola Miller, Director of the Carter County Head Start Program, believes a group effort made the accreditation a reality. "It was a lot of team work," Miller said. Miller noted although all of the paperwork was completed in 2001, the quest for accreditation actually began under the program's former director.
   The Head Start program has nine classrooms in seven county schools. Valley Forge and Hampton Elementary Schools each house two Head Start classrooms. With the program so spread out, six administrators work hard to pull the staff together for meetings and training. Phones have been placed in all of the classrooms to help communication flow smoothly.
   Head Start is a national program that is federally funded; however, Carter County is one of only four programs in Tennessee that falls under a school board's direction. Miller stated being connected with the county schools allows the program to hire certified teachers and gives the pre-school students an advantage.
   "We are part of the school. The children do have a head start because they have already been in the schools. They have already been in the cafeteria line and the gym so there is no fear when they go into Kindergarten," Miller said.
   Hope Barnett, Head Start Family Resource Specialist, noticed that the program helped her daughter adjust to the overall school setting. Barnett's daughter could write her name, knew colors, could count to 20, and could identify the first 20 letters of the alphabet by the time she entered Kindergarten.
   "If it had not been for Head Start, I do not know what I would have done. If she had not gone to it she would not have been able to go into Kindergarten as easily," Barnett said. "It is wonderful, and I would recommend it to anybody."
   Carter County Head Start administrators expressed appreciation to the East Tennessee Childhood Training Alliance Program for its assistance in receiving the NAEYC accreditation.