By Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD When the children really matter to you, you don't mind a little extra work.
But even the dedicated teachers and staff at Make Way for Ducklings Nursery School and Kindergarten Inc., with locations at 455 Island Pond Rd. in Springfield and 20 Lathrop St. in West Springfield, didn't realize how big a commitment it would be to achieve their prestigious status, accreditation under the new, more rigorous standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
"[Our] teachers spent a whole year of school and personal time creating the [curriculum] books [for the accreditation process], because each class is different," Make Way for Ducklings (MWFD) owner Ann DeNucci Rogalski told Reminder Publications. "For me, it meant working all summer and weekend nights [during the school year.]"
Since the NAEYC established its voluntary professional standards for programs in 1985, MWFD has applied for and renewed its accreditation every three years.
But this new process, which includes 10 updated early childhood program standards that must be met and 400 related accreditation criteria that must be documented, required the school and staff to create a much more detailed presentation of how their curriculum fosters the cognitive, emotional, language, physical and social development of young children.
MWFD had to demonstrate compliance with these new standards during an on-site assessment visit in February and also submit written documentation for NAEYC review.
According to information provided by the NAEYC, these new, more rigorous standards reflect the latest research and best practices in early childhood education.
"We had to highlight each of the 400 criteria for review . it ended up being about 700 papers [per book]," Rogalski said.
One of the hardest parts of fulfilling the requirements, she said, was figuring out how best to present the material in written form.
"We really didn't have a lot of guidelines," she said. "We were the guinea pigs. We got the instruction book and had to figure out how to do it."
She said workshops offered by the local Preschool Enrichment Team did offer some suggestions on how to present the documentation.
"Ninety-nine percent of what needed to be documented we were already doing," said assistant director Robin Forsberg. "It was just getting it from our heads down on paper."
Despite all the work, Rogalski said creating the documentation gave the teachers "a nice validation for what they do all of the time."
"Now it's all in a book and there for people to see," she said.
"When we're give school tours clients can see the classrooms at work," Forsberg said. "But if they want to see more, we have the portfolios."
And the school's final grades from the NAEYC examiners were just as gratifying.
"The end result was very rewarding," Rogalski said. "We had to achieve 80 percent in seven categories for accreditation; we received 100 percent in seven. Our classrooms needed to receive 70 percent; they received 97 to 98 percent of fulfillment. We also met all emergency and all candidacy requirements." To date, Make Way for Ducklings and the nursery school and kindergarten at Trinity Methodist Church on Sumner Avenue are the only two early education programs in Springfield that have been accredited under these stricter standards.
MWFD is also one of the first early childhood education programs in the country to achieve this level of accreditation. This new accreditation must be updated with a report to the NAEYC annually, and renewed every five years.