Educare Milwaukee program raises quality of child care centers

More than 66% of low-income children in Milwaukee County attend low-quality child care centers, according to a 2012 report from the Public Policy Forum. When Angela Lampkin, school director at Educare Milwaukee, learned that, she knew that the school had to do something to help the children, families and staff at those centers.

“Your heart reaches out to those programs because you want all children to have the Educare experience,” Lampkin said. “But you can’t provide it for everybody.”

While Educare Milwaukee, a high-quality early childhood education program, only serves 166 children, Lampkin knew that she and her staff could share their expertise with other centers. So in 2012, Lampkin partnered with Sandy Gadzichowski, a master teacher at the school, to design a two-year training program for staff at child care centers, with the goal of raising their YoungStar ratings.

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ YoungStar program evaluates and rates the quality of care given by child care providers. The training program, named Beyond the Walls of Educare, reached about 270 low-income children ages birth to five at six child care centers. The program was funded by the Herzfeld Foundation and the Faye McBeath Foundation.

“We supported the individual programs in their self-assessment process, in developing a quality improvement plan and helped them to implement some of the goals within that plan,” Lampkin said. The Beyond the Walls training program covered what the center staff would need to do to improve their YoungStar rating, including how to incorporate the Wisconsin Early Learning Standards into the curriculum; training on the Pyramid Model for helping children develop strong social-emotional skills; strategies for strengthening families; and how to perform environmental assessments.

Gadzichowski visited the centers weekly to provide coaching and mentoring in the classroom. Lampkin hosted monthly meetings with the center directors to review the elements of the YoungStar system and provide guidance on preparing for the rating process. Lampkin says the center directors and staff have enjoyed being part of the program.

“They appreciate feeling like they have support,” Lampkin added. “If they are struggling with something or need some information, they can come to Sandy or me to get those types of resources and support. They have also developed a network among themselves to share resources and ideas.”

By the end of the training program, four of the centers raised their ratings from two to three stars. All of the centers increased their quality rating points, which the YoungStar program awards in areas such ashealth, nutrition, family engagement, business practices and staff credentials. Two centers were not able to attain a higher rating because not enough of the teachers met YoungStar’sminimum requirements for course credit in early childhood education.

The Beyond the Walls of Educare program tried to address this need by referring staff to Milwaukee Area Technical College, which offered free early childhood courses. While Lampkin acknowledges that continuing education is important for teachers, she says it can be hard for many to obtain while working full time and taking care of their own families.

Lampkin and Gadzichowski are hoping to expand the program in the fall. They have applied for funding to serve six new child care centers and hire an additional master teacher to staff the program.

“It’s been rewarding to show the directors that they can succeed,” Lampkin said. “Even with the limited resources they have, there is a pathway to do better.”