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Child-care center is accredited

NORTH CANAAN — The Canaan Child Care Center has reached a milestone that will see it into the future. The center has completed its requirements for National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation.

It is essentially a three-year process that begins with a back- and-forth on an application during the first year, followed by two years of training. For the staff at the center, it is a long and involved process that goes on while they continue to offer full child-care services. It includes college level courses and a lot of on-site learning.

“We’re over the hump,” CCC Director Fran Chapell said, summing up the close-to-overwhelming effort of achieving accreditation.

What it means to local families and children is advances in learning aimed not at pushing children to achieve, but fun and inspiring ways to expand on what they are already capable of learning.

They are termed “developmentally appropriate practices, but Chapell said, “They are wonderful tools for teaching skills through whatever children are interested in, such as dinosaurs or bugs. There is a lot of hands-on learning. The kids might go outside and collect bugs, or use fake bugs for counting. Our teachers learn to track individual process and know exactly what each child needs.”

Accreditation will open the door for things such as funding sources that will keep the school affordable. The center was already part of the state’s school readiness program, by way of designation as a priority school district, with North Canaan listed as one of the state’s 50 lowest average-income towns.

School readiness funding means instead of paying about $160 per week for day care, families pay $8 to $50, based on their income. NAEYC accreditation is required to retain the school readiness support.

“We are now one of nine area centers that are accredited,” Chapell said. “It gives us ways to work together and learn from each other as well. And we got a grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. For families, this is a way to find a center with high-quality programs. NAEYC accreditation is a standard that centers around the country are following more and more.”

The learning also includes social skills and hygiene. Students are guided on ways to join a group, or to graciously accept another child into a group.

A little time spent with the children seems to indicate the approach is working. Two little girls held a Hula Hoop around themselves, pretending to be on a train, headed for shopping in Torrington, they said. When a third girl, and then a fourth approached them, asking politely to come into the circle, there was none of the expected resistance. Room was quickly made and each newcomer helped to duck under the hoop.

There are currently 20 pre-school students, with four long-time teachers: Linda Kimberley, Tonya Roussis, Sally Lewis and Darlene Bushey. Students up to age 11 are also accepted for before- and after-school supervision. Chapell said they are inspired by the new and intriguing programs and often “play teacher” with the younger children. They love to bake snacks and take pride in simple, almost lost arts, such as setting a nice table.

All the children have chores. Some take to them more than others. There is a book called the “yellow pages” that allows children to seek help from those who are particularly good at a certain task or academic pursuit. Parents are encouraged to come in and read, perform music, teach cooking and languages.

It took the support of the Board of Directors three years ago to invest in the center’s future by bringing Chapell on board to start the accreditation process. While the center is still somewhat at a disadvantage as far as being unable to pay more competitive wages, Chapell said they are lucky to have a devoted staff with very low turnover. And the solution is already underway. The accreditation is allowing the board to write applications for grants and finding the means to build a new center. Plans that were on the drawing board for a proposed North Canaan Elementary School expansion were scrapped with that project. Grant funding in place for a new center was lost.

The center has remained in what is officially the Foss B. Webb Boy Scout building, a tiny structure next to the town garage at the end of Whiting Drive. At one time, the two groups shared the center.

“With a new building, we can grow and expand and increase the one thing we can’t improve on now: our income,” Chapell said. “Just like everyone else, our expenses are up, but we don’t have room for any more children. The only way we can make things happen now is with grants. But I know we are on the right road. Everyone feels it. The morale here is great. There were some tough times and grumpy staff members exhausted from working and taking classes, but now they know it was worth it. They have grown so much professionally. People who come here are impressed, and that’s a good feeling.”

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