MSU facility earns national accreditation
Author: Alexandra G. Woolbright
For those in early childhood education, achieving accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children is the mark of excellence in their field.
In Mississippi, few have earned this distinguished honor, but the School of Human Science's Child Development and Family Studies Center at Mississippi State University is among the elite.
Director Melissa Tenhet learned on May 17 that the center's efforts in recent years to achieve accreditation have been successful.
"It was a huge undertaking," Tenhet said. "It's a real self-assessment."
Tenhet said staff members began a self-evaluation nearly two years before receiving accreditation. Administrators and teachers identified improvements to meet the national association's standards.
Last December, the Child Development and Family Studies Center earned a five-star rating with Quality Stars, the state's Quality Rating and Improvement System. Many of the requirements of achieving a five-star rating helped the center on its journey to accreditation, something Tenhet called "that next level."
To achieve accreditation, the center had to meet a list of 10 program standards. These standards not only examined how the center operates from within, but also looked at the center's interactions with parents and the surrounding community.
Some criteria included curriculum, teaching, assessment, health and community relationships.
Tenhet said the center received 100-plus points in five standard areas.
"We are even hitting those things in emerging criteria that are not required," she said. "We were real excited about that."
Documenting everything happening in the center was important. The Child Development and Family Studies Center was required to show pictures of what was taking place in the facility, answer certain questions about the organization and participate in onsite observations by members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
"One important part of reaching accreditation required teachers to keep portfolios for every classroom," Tenhet said. "These portfolios documented what the children were doing each day."
Many teachers said they did not change what was actually happening in the classroom, but the documentation process was new.
"What we do every day, we had to put it in the portfolio," said Lakshmi Nannapaneni, child care assistant. "We didn't do anything different, but we put it together for a person to see this is what goes on in the classroom."
Staff members said they are proud of what their hard work achieved.
"It's the best feeling," Nannapaneni said, smiling. "We are the first ones in Starkville to achieve this accreditation for infants and toddlers."
Feedback from parents is already overwhelmingly positive, Tenhet said. As soon as she was notified of the accreditation, the center director emailed the children's parents to share the good news. Many of them responded with encouraging messages.
"One parent said they've always known as parents how good we are, but now everyone else will know," Tenhet said. "They are glad that our hard work has paid off."
Parents are not the only ones who are celebrating the center's achievement. Their partners at the Early Years Network are just as thrilled.
"Earning this distinction will help other centers around the state see that they too can be recognized for quality care and reach out to us for training and assistance," said Louise E. Davis, Extension professor and Early Years Network director. "Students in the Human Development and Family Studies program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are also able to learn since it is the School of Human Science's lab school."
To maintain accreditation, the Child Development and Family Studies Center must continue to meet the national association's standards at all times. Staff members will continue the documentation process, and members of the accrediting agency can come by for unannounced site visits at any time. Tenhet said the center will be up for accreditation renewal in 2021.