How Little Pioneers is upping the quality of child care in Winters

Winters families enrolled at Little Pioneers Day Care Center and preschool program are able to experience an enhanced early learning experience thanks to a grant.

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Winters families enrolled at Little Pioneers Day Care Center and preschool program are able to experience an enhanced early learning experience thanks to a grant they received through Quality Counts California this fall. Center Director Fawn Montagna said the Quality Counts program supports early learning programs to ensure children are ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Programs that participate in the program are given access to resources for their center and staff including, but not limited to services with Yolo County Office of Education, First 5 California, Yolo County Library, Help Me Grow, Children’s Home Society of California and more. Montagna said her staff is able to attend free training and receive a stipend just for participating in the training. “The whole idea behind quality counts is if we’re getting all these trainings and our staff are getting training it improves the quality of care at our center,” said Montagna. Most recently Little Pioneers hosted a six-week training opportunity for for infant and toddler teachers within Yolo county on “Making the Most of Classroom Interaction.” Montagna said not only did their teachers who attended receive a stipend through Quality Counts, but they received a valuable networking opportunity with other teachers and in-home daycare providers. “I have been able to meet other childcare providers that I otherwise wouldn’t have met through Quality Counts,” said Montagna. Little Pioneers is currently the only center in Winters that offers programs for infants, toddlers and preschool aged children. Montagna said she and Little Pioneer Administrator Sheri Lester found out about the grant opportunity earlier this year and began brainstorming about how the addition of intentionally designed furniture groupings could enhance the experience for the children in their care. “Sheri and I worked together to write a grant letter proposal. We had never done it before,” said Montagna. “They were so impressed and excited about how it could change our program to create more purposeful areas in our classroom for our toddlers.” Little Pioneers received $4,000 to purchase educational supplies and furniture through Lakeshore Learning. Lester said they also received a discount that allowed them to purchase two learning center suites instead of one. With a small out-of-pocket expense they were able to purchase clear wall dividers, furniture and supplies to update their Art Center and revamped library area with new feeling dolls and new books that feature different cultures, events and professions. Montagna shared this was the first time a mini grant had been offered and it was a learning process for every one. The changes and opportunities at Little Pioneers made possible by the grant was inspiring, and Quality Counts created a new opportunity based off of the proposal letter they submitted. “Once they saw what it had done for our center they are going to continue offering the mini grants every year because they were so excited about what they saw it did for us and our families,” said Montagna. Besides the new learning centers Little Pioneers staff has been encouraged to utilize the education and training opportunities. Montagna has a masters degree in early childhood education and has been teaching early childhood education for the past 20 years. She said it gives her a lot of pride to know she is helping her teachers to better themselves. “Several of our teachers have taken part in the tuition reimbursement which is really great,” said Montagna. “We want our teachers to further themselves in their education.” Montagna shared she’s proud of her staff because four of her teachers had never taken college courses and now have at least four college courses under their belts. “They can keep going. As sad as I would be to lose them I would be so proud to see them move on and expand,” said Montagna. Lester said the more qualified teachers their program can provide the better the center is. She has even been able to take college courses in early childhood education and stressed it’s important for everyone to remember you can still learn new things and succeed in it. “At any age education is something that you don’t lose. That stays with you forever,” said Lester. “The impact it has on their life. No matter your age you’re still learning. It’s still opening up doors for you.” Besides their participation in the Quality Counts program Little Pioneers has also taking strides to base their program and facility with standards set forth by ITERS ( Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale) and ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale) tools as well as NAEYC Early Learning Program accreditation standards for ensuring high-quality experiences for the children in their early learning programs. “It’s a tool we use to make sure all of our materials are age appropriate and interactions are meaningful and purposeful always,” said Montagna. “Their trainings are par with their standards. When you look at licensing standards, ITERS and ECERS is way above that.” This move goes hand-in-hand with the training provided by Quality Counts who has partnered with ITERS and ECERS. “We looked through the ITERS and ECERS tool to see which materials we needed to meet their standards,” said Montagna. “It’s an assessment tool. You walk through your classroom and use it to assess your area.” Montagna said these were actions they voluntarily began doing before they received the grant to hold their program to the highest standards and to ensure they are providing their families with a high quality program. “It’s not something we had to do,” Montagna explained. “At this point we’re holding ourselves to that standard.” Lester said being introduced to so many resources has opened up a whole new world for Little Pioneers staff and families. She said sometimes parents of young children don’t know who to turn to and are often embarrassed to ask for help. “It’s hard to find information, help, assistance, education classes. It’s hard to find this stuff on your own without someone else to direct you and lead you through it,” said Lester. “That’s one way our families have benefited from this. We have a stronger teaching staff. Their children aren’t just being baby sat, but also being educated and cared for. And families are supported here.” Little Pioneers is owned and operated by the Pioneers Presbyterian Church. But Lester and Montagna said that it’s more a partnership between the church and their Program and Little Pioneers is  a hand-on, learning through play based program and does not include a religious-based curriculum. Lester said the church wanted to better serve the Winters community and they had a huge building that wasn’t being utilized. Through research they discovered Winters was in dire need of an infant and toddler all-day care option.. “The church has been overwhelmed with how successful the center has been and how it has fulfilled their mission of serving the children and families in the community,” Lester said. “We teach the values that any parent, I hope, would want their child to have. They’re bible-based values, but we don’t hand them a bible.” The program will celebrate their third anniversary on Jan. 4, 2019 and is now experiencing the opportunity of having younger siblings of their first students enroll in it. Montagna said the non-profit program is taking these steps improve the quality of child care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers in Winters by providing meaningful interactions and a quality learning environment. “The reason why I wanted to do this is that we can always be better. To say we’re the best and there’s nothing we can do to be better is not true,” said Montagna. “I’m learning something new every day from the children, our families and our teachers. We’re all students and we’re all teachers. I’m just so proud of our center. I can’t express it enough.” [caption id="attachment_761089" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Little Pioneers was able to update their Library Area through a Quality Counts California mini grant they received. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express Little Pioneers was able to update their Library Area through a Quality Counts California mini grant they received. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express[/caption] [caption id="attachment_761090" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Little Pioneers used grant funds to revamp their library area with new feeling dolls and books that feature different cultures, events and professions. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express Little Pioneers used grant funds to revamp their library area with new feeling dolls and books that feature different cultures, events and professions. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express[/caption] [caption id="attachment_761093" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Little Pioneers has a new Art Center area for their students in thanks to a Quality Counts California mini grant they received. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express Little Pioneers has a new Art Center area for their students in thanks to a Quality Counts California mini grant they received. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express[/caption]]]>

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