Five-star Preschool Makes Parents a Priority

Teacher Barbara Trotter offers a comforting hand to a student during the holiday program

Kelloggsville Early Childhood Center preschoolers Kamron Atkinson and Aidan Palmer tried to build a wooden ramp, complete with cardboard tunnels, for a ball to roll down, but the ball kept stopping partway.

With a little adult guidance, the boys stacked two blocks under the track at the top of the ramp to steepen the angle. Kamron then launched the ball, watching it roll over the track and through tunnels to the end. “We figured it out!” he shouted.

The students were exploring and problem-solving while they built their ramp. A key component of the center’s preschool instruction is learning through play, which is built into the curriculum.

Instruction is one reason early childhood-education professionals awarded the center with the highest possible rating through Great Start to Quality. The system, implemented through the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Great Start, rates child care and preschool providers on a scale of one to five stars based on state quality standards of care, safety, professionalism and early learning.

“We are a high-needs, at-risk population and for us to be recognized shows the dedication the teachers put in to meet the needs of the kids,” said Paula Dykstra, director of the center.

Hanna Cone plays during free time in preschool
Hanna Cone plays during free time in preschool

An Unusual Distinction

The center, which includes nine Great Start Readiness Program classrooms, was one of just two GSRP programs in Kent County to receive the five-star rating as of mid-December, officials said. The Grand Rapids Ellington Academy YMCA GSRP program also received five stars. Just 136 of 3,390 participating early-childhood education programs have received the distinction.

GSRP is a state-funded, free-tuition preschool program for 4-year-olds, offered to families who qualify based on need. Nearly 80 percent of Kelloggsville Public Schools students are considered economically disadvantaged. Many are English-language learners.

“The teachers are reflective of the needs of the children in their classroom,” said Amy Kerkstra, a Kent ISD early childhood specialist who works directly with the Kelloggsville program.

Great Start to Quality considers more than 40 indicators across five categories to measure quality. Categories include staff qualifications and professional development, family and community partnerships, administration and management, environment, and curriculum and instruction.

“We’re excited and proud that Kelloggsville has achieved a 5-Star rating,” said said Terese Smith, director of Great Start to Quality Kent Resource Center. “It’s quite an achievement, considering Great Start to Quality’s rigorous assessment and validation process. And parents can find high-quality programs on our website. The children are the real winners.”

Preschool teacher Robin Axdorff said it’s evident throughout the building that it’s a special place. Teachers collaborate and share material; there’s a children’s library, a teacher-resource media center and a computer lab. An outside play area surrounding the center is always well-stocked with outdoor toys, from tricycles to sleds.

Aidan Palmer came to school dressed as Santa
Aidan Palmer came to school dressed as Santa

“This is a great place to be,” said Axdorff.

In the classroom, the Creative Curriculum guides learning in a play-filled atmosphere that focuses on social and emotional development, math, literacy, science, social studies and gross and fine motor-skill development.

Parent involvement is a priority, with family nights, field trips and special events. Said Axdorff, “We are the first connection for families to the school system, so we try to walk them through everything.”

CONNECT

Great Start to Quality

Great Start Readiness Preschool Program

Michigan Department of Education Office of Great Start

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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