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‘We’ve tried to create a place to find joy’

Preschool program earns top ranking

Caledonia — In Trisha Scott’s classroom at the Duncan Lake Early Childhood Center, preschoolers know their daily routine based on labeled photos of different activities and spaces around the room.

While her students sat on a rug for circle time during recent class time, Scott pointed out which photo represented the activity they were about to do. 

She told her students they were transitioning from story time into a dance break and passed out different colored beanbags to the eager 3-year-olds. 

“I want yellow!” Jameson exclaimed.

Special education teacher Candi Harper, who works with Scott in her classroom, asked him, “Can you use that in a sentence?”

“I want a yellow bean bag,” Jameson said. 

Jameson danced the beanbag dance with his classmates, while learning to identify colors and body parts with their beanbags. 

Thanks to the pictures on the board, Scott’s students knew small group time came after circle time, followed by a classroom favorite: snack time.

Demonstrating Quality in the Classroom 

Scott and her fellow preschool teachers at Duncan Lake ECC plan everything from their daily routines to their classroom layouts with HighScope’s Preschool Program Quality Assessment in mind.

The assessment, implemented by Great Start to Quality through the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Great Start, rates child care and preschool providers based on state quality standards.

Great Start to Quality schools demonstrate inclusive practices, professional development, staff qualifications, family and community partnerships and curriculum, instruction and learning environment.  

Last month, principal Whitney Krusniak found out Duncan Lake ECC was awarded “Demonstrating Quality,” the highest possible ranking by Great Start to Quality.

She explained how their ranking was given based on a lengthy application and visitation process conducted by the state. 

“We had to meet a collection of ‘quality indicators’ in order to earn our current status,” Krusniak said. “We had an observer come and scored us on our communicative, creative and organized classroom environments.” 

Around 8,000 daycare and preschool sites in the state are eligible for the certification. Duncan Lake ECC was one of 354 who earned the Demonstrating Quality rank in 2023, according to program participation data

Collaborative Approach

“We’ve tried to create a place to find joy,” Krusniak said. “If you find joy in your work, you work harder and connect with your colleagues. My staff is a group of the most willing group of individuals, always willing to step up and help, so (the rating) was a collaborative effort.”  

Duncan Lake ECC preschool teacher Ashley Johnson said she and her colleagues followed the Preschool Program Quality Assessment’s level five, formerly known as five-star rating, scoring requirements for creating a learning environment, daily routines, adult-child interaction and curriculum planning and assessment.

In all four preschool classrooms, every window, door, cabinet, toy and learning material is labeled for students to learn words and associate them with objects. 

“Each activity and play station has an adequate amount of space and has open-ended materials from different communities and cultures,” Johnson explained. 

As seen in Scott’s classroom, students’ daily routine also includes free choice time, where they decide how they want to interact with what the classroom has available.

“We strived for level five (in our classrooms),” Johnson said. “We didn’t want to settle somewhere in the middle.”  

Read more from Caledonia: 
Core knowledge, with apples
Caledonia Elementary named National Blue Ribbon School

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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