When Sharon Nettles got a form in the mail, she knew it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.
"When I read the application, it was everything that I needed," said Nettles.
It was from the Mississippi Department of Human Services informing her of a new program designed to step up the quality of childcare centers across the state. As owner and director of Building Blocks Christian Academy, Nettles was selected as one of 15 centers to be a part of the pilot program now serving more than 600 kids with more than $2 million in federal funds.
"We're piloting this program to be able to see what it actually takes to provide quality services for childcare," said Dr. Jill Dent.
It's called the Allies for Quality Care Program. Dent heads up the department's division of early childhood care and development and says it's a way to pinpoint what needs to be done in order to make a difference in early childcare.
"We wanted to be able to give a more comprehensive approach to be able to literally wrap our arms around a childcare center and say, we are here to support you," said Dent.
From the books to the kitchen, that support will come in the form of classroom, business and nutrition assistance and all of it a welcomed opportunity for Nettles.
"It's touching every aspect of childcare," said Nettles.
Centers starting out in the program typically have a one star rating, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but rather a starting point to make a good center even better. Dent says it's those centers which are looking to improve that will have the most success.
"We just want centers to recognize that this is a process. The quality improvement and rating system is a process," said Dent.
With the expenses of operating a childcare center, Nettles says brining in those resources at no cost is picture perfect and a process she's happy to stick with.
"What they're doing is actually coming in and giving us that one on one training so that we can bring our centers up to what the state is looking for," said Nettles.
The program will last for three years with each year selecting a new group of childcare centers. Once the three years are up, the state hopes the program's anticipated success will usher in a more permanent program.
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