The Iowa Western Early Childhood Education Center was honored by West Central Community Action Thursday for achieving a Level 5 rating on the Iowa Quality Rating System for its in-house childcare center — the top level available.
The childcare center is part of Iowa Western Community College’s Early Childhood Studies program, which gives students a chance to work in the childcare facility while working toward an associate degree.
The award was presented by Shirley Urich, community development specialist for Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, who said the center is very careful about meeting the quality standards.
It was the fifth time the center has received the rating, according to Jean Stiehl, director.
“I really feel very strongly that the team is very gifted here,” she said.
To achieve the top rating, the staff must fill out an application and document that the center has satisfied 36 requirements relating to food, space, furnishings, care, teacher-child interaction, personal care, language and literature, learning activities, program structure, and other measures, Stiehl said. The center is inspected every two years by professionals from the ISU Extension Service.
The rating system is based on the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, which was developed by the Iowa Department of Human Services, Child Care Resource and Referral, and Promise Partners, Stiehl said.
“I do think it has helped polish the community of early childhood to bring better quality care and quality interaction,” she said.
Ratings aside, it’s meeting a former childcare student that inspires Stiehl.
“That’s what it’s all about — watching them grow up,” she said.
And, while Stiehl is the director, she spends plenty of time with the kiddos.
“I go in and sing and dance with them,” she said. “I love being in the classroom. It’s where the action is.”
Iowa Western’s early childhood program has 14 full- and part-time employees, including two full-time professors and three adjuncts, Stiehl said. Each classroom in the childcare center is staffed with a lead associate with a bachelor’s degree and an associate with an associate degree in early childhood education and enough others to meet the required ratios for each age level. The college students, who are all early childhood majors, are not employees but are completing lab experience requirements — although she currently has two students who are interns.
The childcare center is licensed by the state of Iowa for 65 children and accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, which is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The center provides care and education for children from the infant stage until they reach age 5 or start school. It is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.