West Virginia University researchers have the potential to play an important role in shaping child care policy in the Mountain State.
A yearlong project launched in spring looks at the quality of child care programs in West Virginia.
Led by principal investigator Bobbie Warash, a professor in the Department of Technology, Learning and Culture at the College of Human Resources and Education, the research team is evaluating the environments of 200 preschools and 250 family child care centers and after
school programs around the state.
The findings will be used to help improve the quality of child care around the state, said Warash, who has more than 30 years of experience in early childhood education and serves as director of the WVU Nursery School, a child development laboratory providing observation and practicum experience for University students pursuing degrees in working with young children.
The centers and programs were randomly chosen with trained staff conducting 3-4-hour observations in each classroom. Observers underwent intensive training on the Environment Rating Scales – designed to assess group programs for children from birth to afterschool ages (birth-12), Warash said.
All 55 counties are represented in the project, which is supported by a $629,000 grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources/Bureau of Children and Families.
Observers are using 40-50 indicators, ranging from space and furnishings to staff-children interaction, to rate the classrooms (infant/toddler, early childhood, school age) at each designated center.
“It’s very specific,” Warash said. “Observers even look to see if books on the current projects are available as well as – so many in math, science etc. Do they have children’s work displayed on the walls? Do they use appropriate materials for the age group?”
The trained observers also evaluate discipline used in the child care center, positive interaction among children and opportunities for kids to work together to complete a task.
Project coordinator Keri Smith supervises the observers and is one of about a dozen young alumni of the WVU College of Human Resources and Education hired for the project.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to work with centers and educators around the state,” Smith said. “As a recent graduate of HR&E, my career goals are to work with educators on ways to improve their classrooms. This grant has allowed me to evaluate programs and speak with teachers and directors on ways to improve what they are implementing in their programs and their overall environment.”
Observations are halfway done and should be finished by the end of September, Warash said. At that point, data will be analyzed, and the results will establish a baseline from which a statewide quality rating and improvement system will be developed.
Each child care center and family child care home will receive a written improvement plan – developed by WVU child development and early childhood education experts with input from observers – around the first of the year.
“It’s hard to be perfect,” Warash said, “but this provides guidance.”
Co-investigators Terence Ahern and Reagan Curtis are professors in the Department of Technology, Learning and Culture at WVU. Ahern developed computer systems for the assessments. Curtis, an expert in research methodology, is overseeing data collection and analysis.
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CONTACT: Janey Cink, College of Human Resources and Education