MARQUETTE - With a $450,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Marquette County's YMCA is working to implement two new early childhood education centers in Gwinn and Ishpeming.
The new centers would be based largely on its current operation in Marquette, inside the Vandenboom Early Childhood Development Center.
Lisa Coombs-Gerou, chief executive officer of the Y, said after receiving accreditation from the National Association of the Education of Young Children, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation approached the Y and asked if they could replicate their Marquette program in other areas as well.
Lori Smolinski, child development leader for the Y, said the first stages in implementing a Gwinn program are already under way, with construction set to begin soon to bring four K.I. Sawyer Elementary School classrooms - where the program will be located - up to NAEYC standards.
"We're ready to go," Smolinski said. "The rooms are ours now and we are getting the basic stuff, plumbing, construction stuff, out of the way."
NAEYC has a strict set of more than 400 criteria every early childhood education program must follow to receive full accreditation. The Y's Marquette program is one of only two in the entire Upper Peninsula to receive accreditation, the other being the Little Huskies program run by Michigan Tech University in Houghton.
To receive a state license, a program must meet a list of about 87 criteria.
Smolinski said the MTU program helped mentor the Y through the accreditation process at their Vandenboom facility, and now that the Y has already been through it once, they know what to expect as they work to receive NAEYC accreditation for their new programs.
"At least we know what's coming," Smolinski said. "The fear of the unknown is less this time around and they don't have to reinvent the wheel. Our forms are all established, our policies are all established."
The Vandenboom program has been open since 2009. All of its teachers have a degree either in early childhood or elementary education and the majority of its teaching assistants also have a degree or are pursuing one in those fields.
The program follows a Creative Curriculum, which attempts to introduce learning opportunities into everyday activities as well as playtime.
Smolinski said the program offers kids a leg-up into a kindergarten setting that is much different from years past.
"We have observational data from the (kindergarten) teachers saying our kids are by far ready. They know all their letters, they know their numbers, a lot of them are reading, but the most important thing they know is how to be a part of a group," Smolinski said. "They know what it means to be in a classroom and they know what it means to walk in a line or take turns or share. They have all those social things down.
"Years and years ago, when I was in kindergarten, that's what kindergarten was," Smolinski added. "That was, a lot of times, the first time that kids had been away from home and their first chance to really learn what it was like to be in a classroom setting. But for today's children it's different. It's a lot more academic and kids need these early learning experiences so they have some familiarity with that. It's a lot more than it used to be, kindergarten."
The Vandenboom program offers five classes of kids and a day camp - infant room, two toddler rooms and two preschool rooms
The Gwinn program will have four classrooms: one infant room, one toddler room and two preschool rooms and Smolinski said the program is tentatively set to open the first day of school, though it is still awaiting licensing from the state.
For more information on early childhood programs run by the Y, or to pre-register a child for the Gwinn program, call 273-1121.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.