Thursday, February 9, 2012

Journey to NAEYC Accreditation

I am writing this post exactly one week after our NAEYC Accreditation site visit.  I have come down off my adrenaline rush enough to make sense and I wanted to document our journey toward NAEYC Accreditation.

This journey began on June 14, 2009 when we received the letter confirming that we had officially enrolled in the Self-Study process with the NAEYC Academy.  Soon Kari (the lead preschool teacher) and I received our self study kit, a box of 11 workbooks.  We began reading through the criteria and evaluating where our program stacked up or fell short, where we excelled, and where we felt comfortable being right on target.  Kari and I met frequently and poured through the workbooks deciding what might need to be adjusted within our program.  This took a good deal of time because we had many jobs to focus on at the same time.  We successfully completed the self-study materials and was ready for the next phase.

Our next phase was to apply for candidacy.  The first task was to select a due date for our candidacy materials which would set the timeline for the whole process.  Our application was accepted on September 23, 2010 which set our candidacy due date as September 30, 2011.  During this year long time frame we compiled the evidence necessary to prove to NAEYC that our program was worthy of accreditation.  We organized this evidence in a program portfolio and a classroom portfolio...both housed in four inch three ring binders...brimming full.  Prior to our candidacy deadline we would receive access to our packet of candidacy materials to complete and submit.  Basically this step proves to the academy that we are compiling the portfolios and that all our ducks are in a row.  These activities were time consuming but it helped us see the good, the bad, and the ugly that still needed modification.  Our candidacy materials were mailed on September 21, 2011 and by October 17 we received word that our program was accepted as a candidate for accreditation.  This notification also opened our site visit window of October 1, 2011 to March 30, 2012.  Wow!  Winter break eats up a lot of that time frame.  We were pretty certain that our visit wouldn't happen during the NAEYC conference week because everyone would most likely be in Orlando.  So after conference passed we waited for the phone call that would announce our 15 day site visit window.

On a December afternoon I received a phone call from our chosen NAEYC assessor who set our 15 day site visit window--January 30-February 17, 2012.  Great...second week of preschool after the break and a perfect time period for a snow or ice storm.  We relaxed a little, it was nice to know it wasn't necessary to panic...yet.  We made final adjustments to the portfolios and anxiously awaited the call signaling our visit would occur the next business day.  We figured the earliest they would call would be Thursday, January 26 and when that day came and went without a phone call we knew we could enjoy that weekend without fretting over an impending visit. 

Then came Monday, January 30.  At approximately 8:00am while I was at the grocery store before heading to work the call came.  I am not sure what I must have looked like but I know I froze in place worried that I had nothing to write on.  It was an exciting moment knowing that the our site visit would occur the next day.  Instead of texting or calling Kari, knowing I was less than 5 minutes from arriving, I drove to work with that queasy feeling you get before delivering exciting news.  Without stopping by my office to put down my bags I opened Kari's door and simply stated, "Tomorrow."  I think she gave me the same look I must have made in the grocery store when the assessor called.  Wow, it is becoming a reality.

We spread the news to those who needed to know, ordered a parking pass, and reserved the conference room.  I emailed my Tuesday class to cancel and threatened Tuesday's lab students not to "call in" with illness or flat tires.  Portfolios and supplemental materials were in place on the conference room table before I left for the afternoon.  I ordered a good night's sleep and was ready to get this part over and out.

I arrived to preschool on Tuesday by 7:25am, that is an hour early for me (I drive 30 minutes to work).  Kari had been there since 5:00am, fearing that the custodian wouldn't show she cleaned and super prepped the room.  It looked awesome!  Bring it on!

Our assessor arrived early at 7:45am and quickly got to work with our pre-visit conference and checklists.  She was not scary at all and put us at ease.  Since we are a small program it was easy for her to stay ahead of her scheduled agenda.  Our closing meeting was originally scheduled for 2:15pm that time was changed to 12:30pm because our organized portfolios sped up the process.  Plus we only received one of the dreaded "MERFs"  (Missing Evidence Request Form)...the missing piece of evidence was in place within 10 minutes (an hour is given)--it felt like a beat the clock game show. 

Our closing visit was pleasant.  We went over many forms and procedures, watched her seal up the materials that would be sent to the Academy and by 1:00pm our assessor was pulling away from the is at that moment that Kari and I took our first breath of the day.

Our construction theme border has a
hidden appears to be the
Village People...and yup...they are
doing the YMCA.
After the visit, Kari and I ran through many things:  We thought of things we wished the assessor has witnessed or asked about.  Did she like our materials?  What did she think about being outside to begin the session?  Was the bulletin board with the kid's drawings and predictions cool?  Did our storage room make us look like an episode of pre-K hoarders?  What did she think about seeing the Village People in our wallpaper border?

Now we wait...for up to 90 days...for the decision.  I hold my breath every time I open my word yet...maybe tomorrow.

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