Attaining national accreditation for a college program means examining the program closely, making needed adjustments, and providing documentation the program meets an established set of criteria and standards. The professors in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Richmond Community College spent several years fine-tuning their program, compiling a comprehensive report, and undergoing a rigorous onsite visit and now have the right to say they are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
“This means our course of study, the projects our students do, and the concepts we teach are at a standard that is nationally recognized for quality and relevance. To graduate, our students have five key assessments they must complete. Those assessments become part of their professional portfolio they take with them into the workforce. They are better prepared for the workforce or for further study at a university,” said April Chavis-Johnson, ECE lead instructor and chair of the Public Services Technology Department.
The Early Childhood Education program has grown over the past 15 years to become one of the largest credit programs on campus. Chavis-Johnson had been eyeing the NAEYC accreditation process for some time and began the quest a few years ago when Professor Sheila Regan joined the ECE faculty. They began exploring what the accreditation process would entail and joined a consortium of 10 community colleges interested in pursuing accreditation. Today, they are the only college from the consortium to reach their goal.
“One of the greatest challenges was developing a grading rubric. We went to workshops and seminars on how to develop a good one. We had assessments, but creating a rubric so that it was uniform and so structured that anyone could look at it and look at a student’s project and assign the same grade was challenging. Today, a student knows exactly what is needed to exceed or to meet expectations. They can pretty much grade their own work when it is turned in. We not only measure the five assessments this way, we measure all assignments this way,” said Chavis-Johnson.
For Regan, the sweetest note was hearing RCC was accredited with no conditions.
“I think it is a real accomplishment that the approval came back without deficiencies. It shows we have been on the right track and were doing much of what we should have been doing. I do, however, believe the process gives us a more global understanding of NAEYC standards and how teachers feel things should be in the classroom, and how, in turn, that affects children and their families,” said Regan.
Early Childhood Education is not an easy program and having had children doesn’t mean students don’t have to study. Students explore developmental theories, psychology, nutrition, child guidance, curriculum planning, and educational technology.
“I believe the accreditation process made our program more rigorous and pushes students to set goals for themselves they never imagined. I have one student who entered the program with no computer skills who is now sending e-mails with attachments and understands a rubric. She now realizes there is a tremendous difference between ‘keeping children’ and being a qualified child care provider. She has an understanding of NAEYC, national standards, and what it takes to be a good teacher,” said Regan.
Sheri Dunn-Ramsay joined the Early Childhood Education faculty in the middle of the application process.
“They had the groundwork done. I think my contribution to the project was my interest in going through things line by line,” said Dunn-Ramsay. “I reviewed what they had completed to see if they met all of the criteria. If it didn’t make any sense to me, I asked them to explain it. They realized if I didn’t understand something, the students may have difficulty as well.”
Dunn-Ramsay is also very excited about receiving accreditation without conditions. RCC in now among 20 community colleges and universities in the state with the accreditation, but only the second or third to receive no conditions for improvement.
Last year’s graduates are providing feedback on how the changes made in the program affected them. One graduate transferred to UNC-Pembroke and said she used the assessments in her portfolio as the foundation for class assignments at UNCP. Her foundation was solid, so she only needed to expand those concepts to the next level.
“We’re no longer a birth to kindergarten program,” said Chavis-Johnson. “We are reaching out to elementary education majors as evidenced by our recent articulation agreement with UNC-Pembroke. We also have articulation agreements with other universities. The program is not set up so that is over students’ heads and they could fail, but all assignments are building blocks, some of which will take them right into the university. We’re glad we went through the process. We were almost there at the beginning. We were good, but we want to be excellent!”
RCC Vice President for Instruction Dr. Tony Clarke commends the faculty for taking the initiative in making students more competitive and employable in today’s marketplace.
“Graduates of this program impact the quality of child care and education in our communities, and that, in turn, affects our future. I’m proud of the faculty and their achievements,” said Clarke.
Jennifer Murray joined the ECE faculty in August.
“Coming in, I was aware of the high standards this program has,” said Murray. “It’s an honor to be part of the team.”