Gov. Jack Markell speaks at the Nov. 27 event, at which UD's Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood was recognized for its commitment to early childhood education.

Stars in early education

DIEEC recognized for commitment to early childhood education

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9:09 a.m., Dec. 11, 2012--Study after study shows that quality early learning opportunities are vital to a child’s success. The earliest years in children’s lives shape their future performance in school and in the workforce, making it vital that policies makers and community leaders support early childhood development.

Gov. Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn have demonstrated a strong commitment to enhancing the quality of early childhood programs in Delaware, and on Nov. 27 hosted a statewide ceremony recognizing organizations that provide high-quality services to Delaware’s children, especially those with high needs.

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The University of Delaware’s Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood (DIEEC) was recognized for its support and partnership on state and federal initiatives promoting quality early childhood care and education. DIEEC was instrumental in supporting the expansion of the Delaware Stars for Early Success, a quality rating and improvement  system for early childhood programs. 

Coordinated by faculty in UD’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies with Rena Hallam as director, the Delaware Stars program applies evidence-based practices to promote high-quality care that provides learning experiences for young children. Not only did the program lead the effort to establish quality standards, it also provides on going technical assistance to help child care centers improve their services, and subsequently increase their Star ratings.

The Delaware Stars program is playing an important role in advancing Delaware’s commitment to early education. In 2011, Markell directed $22 million toward early education initiatives. Soon after, Delaware was awarded $50 million through the federally funded Early Learning Challenge grant.

Having the Delaware Stars rating system in place was a critical component in Delaware’s application and in receiving the Early Learning Challenge grant funds.

Shannon Rudisill, director of the Office of Child Care in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, attended the event to congratulate area providers. She stated how impressed she was by the state’s unique commitment, leadership and collaboration with the community, business and non-profit supporters.

“All eyes are on Delaware,” says Martha Buell, professor of human development and family studies and DIEEC director. “Research indicates that for every dollar invested in early care and education there is, depending on the analysis a $4 to $11 dollar return. We are honored to be recognized for the work we are doing in this area, and we are proud to be a partner in this statewide effort. It is a perfect fit with the land grant spirit of UD.”

The Early Learning Challenge funds are being used to significantly increase the numbers of early childhood programs attaining the highest levels in Delaware Stars. There are now over 370 centers now enrolled in the Stars program and the number who have attain the Star Level of 3, 4 or 5 has doubled in 2012. Delaware’s goal is to grow the percentage of low-income children who participate in a quality-rated early childhood program from 20 percent to 80 percent by 2015. 

“One of the most important investments we can make is in our state’s youngest children,” stated Markell. “Our vision is to create a world-class early childhood system where quality programs prepare all of our children for success in a very competitive world.”

As he wrapped up his presentation, Markell offered encouragement to the organizations in attendance, saying, “Whether you’ve been in Stars for several years or whether you’re just getting started, I want to say this:  your work is important, your work matters, your work builds children who are ready for school. Caring for and educating young children is hard work. Participating in Stars is hard work.  Making the commitment to quality that you have means changing your practices, learning new skills, and meeting high expectations. Thank you.” 

Article by Alison Burris

Photos courtesy of the Governor’s Office

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