Willie Price Lab School at the University of Mississippi is now accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a highly prestigious designation that recognizes top standards in early childhood education.
To earn NAEYC accreditation, Willie Price, which serves local 3- and 4-year-old children, went through an extensive self-study and quality-improvement process, followed by an on-site visit by accessors. The renewable accreditation lasts for five years.
“Earning this accreditation takes away any blurred lines about what is best for children,” said Sarah Langley, Willie Price director. “When you go through this process, and you have to do everything the right way, it means that you are doing what’s best for children at the very highest level.”
Less than 10 percent of programs nationwide hold this accreditation—roughly 7,000 institutions—according the NAEYC data. In Mississippi, 24 programs are currently accredited.
To earn the accreditation, schools must meet 10 research-based standards, which range from instructional techniques to safety, nutrition, staffing and community engagement. Throughout the process, Willie Price staff worked to meet and document hundreds of criteria within these standards and received support from the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning to work with an accreditation consultant.
“We literally had to break down our school into pieces and build it back stronger,” explained Alyce Krouse, Willie Price assistant director. “We sometimes get referred to as a ‘day care,’ but we are so much more than that. We are an accredited school for young children.”
One result from this process is that Willie Price staff now keep an individual portfolio to assess and document the development of each child. The school currently serves more than 70 children. In-depth assessments of children’s work provide not only a window into the developing minds of children, but can help educators and parents identify needs for enrichment or intervention earlier than before.
“There are two monthly samples of work in each portfolio,” explained Langley. “This might include a name-writing sample and an illustration. By the end of the year you can see scribbles start to look like letters and then next thing you know there are uppercase letters at the front of their names. It’s a nice way to observe the development and celebrate with parents.”
Staff at Willie Price meet with parents at least three times per year to go over children’s portfolios. After leaving Willie Price, children’s portfolios can later be handed off to the child’s parents and/or kindergarten program.
As part of the accreditation process, parents from Willie Price also completed surveys and provided feedback to staff on the school’s performance and offerings.
Learning centers at Willie Price were also aligned with best practices for early learning and are put on a rotation throughout classrooms. All lessons taught by Willie Price teachers fit into a strategic curriculum that aligns with developmental learning standards.
The layout of Willie Price classrooms are now designed to promote optimal learning for all children. Instead of providing traditional whole-group activities, classrooms are designed to let children self-select different learning centers. Research shows this method of teaching young children allows for greater independence and engagement in a structured learning environment.
Willie Price also serves as a learning facility for education majors at the UM School of Education, allowing for UM undergraduates to gain hands-on experience in an accredited school.
“We want our students to go to a school that is accredited to see best practices,” explained Kenya Wolff, UM assistant professor of early childhood education. “This allows our student to be able to go out into the world and know the right way to do things. We’re confident that we can send students to Willie Price and they will see and learn what’s best for young children.”
By Andrew M. Abernathy