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Denver Post- Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Rankings show stars of child care in Colorado

Group evaluates, rates sites to help parents, children
By David Olinger, Denver Post Staff Writer

The Denver Post/Hyoung Chang
Jesslyn Garey, top, and Colby Craft, both 4, work on a computer at Hope Center in Denver. The center was one of about a dozen child-care centers in Colorado that received a four-star rating from Educare.

Jalil glances up from his preschool class computer, pausing from a game featuring a rabbit and a hare to answer a question.

"J-A-L-I-L," he says politely.

On the floor, another child offers without prompting: "J-E-R-E-M-I- A-H," as he and a friend play with a cash register stuffed with fake bills.

In this preschool class, as in every room at the Hope Center, the play-and-learn area is spacious, bright and inviting. There are science and music areas, an art area, a "cozy corner" for respite, and the main attraction, a Young Explorer computer from IBM.

This Denver center for 175 children ages 2 1/2 to 8 is one example of what a Colorado nonprofit group rates a four-star day-care facility.

In what it calls an unprecedented effort to help parents find the best available day care for their children, Educare Colorado has launched a rating list.

The list gives more than 100 child care and preschool programs statewide a ranking of one to four stars, based on an evaluation ranging from basic health and safety to adult-to-child ratios, teacher training, learning environment and support for parents.

"This is a brand new thing. Nobody in the country has done anything like this," said Stacy Baum, a vice president of Educare.

The ratings are searchable at the Educare website and provide detailed information about the day-care facilities and homes that agreed to participate in published ratings.

About 62 percent of the rated programs are child care centers, and the rest are home providers. They represent a fraction of state- licensed child care facilities: about 10 percent of the centers, and less than 10 percent of the homes, Baum said.

Educare hopes to triple the number of participants within the next year.

Baum said some child-care providers chose not to have their ratings published, so the group's ratings are limited to those who agreed to be evaluated and to have that evaluation listed online.

She emphasized that the participants are child-care providers who were confident enough in their existing programs to voluntarily accept an outside opinion.

Ratings will be updated annually.

"We're really about quality improvement," Baum said. "We're not just leaving them out there with a rating."

To get four stars, a child care program must have "many fun activities and regular communication with parents," plus "a strong curriculum that addresses the social, emotional, physical and academic needs of each child."

The Hope Center was one of about a dozen programs statewide that received Educare's top ranking.

George Brantley, the program's executive director, said the Hope Center was converted from an old grocery store in north Denver into a nationally accredited program with multiple grant sources, a highly trained staff and volunteers who read to children in its well-stocked reading room.

"You teach a kid to read, and you open the world up for that child," he said.

At Westside Child Development Center, while the children napped on futons, Elsie Ulloa pointed out the soft toys, boxes of blocks, puzzles and other learning materials that her facility offers.

Her center received two stars from Educare, which said staff members needed more training, and adult-to-child ratios were high.

"I think it's good," Ulloa said of the rating system. "It lets us know where we're at. It helps us to help the children, and to help ourselves."

A state agency, the Colorado Department of Human Services, licenses thousands of child-care homes and centers statewide and tracks any complaints made concerning these facilities. It does not rate child-care programs.

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