(Part1: Getting Started)
By Eric Nelson
There are over 150 child care centers in Santa Barbara County. Each is unique and each has special stories of challenges and successes. Tucked away in a far corner of the Aliso Elementary School Campus in Carpinteria, California, the Aliso State Preschool occupies just one portable classroom. Like many of its sister State Preschools, it serves a small number of children (24) on what has seemed like an ever-shrinking budget.
Over the past 4 ½ years, through the initiative and leadership of director Sara Bautista and the active participation of her staff, the teaching team has embarked on an inspiring climb to excellence that has transformed the program and the environment. Today, Sara’s program is actively involved in the Preschool Food and Healthy Habits Initiative, has achieved Outdoor Classroom Recognized Site status and has just received a very successful validation visit for accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the widely recognized gold standard of quality for the early childhood field.
Sara’s journey of leadership illustrates several keys to the successful transformation of programs to higher levels of quality. Those keys include: intention, commitment, follow-through, and persistence by program leaders. They also require many small steps and experiments along the way.
Sara once commented that she thought her center was too small to be accredited. She felt her single indoor classroom was too crowded. Participating in Orfalea’s Outdoor Classroom Project changed her viewpoint.
Initiating an Outdoor Classroom negated the issue of her overcrowded indoor classroom. Her next step was to raise the standard of her Outdoor Classroom to that of her indoor classroom. In succeeding installments we’ll look at some of the key actions Sara took to bring her Outdoor Classroom to recognized status and her overall program to the standards for NAEYC Accreditation.