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Grandma's House elevates quality of child care to the stars

The stars mean something.

Grandma's House Learning Center in Upper Burrell received its first Level Four rating in July from Pennsylvania's Keystone Stars program, which parents can use to gauge the quality of child care programs.

"It means that we're considered to be the highest-quality level that the state can offer," said Kari Green, who co-owns Grandma's House with her husband, Patrick.

"We have more quality teachers, a curriculum that meets all 33 learning standards, and we go above and beyond for everything. There are learning activities all day long."

The Greens have two Grandma's House locations: one in Apollo opened in 2007, another in Upper Burrell opened in 2013.

The centers combine for 38 employees, 26 of which are full-time. Children from 6 weeks to 12 years old are enrolled.

Grandma's House's success in educating children is rooted in the belief there is no one-size-fits-all formula, said Green. She has a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne University, a masters degree in education from Wilkes University and formerly taught science to public middle-school students.

"Every child is different," she said. "Every parent has different things they want for their child and we try to make education individualized and specialized for that family."

Green added that the centers work with the state to allow early intervention specialists (occupational, physical, behavioral and speech therapists) to provide services to students in-house. In addition to teaching language, math, science, community and social awareness, fine motor development skills, music and art, Grandma's House provides educational field trips and guest presenters from the community.

Founded in 2002, Keystone Stars is overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' Office of Child Development and Early Learning. The program rates Department of Human Services-certified child care centers with one to four stars. It is intended to improve quality in these programs through standards, training/professional development and other areas.

Of the 7,509 Department of Human Services-certified child care centers, group child care homes and family child care homes in the state, 10.3 percent were Level Four and 17.1 percent Level One as of June, according to the agency.

"It's not super easy to get a four-star (rating). It does require some diligence," said Rose Snyder, director of member and affiliate relations for the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children.

This summer, child care centers' participation in Keystone Stars became mandatory for all certified centers to participate in the program. Standards were revised, too.

A Level One center's requirements include having a plan to increase early care and education professional development and training for the staff, and increasing staff communication at team meetings. However, at Level Four, a center must also feature more professional development and training hours, and two-thirds of its staff my possess or be pursuing credentials or college degrees.

"We know that there are certain indicators that determine high quality in terms of how those things effect what happens for children," Snyder said.

Grandma's House is a star amongst child care centers by literally operating at a level above.

"We offer so many learning opportunities," Green said. "We want to be the best daycare in the area."

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