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Two Child Care of Southwest Florida centers recognized as ‘preferred pre-K providers’

July 24, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Fort Myers Joseph H. Messina Children's Center and Lehigh Acres The Community Children's Center were recognized by the Lee County School Board as "preferred pre-k providers" in Lee County.

The centers had to achieve and maintain a four or above on the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida's Quality Rating Improvement System, submit year-end articulation forms to the School District of Lee County that showcases academic information about incoming kindergarteners, attend district offered training programs regarding transition from pre-K to kindergarten and develop a professional development plan based on identified data.

Joseph H. Messina Children's Center and The Community Children's Center both received a five star rating.

Article Photos

Zoey Dunbar, left, laughs with teacher Elizabeth Aranda as Manhattan Jackson and Alianys Santiago help complete a puzzle. The Community Children’s Center and The Joseph H. Messina Children’s Center, both operated by Child Care of Southwest Florida, have been recognized as Preferred Pre-K providers in Lee County.


Both schools will receive $500 in classroom materials, as well as a complimentary field trip to a feeder school for students, summer activity packets for children, as well as being listed on the district's website at

Education Program Manager Angela Anderson said when the school provider keeps up with all the mandated policies, procedures and high quality observations they have to go through, they can take it one step further and go through the Coalition's Quality Rating and Improvement System. With more than 300 providers throughout Lee County, she said there are only about 60 that are involved with the QRIS program.

Each year, the Early Learning Coalition does a classroom observation, an audit of the community and parent involvement, as well as teacher credentials and what is done inside the early learning centers as a whole, which earns a score of one through five.

"Once the provider scores a four, or five in the QRIS system the Early Learning Coalition refers them to the Lee County School District," Anderson explained of Jeanne LaFountain with the Lee County School District. "She is tasked with the requirement of pulling together these programs that have scored a four, or five, to put them through the preferred provider program throughout the year."

Putting these providers through the program will help align the superintendent's vision, ensuring early childhood learning students are receiving quality education, ultimately, for the third grade requirements, she said.

This is the third year the Joseph H. Messina Children's Center and The Community Children's Center in Lehigh Acres have received the designation as Preferred Pre-K Providers.

Anderson said the first year they received the recognition they were tasked with the responsibility of professional development, scheduling field trips and scheduling meetings with the principals of the feeder schools, so communication barriers could be broken down between preschool teachers and elementary school teachers.

"Through meetings you come up with a collaboration of ideas to help each other. It provides them a common language, so when we are interacting with the children in our VPK preschool classroom, we are taught to say the same language as the kindergarten teachers," Anderson said.

As a second year preferred provider, they are required to analyze data and have quality improvements based on that information.

Now as a third year preferred provider, Anderson said they are required to be a mentor to the lower performing providers to help them get up to where they need to be receive a higher score.

"That is what excited me the most to help other providers meet the criteria and let them know the requirements are not that scary," she said, adding that it's about staying "diligent and have that constant communication with the resources provided by the Lee County School District and colleagues in your field."

Anderson said they will start working with other centers in either September or October. She said they are focusing on programs that received a three on the QRIS system.

"The best practice is narrowing the focus, so the person being coached and mentored isn't feeling overwhelmed," Anderson said.

CEO of Child Care of Southwest Florida Chris Hansen said it is very easy to do things less costly, but to turn out the highest quality student you have to put in the most value and that value is time.

"Time in the engagement with our staff and children, staff and parents and children, as well as the target school," he said.

Hansen said now their teachers and directors, that have mentored and taught, are going to help other centers because of their success.

"I couldn't be more proud of what they have accomplished," he said. "There are so many people out there in the community doing everything they can in providing good first step of education. We are committed to that because 0 to 3, and 0 to 5 (years old), that window is so crucial for them to develop, their capacity to learn. We help them develop through what they learn, but also the love of learning we do through play and their points of interest."

Anderson said they use Child Center Emerging Curriculum. In other words, they use the child's interest for lesson plans to accomplish their goals and objectives according to assessment.

"It's not theme based, or teacher development. It's social and emotional development first and then we are able to teach them. It's something that is crafted strategically according to teacher's knowledge of the child's interest and development level. There is less resistance and it is more enjoyable," she said.

Hansen said they are committed to meeting the child, but they are never committed to leaving them there because they want them to grow.

"Young minds get excited about learning, growing and developing," he said.

Being a preferred pre-k program has been beneficial for their preschool teachers because they are gaining additional knowledge by having relationships with kindergarten teachers, Anderson said.

They are receiving "a professional development that other preschool teachers don't get. It is putting them a step above other preschool teachers because they are able to tweak their approaches in their preschool classrooms," Anderson said, therefore getting the students more accumulated to what to expect in their kindergarten classroom.

On the flipside, she said the elementary school principals also become more familiar with the importance of early learning education.

"It's putting a face with a name and developing relationships and learning about pre-K students and where they are coming from and what they are exposed to," Anderson said. "The parents are starting to get to know the elementary school their child is going to. It's a full cycle win-win."

Hansen said kindergarten is too late if that is the starting point of education. He said for so many people kindergarten was the starting point because they had socialization and family units, which is not always the case now.

"We have just over 500 kids that are on a waiting list to get into quality early learning education," he said, adding that there is such a small window of opportunity where a child is going to develop 85 percent of their mental capacity, the socialization and emotional development. "In Child Care of Southwest Florida we are committed to making assets to our future. Every kid has the opportunity to be what they are said to be. We want to build on their RAM capacity and processor speed to their max potential. We focus on giving them everything they need -- nutrition, safety, security and comprehensive environment to make sure they are already and hopefully a little ahead of the game."



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