Educating Homeless Children: Roxbury program gets high marks

Nakia Hill
Spare Change News

Rachel Strauss, Infant Toddler Teacher, is dealing with preventing her students from biting and scratching, while Carolin Marinez, Toddler Teacher, is reinforcing positive Super Hero behaviors to her students. But what both teachers at Horizons For Homeless Children have in common is they are both extremely proud of the National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation that their Roxbury child care center recently received.

“I think it sets the standards high. If you have high standards, you will rise to them,” Strauss said.

NAEYC is a professional organization that promotes excellence in early childhood education. The Edgerley Family Community Children’s Center is the third of Horizons for Homeless Children’s three CCC’s (the others are based in Dorchester and Jamaica Plain) to receive the NAYEC accreditation, which only 15 percent of preschools receive in the nation. Horizons provides education to 175 homeless children each week.

In order for a day care center to receive accreditation they must meet NAYEC’s extensive standards, which requires an organization to meet at least 80 percent of their standards — including relationships, Teaching, Families, and Community relationships. The Edgerley Family Community Children’s Center received a score of 100 percent on 8 out of 10 of those standards.

Megan Dunn, Horizons For Homeless Children Director, said that the accreditation process was intense and took over two years because the center had to prove how it met each standard, which required each class to create binders documenting lessons and providing images of the children, teachers, and administrators following each rule and regulation.

“We had to take pictures of the kids washing their hands. You have to have a policy for everything. The criteria covers anything you can imagine involving a childcare center from having no smoking signs inside and outside of the building, exactly step by step how you change a diaper, to how you communicate with parents. It covers everything, how you hire staff,” Dunn said.

Marinez, who has been a part of the Horizons For Homeless Children staff for four years, said that the day care center has always done everything required by NAYEC. “Horizons has always been good at following procedures and regulations. We always did what NAEYC standard says, but we never put it on paper until we went for our accreditation.”

Strauss believes that receiving accreditation has provided the center with a stronger sense of community and support for the staff. “I do feel very supported here. It’s a small cozy center, the directors, my supervisor they all listen to me and we work together really well.”

She also said that the education standards have encouraged Horizons to become more technologically savvy because the staff uses www.creativecurriculum.net, “The curriculum has really evolved. It’s really cutting-edge.”

In addition to Horizons taking the curriculum from the paper to the web, they also provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children who are dealing with the physical and psychological dangers of being homeless.

“Studies have shown that when young children are trying to deal with an unstable home life or adjusting to new or unpleasant surroundings they experience ‘toxic’ stress levels which can inhibit their brain’s ability to develop as it should,” said Andrea Urbano, Horizons For Homeless Children Director of Center Based Programs.

Marinez said that teachers forget they are making a difference in the children’s lives because it’s second for the educators. She also said that she definitely has seen the change flourishing in the children’s lives. “You can see the difference when the kids come from outside because they feel secure in here; they know we are waiting for them and we are here for them.”

It has been over two months since The Edgerley Family Community Children’s Center has received their accreditation, and staff say it is only the beginning of greatness for homeless children attending Horizons centers.

“For our children, it really goes beyond purely academic education. We provide social and emotional support as well. Our teachers are examples of patience and stability for children who may not always receive that kind of example. The NAEYC accreditation confirms that we’re reaching the goal we’ve been striving for, which is giving children experiencing homelessness a chance to break the cycle by teaching them the skills they’ll need for academic and social success later in life,” Urbano said.

NAKIA HILL is a writer and editor for Spare Change News.

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