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By Peter Sawyer
Sherry Gammon considers the children she takes care of at her home family.
She and her husband Wayne began offering home-based child care in 1978. They currently run Sherry’s Kids out of their home in the New London area.
“We’ve lived off of it for the past 20 years. This is my lifeline,” Sherry Gammon said. “It’s a God-called business. I love it.”
Gammon said she sometimes takes care of the children of people who were once under her care.
“It’s a very touching business,” Gammon said. “We stay in touch for a very long time. Whenever we keep our kids they’re ours, we’re friends for life”
Gammon is passionate about providing the best opportunities for the children under her care. She teaches herself, reading the latest materials, so that she can best teach them.
The Gammons moved their business from Gretna to Bedford County four and a half years ago. Sherry’s Kids is one of two home-based child care providers in Bedford County that will take part in a pilot program launched this January. In a Jan. 11 press release, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the Office of Early Childhood Development announced their intention to expand the Virginia Star Quality Initiative to evaluate and fund home-based child care.
“A substantial number of young children receive care in home-based settings,” OECD Director Zelda Boyd said in the press release. “This VSQI pilot expansion now gives the same opportunity for quality improvement to home-based providers and the children they serve that center-based child care facilities have had for the past three years.”
The VSQI has assessed and funded seven early education centers in Bedford County for two years: the Bedford YMCA, Blue Ridge Montessori, Head Start in Bedford, Head Start in Huddleston, Head Start in Moneta, Head start in Stewartsville and Schoolzone in Forest. Now funding will cover home-based child care providers including Sherry’s Kids and Mayhan Academy.
“For a variety of personal and financial reasons, many families seek a Family Child Care home as the preferred child care setting for their preschool children,” Smart Beginnings Alexandria/Arlington Coordinator September Jones stated in the press release. “These settings are a valuable and respected child care option, and we are excited to help them identify and develop quality activities that focus on kindergarten readiness.”
Kindergarten readiness is what most of these programs are striving for. Central Virginia Coordinator for the VSQI Greta Morris said research indicates 85 percent of a child’s brain develops before age five.
“We need to catch children much earlier than that if we want children to be successful,” Morris said.
Though the VSQI initially contacted Gammon, she is happy for the opportunity.
“It is good policy,” Sherry said, adding it will help her in her efforts.
Home-based child care providers must volunteer to take part in this program. According to Morris, $1,000 is given to participating providers. Those who volunteer must also be evaluated by the VSQI.
Gammon received the literature for the new program in January and had to prepare for her preliminary evaluation. She said the home will be given one to five stars depending on how well the standards are met.
Before raters go to evaluate a home, their documentation is collected. The VSQI looks at the staff’s training and education, the ratio of staff to children and the overall group size.
They look at teacher and child interaction. Morris said research shows this is the most important part of early education. They also assess the children’s language and skill development and observe the environment and materials, noting how they increase children’s skills.
One unique aspect of evaluation for home-based care providers is that they will look at their business practices. Gammon sees this as a blessing. As a person who has provided child-care for a living, she still feels people do not see it as a real job. She feels the pilot program is taking steps in the right direction to validate her profession.
When a rater is finished at the home, an evaluation is written. This is given to the VECF. A mentor is then sent to the home who works with the provider to make a Quality Improvement Plan based off the evaluation.
“When the Quality Improvement Plan is written it is decided what is the best way to spend the funds,” Morris said.
Gammon said once the problem areas are identified in the evaluation, the mentor will help train and make improvements where they are needed in order to bring the level of care up to standards.
“The goal is to use the same standards for all children who are in the same level, [preschool], so that all the programs are aspiring to the same level,” Morris said, “giving them the foundation they need to be successful.”
Morris said the ultimate goal is to have all programs striving for the same standards: public, private, church and family. She is optimistic about how this will benefit children and society in general. Bedford is one of the few counties to take part in this pilot program.