Walk into the preschool classroom at Pine-Strawberry School and it looks much the same as most preschool classrooms. Brightly colored construction paper letters, posters, and children's paintings cover the four walls. There's a nook to play house in, a kitchen complete with plastic food, a sand box and making the scene complete miniature tables with miniature chairs.
A boisterous bunch of 3 to 5-year-olds have gathered at the two tiny tables. They have large sheets of green construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, and a task: to cut a picture of a cat into six pieces, which they are to reassemble and glue into place on green construction paper.
Each child works carefully to print his or her first name on the paper, then proudly shouts for Mrs. Elston's attention. She meets their individual joy with praise, a pat on the back and encouraging words.
Jackie Elston has been the director of the preschool program at Pine-Strawberry for 11 years and has 22 years of experience in early childhood education. This year she applied for and received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) an honor shared with only 7 percent of the early childhood education programs nationwide.
"I feel like it is a validation," Elston said. "I know we have a really great program."
NAEYC is a rigorous, voluntary process designed to determine whether a program meets national standards. Those who operate child-care centers, preschools, kindergartens and before-and-after school programs are able to apply for the NAEYC accreditation.
"The heart of the NAEYC accreditation focuses on the child's experience," Elston said. "The greatest emphasis is on the child's relationships with staff and how the program helps each child grow and learn."
Preschool is a place for children to prepare for a more formalized setting, Elston explained between the Play-Doh and puzzle sessions. They learn to work in groups, expand their vocabulary, and function in a school setting.
Elston patted another head, rubbed a back and became genuinely excited when Lance Riddle showed her that he had written his name.
"It's about feeling comfortable and being accepted," Elston said of the children's preschool experience.
Being recognized for superior standards has Elston feeling accepted and comfortable, too.