Harvest Foundation partners with Smart Beginnings | Local News


First Baptist Early Learning Center is the first church-based early childhood center in the area to reach Level 5 in Virginia Quality’s Voluntary Rating and Improvement System.

The center’s director, Beth Kotchish, credits significant support and technical assistance from Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry to propel her staff to a higher standard, according to a press release from the Harvest Foundation.

Level 5 is the highest rating level in the system. To reach Level 5, a center must meet all the requirements for a Level 1,2,3 and 4 early learning center (which can be found at https://www.virginiaquality.com/sites/default/files/VA_Quality_Standards_0.pdf) and achieve an average Environment Rating Scale (ERS) score of 5.00 or higher across four ERS subscales; achieve an average Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) score of 6.00 or higher in emotional support and classroom organization, emotional and behavioral support and relational climate and teacher sensitivity; achieve an average CLASS score of 4.25 or higher in instructional support, engaged support for learning score and facilitated exploration and early language support; and develop a quality improvement plan based on ERS and CLASS on-site observation.

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Kotchish has worked at First Baptist’s early learning center for almost 45 years.

“Children have always been my passion,” she stated in the release. “Even at six years old, my favorite thing to do at church was to go to the nursery. Watching these children from 6 weeks old, seeing them grow up, get married, and bring their children back to you is a blessing. It may sound corny, but this is my calling. It’s always been about the children.”

The partnership between Harvest Foundation and Smart Beginnings to build Martinsville-Henry County’s early childhood education system is supported by a 3-year grant of $1,176,443. The funding is intended to increase local childcare capacity, build a high-quality workforce in early childhood education and to implement literacy initiatives for students.

The learning center also received funding through the quality improvement program, allowing for new Kaplan Learn Every Day curriculum in classrooms which will improve the center’s services for children, according to the release.

“Ruth Anne and Talitha have been a godsend,” Kotchish said. “We couldn’t have improved our center to this extent without their support and guidance.”

Ruth Anne Collins is the Early Education & Family Resource Coordinator for Smart Beginnings, and Talitha Kirby is a Technical Assistance Specialist for Virginia Quality—Piedmont Region.

A decade ago, no early learning programs in Martinsville or Henry County were part of the state rating system that supports early childhood providers, the release stated.

Smart Beginnings Director Melanie McLarty said in the release that one of the most exciting aspects of this grant is the ability to hire a full-time Early Literacy Coordinator.

“Harvest is a long-time supporter of early childhood education as we believe the evidence that lifelong learning begins at birth and the earliest years of a child directly impacts how they will thrive the rest of their lives,” Harvest Senior Operating Officer Sheryl Agee said.

“The childcare system still has many challenges around access, affordability, and even providing a living wage to those who care for our children. Harvest remains committed to being a partner at the table as we continue the work to build a strong early learning system that develops thriving youth, supports our workforce and ultimately our entire community,” Agee added.

“Improved access to childcare will ensure more children are enrolled in excellent early learning programs,” Executive Director of United Way of Henry County & Martinsville Philip Wenkstern said in the release. “Strengthening the quality of existing childcare centers will better prepare our children for school and their future careers, and increasing the enrollment capacity of new and existing centers will ensure that our childcare system can meet the needs of our growing workforce.

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