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All Kids Deserve Quality Child Care

I’m a mom of two biological kids, but in my heart, I feel like I have hundreds.

Fellow child care teachers and facility owners can back me up. It’s not just a job to us. I would do anything for these kiddos, just like I would my own.

My center, Bright Beginnings, is open from 6 in the morning to 6 at night. Some of the kids are with me for ten or 11 hours a day. We are licensed for 41 kids, so since we opened in 2009, many families have come through our doors. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

The Best Job I’ve Had

Just like being a mom, our job doesn’t stop in the evening after we’ve cleaned, sanitized and put everything away.

On a recent Sunday, I got a text from the mom of one of my toddlers. She sent a video of her two-year-old daughter counting from one to 15. She thanked me over and over and said, “It melts my heart what you have taught her!”

We have been working on counting with her daughter, and we love every minute of it. I texted her back and said she made my whole Sunday.

I wish parents knew how much of an impact their kids have on us. How their smiles make us smile. How their squeals delight us, and their hugs fill us up. How we live for seeing those lightbulb moments of growth and hitting those milestones.

Another mom recently sent me a photo of her son hitting his first triple in a baseball game. He was the very first infant we cared for. My office walls are covered with photos of my kids, including him. They mean the world to me.

I was originally going to be the cook at Bright Beginnings when it opened, but I had a lot of experience with kids and I quickly became its director. Lisa, our curriculum director, and I have been leading the center ever since, and we often talk about how we want to raise the bar on child care, because we believe that our kiddos deserve the best.

Step Up to Quality Steps In

Once I heard about Step Up to Quality, we decided to go for it. I describe Step Up to Quality as a system that helps the best child care facilities become better. I almost think it should be mandatory. It’s worth it for our kids.

For Bright Beginnings, it was a no-brainer to decide to participate. It was a bit overwhelming at first, and it was a lot of work. We had a few bumps in the road but we took our time with it and worked at our pace.

Step Up to Quality helped us focus on the level of education we were offering, and it helped us improve our environment rating scale measurements (ITERS and ECERS). We had a great foundation to start from, and the key for us was our staff. My team is the absolute best and their commitment to our kids made it easy for us to improve on these items.

The Results

When you enroll in Step Up to Quality, you are almost automatically at a Step 2 (out of five) once you complete the paperwork, set up process and initial training. Where it gets real is the observation and visit from a Step Up to Quality staff member – that’s when you can graduate up to a Step 3.

You can imagine how emotional I was when after all our hard work, we actually moved up two steps to a four! It was incredible news, and even better things started happening for us.

We were profiled in the Fremont newspaper. We were featured in the Rooted in Relationships video for the Fremont Family Coalition. I started getting more calls from new parents about our program. We have a waiting list of families. And, much better candidates for jobs were coming in to interview.

Most importantly, I believe our kiddos know the depth of our love for them. We will never stop improving for them. We are already preparing for our Step 5 rating, I’ve been going back to school, and we are constantly taking classes and reading new methods on early childhood education. We want to show our kids that even big people are always learning, and hopefully that inspires them to be lifelong learners, too.

The Busy First-Time Mom’s Guide to Finding Quality Child Care in Nebraska

When I found out I was going to have a child, I immediately began creating “to do” lists in my head around the kind of pregnancy experience I wanted to have: researching midwives and pediatricians, interviewing friends who were already parents, attending pre-natal yoga classes, and staying on top of work responsibilities while planning for maternity leave…

Searching for childcare on top of all of this was overwhelming. The thought of leaving my baby with strangers when I returned to work after twelve weeks post-partum made me break into a sweat.

If you’re an expecting parent and also feel worried about this last task, make a cup of tea and put your feet up. I have just the thing for you!

6 Easy Steps to Finding Child Care

1. Start early. Many places often have waiting lists for infants.

2. Make a list. (I love lists.) Spend a few minutes writing down what you want from child care. For example, some parents want a location near their home and others want something closer to work. Do you want a breastfeeding-friendly provider where you can feed your baby before leaving for work? Think about those “must haves” that are important to you. It’s different for everyone and that is OK.

3. Ask around. Get recommendations from your friends and co-workers who have gone through the search before. Consider posting on social media for referrals, too.

4. Research online. Read reviews on Google, Facebook and Yelp, and bookmark this page to check for the negative action reports that the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services publishes on the state’s child care providers.

5. Set up tours. It’s one thing to read about a program on a website, but you won’t get a complete view of the facility, staff, philosophies and curriculum until you see everything in person. Notice how you feel during and after the tour. I had places where I felt immediately comfortable and other locations where I couldn’t picture my baby spending her time.

6. Check with Step Up to Quality. It’s a program from the Nebraska Department of Education that helps families find child care providers who go the extra mile in demonstrating their commitment to early childhood education.

The entire Step Up to Quality website is a great resource for parents on what to look for in a child care provider. It has a helpful resource section, but what was most important to me was the listing of child care providers that are going through the program.

I went through the exact steps I listed above, and found that the child care provider that I was leaning toward was in the program, and at a step three! Just being enrolled in the program would have been enough for me, but to find they were advancing through it was icing on the cake. It was incredibly validating and gave me (and still gives me) peace of mind.

I wanted to find a place where my baby would obviously be given the necessary basics, but I also want more for her. I want her to be in a place where she’s loved and cuddled, where she’s challenged to hit developmental milestones, and where I feel a partnership with the teachers, and Step Up to Quality helped me find that. My sweet Harper is my whole world, and knowing she’s safe and cared for and learning new things every day is priceless.

Early Childhood Education State Reports (Public Schools and ESUs)

2016-17 Early Childhood Education Report
Long Report
Programs at a Glance Flyer

Morgan Krull

Morgan Krull

Step Up to Quality Program Coordinator

Morgan is the newest addition to the Step Up to Quality Team. She is excited to assist programs and their staff as they start and continue on their path to quality.

Morgan will help to answer any questions about Step Up to Quality or the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System. She is looking forward to serving providers and families through the helpline.

In her free time, Morgan enjoys spending time with family and friends. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Nicole Vint

Nicole Vint

Child Care Subsidy Administrator

Nicole has been a part of Step Up to Quality since 2013. Nicole actively works to increase accessibility and quality of child care for low income children and families in her role as Administrator for the Child Care and Development Fund Program with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Nicole has been with DHHS for more than 12 years in an array of positions. Much of her experience has been with the Division of Children and Family Services, Economic Assistance, focusing on empowering individuals and families to become self-sufficient.

Nicole received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in social work, with an emphasis on children and families, from the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Nicole enjoys spending time with her husband and children. Her pride and joy are her three beautiful daughters.

Tammi Hicken

Tammi Hicken

Early Childhood Data Manager

Tammi is in charge of the design and development of the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System (NECPRS). She works with Step Up to Quality staff to coordinate building and design efforts with the NECPRS programmers.

Tammi has worked for the Nebraska Department of Education for more than 10 years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and information management systems from Chadron State College.

Tammi and her family enjoy exploring different attractions across the state.

Melody Hobson

Melody Hobson

Early Childhood Administrator

Melody is the Administrator of the Office of Early Childhood at the Nebraska Department of Education. As a former child care director, Melody has always felt that a Quality Rating Improvement System, like Step Up to Quality, would help programs communicate their quality to the communities they serve.

Melody holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska Omaha and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She has approximately 10 years of experience as a teacher and director in community–based early childhood education and care programs.

Melody and her husband enjoy riding their bikes on local trails, as well as spending time with their son and daughter.

Diane Lewis

Diane Lewis

Step Up to Quality Rating Specialist

Diane oversees the rating reviews of participating Step Up to Quality programs reaching Steps 3, 4 or 5. Prior to joining the Step Up to Quality team, Diane spent more than 30 years working in child care, in the Child Care Grants and Child Care Licensing programs of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Diane received her degree in Psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her passions lie in understanding human behavior and how people of all ages think and learn, and helping people realize their own strengths to accomplish things they never thought possible.

Diane and her husband live in Omaha and are refusing to age gracefully.

Jenny Fleming

Jenny Fleming

Step Up to Quality Quality Specialist

Jenny coordinates observations for programs ready for a rating review in Step Up to Quality. She organizes all aspects of training for program assessments and assists programs with Environment Rating Scales (ERS) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) questions.

Jenny received her bachelor’s in early childhood education from Wayne State College. She has experience as an assistant director and director in early childhood programs and many years of teaching experience with infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Jenny is passionate about creating environments where all children can thrive as individuals while being given equal opportunity to learn from nurturing role models.

Jenny’s proudest accomplishment is earning the title of mom to two children.

Lynne Cook

Lynne Cook

Step Up to Quality Coach Specialist

Lynne is responsible for the recruitment, training, development and assignment of Step Up to Quality coaches. She helps child care programs understand the benefits of coaching and matches them with a coach to help them on their path to quality.

Lynne is a native Nebraskan but has had the opportunity to travel the world as a military spouse — which has provided her with a variety of rich early childhood experiences. She received her bachelor’s degree in early childhood educational studies from Empire State in New York.

Lynne’s experience includes a wide variety of early childhood roles, including family home care provider, lead teacher, preschool teacher, home visitor and Early Head Start supervisor. Lynne is passionate about high quality education for all children and wants caregivers to understand the incredible impact they can make on a child’s life.

Lynne and her husband are proud parents of four children and reside in Lincoln where they enjoy family, friends and Husker ballgames! GO BIG RED!