Every weekday morning, children and families arrive at the Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning and Research. The center’s deep colors, soft lighting, natural materials, and cozy, child-sized furniture provide a welcoming environment for hours of play-based learning opportunities.

This carefully crafted ambiance goes hand-in-hand with the center’s latest accomplishment. The National Association for the Education of Young Children awarded the school a new, five-year term of accreditation, after the successful completion of the rigorous renewal process.

For reaccreditation, the center had to submit extensive application materials, including teacher and administrator qualifications, a professional development plan, and the results of teacher and family surveys.

The materials showcased how the center meets the association’s 10 Early Learning Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria. These criteria highlight best practices involving relationships between staff and family, curriculum, teaching, child progress assessments, health, teachers, family, community relationships, the physical environment, and leadership and management.

“We also needed to submit several portfolios to provide evidence for center- and classroom-specific standards,” said Karen Gallagher, director of the center. “An onsite assessor reviewed our materials and surveys, and then completed classroom observations to verify the information.”

During the site visit, the center presented its curriculum strengths and effectiveness in the areas of social-emotional support, physical activity, language skills, early literacy, early mathematics, science, technology, creative expression, appreciation for the arts, social studies, and health and safety.

“These areas are enhanced through a play-based learning approach,” said Alexa Gardner, the center’s curriculum coordinator. “This method involves the use of small-group interactions for the construction of knowledge, and an intentional outdoor curriculum. Children explore ideas independently, so they learn in a hands-on way rather than being only teacher directed.”

And how did the center fare in the reaccreditation? It excelled. In each of the 10 standards required, the center received scores of 100 percent or even higher. The average classroom rating was 99.5 percent.

“Reaccreditation — especially at such a high score — brings a great deal of prestige to Virginia Tech,” said Anisa Zvonkovic, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Science. “It’s the validation of the expertise and hard work our early childhood professionals demonstrate every day as they work to enhance development of young children in our community.”

Accredited since 1987, the Child Development Center for Learning and Research opened in 2005 as a full-time, year-around facility.

“At that time, we transitioned from a part-time lab school into a full-time school to help meet the demand for high-quality care and learning within our campus community,” Gallagher said. “Our history, though, dates back to the 1940s when the university’s Department of Home Economics started the first childhood development center.”

The center moved into its current Wallace Hall home under the auspices of the Department of Human Development, now the Department of Human Development and Family Science, in 1968.

The center now does more than provide child care; it also fulfills the service missions of Virginia Tech. By offering a model preschool program, it is a leader for local, state, and national early-childhood-care communities in teaching, learning, and research.

“As our recent accreditation scores reflect, we deliver professional education for those going into human services fields,” Gallagher said.

Since the start of the current academic year, 130 students from the Department of Human Development and Family Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences have engaged in field studies, service learning projects, or classroom observations. In addition, 25 students in the Department of Psychology from the College of Science are participating in observations this semester.

In addition to the center’s successful reaccreditation, it rated a Level 5 in 2017 from Virginia Quality, the state’s voluntary quality rating and improvement system, making it one of a handful of child development centers in the state to achieve the top level.

Written by Leslie King