By Julianne Blazevic
St. James Preschool in West Duluth was recently awarded a four-star rating (the highest rating) by the Parent Aware program, meaning the school and its preschool teacher have gone through extensive training and documented the research-based approach to learning used in its preschool classroom. Currently, in the Diocese of Duluth, two other Catholic Schools have this same rating for their preschool programs: Queen of Peace in Cloquet and St. Michael’s Lakeside in Duluth.
Our purpose in pursuing this was to make sure we were using practices that best prepare our students for kindergarten and to showcase our preschool program alongside other public and private partners in preschoo education. When a program volunteers to participate in the Parent Aware Star Rating process, Parent Aware says it’s a way to say they are “letting their stars shine.”
“They are going above and beyond health and safety requirements and are sharing that with families looking for quality care and education programs.”
The Parent Aware program is a rating system set up by the state of Minnesota that helps connect parents with preschools that have volunteered for extra, in-depth training; devoted themselves to strong, caring relationships with each child; adopted the latest approaches to keeping children’s learning on track; and committed to daily activities and routines that help children learn.
Participating programs receive a rating of one, two, three or four stars. Parent Aware ratings are based on demonstrated use of practices that best prepare children for kindergarten. Each rating level builds on the next, helping families easily identify how far a program has progressed in adopting these practices.
Becky VanRiper, the preschool teacher at St. James, completed more than 100 hours of professional development courses and documented how the St. James Preschool curriculum was aligned with Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress standards. She also provided documentation to the Parent Aware program detailing the educational program, learning tools and the classroom layout at St. James. VanRiper was also observed by an official from the State of Minnesota to ensure the quality of her teaching style.
While public preschools are given a “fast track” to a four-star rating, the process for private programs is much more rigorous, but the process pays off for both our St. James School and our families. According to Parent Aware guidelines, we are “a quality program and use all the best practice techniques, and use the best kindergarten readiness strategies that are available.”
The same funds that are available to public preschool programs are now available to the St. James preschool, because it is a four-star rated program. This rating gives St. James preschool families access to Minnesota Early Learning Scholarships to help pay student tuition. The scholarships have a need-based element and help parents of varying income levels pay for preschool for their children.
Most importantly, now and throughout the rating process, St. James School (preschool through eighth grade) continues to maintain a high sense of Catholic identity throughout its curriculum and values development of the Catholic faith as the way to help children make appropriate moral and spiritual decisions throughout life. We believe that all people are created by God to be regarded with dignity and respect. This is best developed through modeling the values of our faith.
Children are made in God’s image, and we value their unique needs and learning styles. We believe effective learning is achieved through a variety of experiences in a safe environment. Catholic education is the combined responsibility of home, school, church and the community.
I encourage parents of children who seek a quality Catholic school education to schedule a tour at their local Catholic school. Staff and faculty work tirelessly to provide the best possible experience possible. You will not be disappointed. St. James is just one example of many Catholic schools across the Diocese of Duluth where we “let our stars shine.”
Julianne Blazevic is principal of St. James School in Duluth.