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Childcare takes a village – Monroe County shows how it’s done

State Sen. Rosemary Brown reads a book on groundhogs to preschoolers at Inch by Inch Childcare Center.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
State Sen. Rosemary Brown reads a book on groundhogs to preschoolers at Inch by Inch Childcare Center.

Families with young children have lawmakers, community organizations, and child care providers in their corner in Monroe County.

After opening just a year and a half ago, Inch by Inch Childcare earned their Keystone STARS 3 rating on Feb. 2. STARS stands for ‘Standards, Training/Professional Development, Assistance, Resources, and Supports.’ It’s Pennsylvania’s way of assessing child care centers by their community engagement, learning environment, and other educational standards.

Melanie Gaughan, provider service manager for Early Learning Resource Center, broke down what STARS 3 means. STARS ratings range from one to four.

“They need to be doing family engagement activities like conferences, workshops. Maybe even have parents involved in maybe a parent-counsel group to support the policies and procedures of the program.” said Gaughan. “And as far as that leadership and management piece goes, we really want to see that they’re observing their staff and giving them meaningful feedback to implement in the classroom.”

Besides engagement and leadership, Director Amanda Mullikin emphasized how most of her job focuses on connecting families to community resources.

“A lot of the parents don’t know where to start for resources. That’s the big thing I am seeing. A lot of parents are coming to me, and like, they see that there’s something off with their child,” said Mullikin. “We also do developmental screenings here at the center. And we do conferences with those parents to talk [it] over [with] them and see if they also see [those problems] at home.”

Early intervention dramatically improves child development and enables families to give their children the best possible care, according to Mullikin. She started working with Pocono Mountains United Way shortly after starting Inch by Inch. They provide child development screenings free of charge to both the center and families.

As the Center received its STARS 3 status, Jennifer Pandolfo ran vision screenings on several preschoolers. She is the associate director of programs and services at Sights for Hope – a social service organization for the visually impaired.

Jennifer Pandolfo uses a Spot Vision Testing Camera
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Jennifer Pandolfo uses a Spot Vision Testing Camera to check a child's eyesight.

Kids’ education and social development hinges on their ability to see and interact with the world around them. Holding a block-shaped camera, Pandolfo explained how she is able to provide families accurate medical information while on the go.

“And it takes a picture of a child’s eye within three to five seconds. And we’re able to identify possibly six different eye conditions that the child might be experiencing. And then we inform the parents of what the results of the screening are, and how parents get some eye care, if needed,” said Pandolfo.

Pocono Mountains United Way pays for Pandolfo’s services. Their Healthy Start Child Screening Program also brings hearing and dental services to child care centers across Monroe County.

Beyond free screenings for centers and families, Pandolfo added that families with financial concerns can get extra support for any pre-kindergarten care.

“We work with local Lions Clubs to help purchase or pay for those exams. We also have partners with other insurance…companies that give us vouchers. So, we kind of have some resources to give to parents,” said Pandolfo. “We make sure the kids get the help they need... and economics is not a reason why they’re not ready for school.”

Families involved with the Healthy Start program can also get support in covering hearing and dental needs for their kids, said Roxanne Powell. She is the local United Way’s community impact manager.

Like Inch by Inch’s director, Powell highlighted how early child care providers must support parents and guardians in meeting their child’s needs. And her successes keep her going.

“If you get done with a night [of work] and you have a parent that said, ‘I never knew there was anything wrong with my child,’ you’re like, ‘Okay, y’know, now we know – it values what you’re doing,’” said Powell. “Or, ‘I couldn’t find anybody to help me,’ we’ve had that [from families]. We’ve had a lot of different testimonies.”

Inch by Inch was awarded their STARS 3 status on Feb. 2. From left to right: Lynda Castro, STARS Quality Coach, ELRC; Melanie Gaughan, Provider Service Manager, ELRC; Roxanne Powell, Community Impact Manager, Pocono Mountains United Way
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Inch by Inch was awarded their STARS 3 status on Feb. 2. From left to right: Lynda Castro, STARS Quality Coach, ELRC; Melanie Gaughan, Provider Service Manager, ELRC; Roxanne Powell, Community Impact Manager, Pocono Mountains United Way; Amanda Mullikin, Director, Inch by Inch; Rosemary Brown, State Senator.

Inch by Inch Childcare, Pocono Mountains United Way, and Early Learning Resource Center work together in Monroe County to provide services to children and their families.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org