In recognition of excellence and an ongoing commitment to children, Newcomerstown Learning Center has received a Two-Star Step Up To Quality Award from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Bureau of Child Care and Development, the state agency responsible for licensing and promoting high standards among Ohio's early care and education programs.

"We congratulate HARCATUS Head Start for its high-quality early care and education program that goes above and beyond Ohio's licensing standards. By reaching for the stars, Newcomerstown Learning Center is helping our youngest children develop in a warm, nurturing environment that fosters growth and a love for learning," said Terrie Hare, chief, Ohio Bureau of Child Care and Development.

Step Up To Quality is Ohio's voluntary rating system for early care and education programs. Participants can earn a one, two or three-Star Rating by meeting an extensive list of quality benchmarks. Experts say these benchmarks improve the growth and development potential of children. The rating system also gives parents a useful tool for selecting quality early childhood programs.

Two-Star Step Up To Quality programs meet these criteria:

* Have a ratio of one teacher for every five infants (ages birth-12 months), one teacher for every six infants (ages 12-18 months), one teacher for every seven toddlers (ages 18-36 months), one teacher for every 10 preschoolers (ages 36-48 months), one teacher for every 12 preschoolers (ages 48-60 months) and one teacher for every 16 school-aged children (ages 5-15 years)

* Half of the lead teachers have an AA Degree in Early Childhood Education or related field or meet a Career Pathways Level 3. (Career Pathways is a statewide system for quantifying the formal education, experience and training of professionals. It is used as an alternative to holding the specified degree in Step Up To Quality Benchmarks.)

* Teachers plan learning activities with Ohio's Early Learning Content Standards and Infant and Toddler Guidelines.

* Teachers and administrators receive ten hours of specialized training per year.

* Employees are offered at least two employee benefits, which results in a lower turnover rate.

The Newcomerstown Learning Center staff include: Shawna McCoun, teacher; Lori McMahon, classroom assistant; Linda Davis, special needs assistant; Stephanie Allan, family advocate; Lou Gram, food service assistant; and Debra Wright, bus aide.

"They are pleased to become Star Rated. It shows parents that we are serious about the quality of our program. What this means for families is more and better educated teachers working at our program, a commitment to making early learning an important part of our program and a higher degree of professionalism all around," said Nancy Reed, program director.

Achieving these benchmarks is crucial for the future of Ohio's children. A total of 90 percent of brain development occurs before the age of five. Children enrolled in high quality early learning programs are more likely to stay in school, attend college, earn more money and be employed in high-skilled jobs than their peers.

Step Up To Quality is available statewide. Visit www.stepuptoquality.org for information.