Feiro, president of Crookston Childcare Association, says she's a fan.

    Parent Aware, a new rating tool designed to help Minnesota parents find high quality early learning programs that help children prepare for kindergarten, is expanding to Polk County in 2013.

    Kim Feiro, a longtime licensed childcare provider in Crookston and president of the Crookston Childcare Association, said she's a fan of the new resource for parents and childcare providers.

    "It tells parents what providers do, which is the kind of information parents want to know," she told the Times. Using a star rating system, Feiro said the number of stars a provider has on Parent Aware indicates how much training they've undergone and continue to participate in. Other stars measure various other provider performance criteria.

    Parent Aware was launched in the Twin Cities metro area, Feiro said, and has been working its way into greater Minnesota. Becker, White Earth and Clearwater counties currently utilize the resource, she said.

    Currently, Parent Aware exists on a voluntary basis; if a childcare provider does not want to be listed the provider doesn't have to be. Feiro said the Crookston Childcare Association figures that at some point in the future childcare providers will be required to participate in Parent Aware.

    "This is not only a good resource for parents, it's also a great opportunity for providers to show that they are doing well and providing a quality service," Feiro said. "They can show that they're doing training to stay fresh."

About Parent Aware
    Parent Aware was developed to assist parents in identifying the kind of high quality early learning that helps kids prepare for kindergarten. The one-to four-star ratings synthesize years of research on early childhood development to provide an objective assessment of practices that are most predictive of kindergarten readiness, including physical health and wellbeing, teaching and relationships, assessment of child progress and teacher training and education.

     “Parents can instinctively judge if a child care provider is safe, clean, affordable and in a good location,” said Ericca Maas, executive director for Parent Aware for School Readiness. “But based on a brief visit or talk with a provider alone, it’s nearly impossible to learn whether that provider is using a full range of early learning best practices. Parent Aware provides this difficult-to-obtain information to help parents determine how well a provider will prepare their child for kindergarten.”

     To date, parents in Polk County have had to rely on their own networks and other resources that fall short on measuring kindergarten readiness for child care referrals. Come July 2013, more than a dozen area providers will be rated and searchable via parentawareratings.org. More rated providers will continue to come online as the ratings expand statewide in 2014 and 2015.

    Feiro expects that the new resource won't be universally popular among childcare providers. "Not all providers probably will want to do it," she said. "And, as long as it's voluntary, not all of them will do it."

     Providers who volunteer to be rated receive access to quality improvement grants and consultants who coach them through the improvements needed to increase quality. Most providers use this assistance to improve the physical learning environment, expand curriculum and purchase classroom materials. Parent Aware rated providers also receive free marketing materials and access to the growing number of families using parentawareratings.org to shop for child care and early learning programs.

     Providers interested in receiving a rating in the first half of 2013 need to sign-up by Jan. 1, 2013. Providers that sign-up by Jan. 1 will also have access to a one-time $500,000 pool of additional quality improvement funding.

     For more information and to sign up, providers can visit parentawareratings.org/providers or contact Maureen Ham at 218 773-5349 or mhams@tvoc.org.