NWA Forms Community Partnership for Early Childhood Education

United Way of Northwest Arkansas and Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center are working together to make high quality early childhood education accessible in Northwest Arkansas by increasing the number of Better Beginnings quality accredited centers.

Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center opened the Early Childhood Initiatives Center (ECIC) in 2009 as a place where all early childhood professionals can share knowledge, resources, and best practices to benefit the growth and education of young children. Their goal is to improve the quality of care and education in Northwest Arkansas for working families with children age 5 and under. They employ a 7-prong approach of professional and program development, accountability, resource and financial support, awareness and advocacy to create systemic change towards state quality accreditation. Since 2009, their work helped double the number of centers that have obtained quality accreditation.

In 2013, United Way of Northwest Arkansas partnered with Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center to sponsor a pilot program. This program studies the feasibility of centers to obtain quality accreditation standards in early childhood education. Through a mutual selection process, the two groups partnered with Central Child Care Center, Peace Kids and Siloam Springs Children’s Center to offer evaluation, support, and technical assistance to obtain the highest quality accreditation rating possible.

“The United Way Community Investment Volunteers in the Education focus area thought outside of the box in their recommendation of how United Way could invest in early childhood education. As a group of highly skilled education volunteers, they understand the importance of quality childcare and unanimously voted to invest United Way dollars in this initiative,” said Holly Sparks Hill, Vice President of Community Impact for the United Way of Northwest Arkansas.

The first stage of the feasibility study included a review of the minimum state licensing requirement, Environmental Rating Scale and Program Administration Scale. The first stage also included surveys on early childhood work environment and parent satisfaction. After all components were completed, Michelle Barnes, Executive Director of HWCEC, compiled a written report and presented it to each organization’s Board of Directors and leadership team as well as the United Way of Northwest Arkansas.

The first stage of the study will act as a benchmark for participating centers to move on to the second stage of the project, where the organizations can create a strategic plan for program improvements. As each organization implements action steps from the strategic plan, they can use the Feasibility Study results to benchmark improvements over time. The third and final phase is mentorship.

“Studies prove that children who attend high-quality pre-k programs do better in school from the first day of kindergarten through their post-secondary years. Compared with peers who have not had pre-k, they have higher achievement test scores; they repeat grades far less often; they need less special education; they graduate from high school at substantially higher rates; and they are more likely to attend college,” said HWCEC Executive Director Michelle Barnes. “Access to high quality early childhood education is a soft infrastructure need in our community, and our goal is to work with Central Child Care Center, Peace Kids and Siloam Springs Children’s Center as they work toward a 3 star rating, ensuring their program meets the highest levels in care and educational services, health and safety, and leadership and business practices.”

To celebrate the completion of the first stage of the study, United Way of Northwest Arkansas hosted an open house and celebratory luncheon with the participating centers on October 29th from 11:30am-1:00pm at United Way of NWA. At this event, participating centers announced their commitment to seek quality accreditation with Better Beginnings. HWCEC and United Way of Northwest Arkansas also announced the next steps for this community project.

Central Child Care Center:

Peace Kids:

Siloam Springs Children Center:

1A.J. Reynolds et al., “Age 21 Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Title I Chicago Child-Parent Centers,”Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 24(2002); Clive R. Belfield et al., “The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program: Cost-Benefit Analysis Using Data from the Age-40 Follow Up,”; Journal of Human Resources 41, no. 1 (2006); W. Steven Barnett and Leonard N. Masse, “Comparative Benefit-Cost Analysis of the Abecedarian Program and Its Policy implications,” Economics of Education Review 26 (2007).

About Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center
Children are our first priority at the Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center; their doors opened in 1982. They are a trusted name in both the community and the early childhood industry. Their commitment is to provide families access to the highest quality early childhood education and care. The Center reaches beyond our families served and collaborates with early childhood programs throughout Northwest Arkansas. Follow them on Facebook and #HWCEC.

About United Way of Northwest Arkansas
United Way is dedicated to helping advance the good of all in our community through focusing on the key issue areas of education, income health and creating a safety net to create lasting changes in our community. By engaging individuals and companies around giving, advocating and volunteering for these types of issues we can all work to Live United in Northwest Arkansas.