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Since 2012, I have worked with a statewide team to support implementation of the nationally recognized After School Quality (ASQ) project created by the National Institute of Out of School Time (NIOST).  Through this involvement, I learned about Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia and was recently able to experience their success first hand. 

Mercy Neighborhood Ministries is a Keystone STAR 4 early learning program and After-School Quality (ASQ) site. This Department of Human Services (DHS) certified childcare center serves 140 preschool and school-age children. They use a blended funding approach from Head Start, PA Pre-K Counts, Mercy Ministries community dollars provided through local business leaders and childcare works. Using blended sources of funding allows Mercy to serve more children in a high quality manner. It also allows for adopting the best practices of each type of service and stronger collaborative ties to funders. Mercy Neighborhood is demonstrating stakeholder involvement, collaboration and teamwork, three concepts at the foundation of the ASQ process.

My visit began with a tour, where I learned about the Mercy Neighborhood STEM curriculum, which evolved through the ASQ process. We stopped at a fish tank  and heard about Aquaponics, an ecosystem of plant and water life, resulting in  growing herbs off of the fish tank below. We also learned about the teaching supports and how the school approaches the curriculum through hands on learning and coaching. In addition to STEM, the Director, Barbara Coleman, spoke about one of their community outreaches, teaching children and their families about recycling and implementing a community-wide recycle program. 

“I believe that children deserve the best, and it is my job along with our teams of teachers, the ministry and the community to work together to make this happen,” Ms. Coleman said.

Ms. Coleman expressed that her program sustains their quality and their staff because of strong leadership, the programs’ conviction to their mission, educated staff, and relationships across all sectors inside the program and outside the program.  In fact, the facility also hosts an intergenerational group that reaps the benefits of meals, activities and connection with the young, along with a GED Study program.

Ms. Coleman invites all to see the program in action, stating “It is important to share with others how to approach high quality practices. This is why I use a TA consultant, this is why I mentor others, and this is why we open our doors for people to visit.”

I encourage everyone to take the time to visit other local programs to see quality care in action!

Photo, above: Barbara Coleman, Shanta Lemons and Donna Smith with the aquaponics project, fish and plant growing ecosystem.

By Betsy O. Saatman, Statewide School Age Credentialed (SAC) Technical Assistance Specialist

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