Justina Freedman, a mentor with the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project (QIP) of Niagara University, works with a student at LaSalle Early Childhood Center in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The Niagara QIP was recently cited as an exemplary program in a comprehensive review of Western New York's early childhood system.

The Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project (QIP), an initiative launched by Niagara University in 2010 to enhance early childhood development, was cited for excellence in a comprehensive study released July 16 that assessed the needs of early childhood education in Western New York.

The $350,000 study, commissioned by a group of 25 foundations and organizations known collectively as Liftoff, listed the Niagara QIP as one of six exemplary programs that are doing the most to serve the region’s youngest residents and their families.

More than 300 early childhood experts, providers, government officials, nonprofit executives and staff, members of the philanthropic community and parents were polled for the study by Public Sector Consultants of Lansing, Mich.

“Mounting research indicates that early childhood care and education programs work and are much more effective than later attempts at remediation, so it’s inspiring to see so many stakeholders making it a higher priority,” said Patti Wrobel, executive director of Niagara University’s Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement, which houses the Niagara QIP. “The Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project is a shining example of the long-term impact that can be made in our communities if we are collaborative and strategic about our health and education programs for young children.”

The Niagara QIP began as a partnership between the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo via the Niagara Area Foundation, the United Way of Greater Niagara and Niagara University to improve the learning environments in childcare centers and increase school readiness of preschool children. Its administrators worked with 30 childcare centers and 44 preschool classrooms as part of phase one, while phase two focused on infant and toddler development through developmental screening, professional development, leadership capacity and improved learning environments.

The third (and current) phase of the trailblazing program is intent on strengthening academic and social-emotional transitions for children entering kindergarten. Just this year, Niagara University has hosted a Kindergarten Transition Summit, four sessions of Kindercamp, nine parent workshops and nine sessions of “Books, Balls and Blocks,” a children’s educational program that also presents opportunities for early childhood developmental, literacy and vision screenings.

Financial support for the Niagara QIP has been provided by The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, the Grigg Lewis Foundation, United Way of Greater Niagara and the Children’s Guild Foundation.  

Another NU-affiliated program that was lauded in the Liftoff report is Help Me Grow Western New York (HMGWNY), which provides families in Erie and Niagara Counties with information, referrals to existing resources and help connecting them with those resources.

HMGWNY was conceptualized in 2009 and launched in 2011 by the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York and key stakeholders, including NU’s College of Education. In 2012, HMGWNY was named the sole New York state affiliate of Help Me Grow National.

In 2017, HMGWNY was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for its continued regional implementation of the comprehensive child development collaborative. Niagara University was selected to manage the three-year grant.

“Since the day Father Maher arrived as our 26th president, he has placed a pronounced emphasis on providing our youngest children with a strong educational foundation for sustainable academic achievement,” added Wrobel. “It’s a testament to Father Maher and the incredible people involved with the Niagara QIP and Help Me Grow WNY that Niagara University is being recognized by objective evaluators in the area of early childhood development.”

To learn more about the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project, please visit www.niagara.edu/qip. Additional information on Help Me Grow Western New York is available at http://helpmegrowny.org.

Niagara University also offers a multitude of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in early childhood education. For information, please visit www.niagara.edu/education or call 716.286.8560.