One of only 13 programs nationwide, the New St. Paul Head Start agency of Detroit, MI, is a Head Start Program of Excellence. NHSA’s Program of Excellence is earned by programs consistently demonstrating excellence in management, service performance, and robust outcomes for children birth to five years old, pregnant people, families, and their communities. The agency, which has 11 sites, earned this accreditation as a result of its outstanding performance–in particular, in their exemplary work to provide safe and healthy environments for children and teachers throughout the pandemic.
Closed indoor spaces, such as classrooms, require unique maintenance and sanitization to protect children, teachers, staff, and families. New St. Paul was an early adopter in leveling-up their safety measures. Behind this innovation is Executive Director Cheryl McFall, who has worked closely with her dedicated team to ensure children are healthy, well-nourished, and protected.
A former Head Start teacher and parent herself, McFall introduced Innovative Healthcare Solutions (IHS) products to her team after she learned about them at a conference prior to the pandemic. Her Head Start experience allowed her to anticipate future needs of children, teachers, and staff. Her forward-thinking also helped with workforce retention.
With IHS’s help, the program installed a sanitizing and disinfecting cabinet and a state-of-the-art air purification station in all classrooms to prevent contamination and contagion of diseases. Thanks to this technology, the staff and teachers make sure children’s toys, books, and all objects in classrooms are disinfected, clean, and safe to use. Moreover, air ventilation and filtration systems play a significant role in reducing the risks of contagion inside the classroom.
“We’re excited about the fact that we were able to get this technology in our programs. That really helps with the quality of the care that we provide for the children,” stated McFall.
IHS Business Development Manager Lisa Greenfield talked to us about how she experienced the needs for innovative healthcare solutions, firsthand when she was a Head Start teacher.
“When I was teaching, I caught COVID-19 and was struggling to continue to teach. It was through that struggle that I realized an infiltration system must be ceiling-based so that it covers the entire room, instead of in a corner, and that it should be away from children’s reach.”
New St. Paul’s Health Data Specialist Samantha Gooden observed another positive effect of these new tools: they also allowed teachers to focus on their practice. In turn, children had more opportunities to learn.
“Teachers are able to work on notes and other duties during the sanitizing and disinfecting cycles,” said Gooden. “It allows our teams to do other things in the classroom.”
These preventive measures earned the agency the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration Workplace Safety Ambassador Program Award. As Ambassadors in the program, New St. Paul was a model of success for implementing safety precautions during the pandemic.
The agency’s proactive planning also allowed them to keep their doors open during the pandemic, when most school doors were closed.
Moreover, prioritizing health and safety tools contributed to workforce retention. One of the Head Start teachers left New St. Paul during the pandemic for higher pay elsewhere, only to return because other child care providers did not offer such prevention practices.
“They paid more, but they didn’t have any of the health and safety protocols in place like we did,” said McFall.
The Program of Excellence Accreditation recognizes and supports the outstanding performance like this through a three-month application and evaluation process, which begins in February. Programs have an opportunity to showcase all the facets of their operation. For the 2023 cohort, registration is open until Friday, January 20.