Over the past 10 years, thousands of children have participated in early learning centers designated as Keystone STARS programs throughout the state. For some, this experience has meant a safe and nurturing place to grow, for others, a place to address and overcome delays. For all children, participating in quality early education through Keystone STARS is helping them become the Shining Stars they deserve to be.

This year Pennsylvania is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Keystone STARS. As part of the celebration, Carbon County Local Education and Resource Network (LEARN) solicited nominations of children as Shining Stars from parents and teachers of children in the county's Keystone STARS programs,

Children nominated as Shining Stars were enrolled for at least six months in a Keystone STARS program with a STAR 2, 3 or 4 rating. Parents, teachers and children wrote essays explaining why each child is a Shining Star and how participating in a Keystone STARS program made a difference in their lives.

Colby Kunkle, 10-year-old son of David and Donna Kunkle, has attended Hug A Daycare (a 2-STAR provider) on Interchange Road in Lehighton since he was 8 weeks old. He was nominated as a Shining Star by both his teacher and his mother.

"Colby exemplifies what a boy his age can be. He is kind and helpful with other children. He assists them and encourages them" stated Cindy Simmons, owner/teacher at Hug A Daycare.

His mother wrote in her essay, "Cindy and her whole staff are always there if you need a hand or just someone to talk to. They are always willing to go out of their way to help. This is why we would highly recommend Hug A Daycare to any parents who are looking for a safe and secure place for their little ones!"

Each nominee's story is posted on the Pennsylvania's Promise for Children website at http://paprom.convio.net/stars10 [1].

Started as a pilot program in 2002, Keystone STARS is proven to improve the quality of child care based on an independent study and offers parents a tool to gauge the quality of the programs they choose. Participating child care and Head Start programs earn a STAR 1 to STAR 4 level by meeting quality standards for teacher qualifications, learning environment and program management.

Since 2002, Keystone STARS has been instrumental in improving quality in child care programs; increasing quality and effectiveness of professional development for early childhood professionals and raising the bar for quality early childhood education in all settings.

The percentage of preschoolers in Keystone STAR 3 and 4 programs with age-appropriate language, math and social skills doubled from beginning to end of the 2010-2011.

There are 12 Keystone STARS programs in Carbon County. Approximately 39 percent of regulated child care centers in Carbon County participate in Keystone STARS. These programs currently serve 510 children.