February 4, 2019

Early Childhood Resource Center part of $618,000 GAR Foundation initiative to advance quality in Akron preschools

The GAR Foundation recently announced the launch of a new $618,000 initiative designed to advance early childhood learning in Akron’s neighborhoods with the greatest needs. The initiative is a collaboration between GAR Foundation, the Early Childhood Resource Center, Summit Education Initiative and Kent State University’s Center for Public Policy and Health.

The new initiative, called STARS: Supporting Teachers and Ready Students, will engage a group of 23 community-based preschools and day care providers in Akron to participate in the two-year program. The early learning centers will receive professional development and training on high-quality and engaged learning techniques, including coaching for preschool administrators on how to navigate the state’s quality rating system, Step Up to Quality and increase their ratings by 2020.

A kickoff event to celebrate the preschools selected to participate in STARS was held January 31 and the project will begin in February.

STARS addresses the need for professional development in early childhood education and draws from research supporting the long-term, positive impact high-quality early learning has on students later in life.

“High-quality learning starts with teachers,” said Kirstin Toth, senior vice president of GAR Foundation. “We know that helping young children get the right start is the most important investment we can make in the educational continuum. Sixty percent of children who show up at Akron Public Schools’ kindergartens are not ready to learn. If we want to see systemic progress in early learning, the system needs an infusion of quality professional development, resources, and support for those caring for and teaching our youngest learners.”

One of the participating centers is Irma Jones Preschool, which has been serving the east Akron community for nearly 50 years. “I am excited to be a member of the STARS program,” said Danielle Curry-Bentley, director of Irma Jones Preschool. “I believe the guidance and expert coaching will assist us in moving our school from good to great.”

“The ultimate goal of STARS is to prepare teachers in more advanced techniques that help them better serve their children and families, in turn supporting the next generation of learners,” said Toth. “We are thrilled to work with this group of committed educators over the next couple of years, and look forward to demonstrating how effective methods, taken together, can support meaningful educational advancement for young children in Akron.”

Specialists from the Early Childhood Resource Center will provide educators in the selected early learning centers with intensive training and coaching on cognitive and social-emotional learning over two years. Professional development will include training on evidence-based classroom curricula, leadership development, child development credentialing, trauma-informed care, family engagement strategies and more.

“We’re pleased to partner with GAR and to demonstrate that high-quality child care and family engagement really do increase school readiness,” said Scott Hasselman, executive director of the Early Childhood Resource Center. “This project, with its strong evaluation component, will demonstrate that the hard work early-care providers do to improve quality has an impact on children’s lives, long into the future.”

Summit Education Initiative (SEI) will support the effort by coordinating teacher observations and the Transition Skill Summary report, which helps parents know how their preschooler is doing on academic, social, and physical skills in preparation for kindergarten. SEI will also facilitate connections between preschool and kindergarten educators through its Readiness Coalitions.

“Children who begin kindergarten on track for success are more than twice as likely to read on grade level during the first years of school,” said Laura DiCola, Summit Education Initiative’s Early Childhood Strategy Leader. “The coalitions bring kindergarten and preschool educators together with community partners to develop targeted, data-informed strategies to improve school readiness in a specific neighborhood or community. SEI is eager to strengthen this work with deep engagement from the STARS centers.”

Overall program evaluation will be conducted by Dr. Peter Leahy from Kent State University’s Office of Public Policy and Health.

“We seek to demonstrate the value of the various elements of the initiative,” said Toth, “and most importantly, be transparent about what works.”

The Early Childhood Resource Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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