Why the first five years matter…to our kids, to Akron, and our foundation

Kirstin Toth \
March 29, 2019

Over the last year, GAR Foundation has been working with key community partners to take a closer look at a systems-focused strategy that will enhance early learning and childcare in Akron. Our work led us to the launch of STARS: Supporting Teachers & Ready Students, a demonstration project that will engage 24 community-based early learning centers in high-quality teaching and development practices.   With our $618,000 investment over two years, we’re placing a stake in the ground to define the supports that matter most to the teachers of our most important learners, kids age three to five, right here in Akron.

For early education teachers and caregivers, a profession that is undervalued despite the presence of many educated and credentialed professionals, we hope our professional development support, curricula, training, coaching, and family engagement will help stabilize childcare centers’ staffing, and ultimately support students’ learning. After a deep evaluation, we will know for sure how well this has worked in about three years from now.

But for today, we know this matters right now. For the more than 1,400 children served in the 24 participating STARS centers in Akron, as well as 228 teachers, the time is now- today, and every day- to help build brains that set our littlest learners on a path to success. Ninety percent of brain development occurs by the age of six. 

A baby’s brain has rapid-fire responses to stimuli both positive and negative, so investment in the first five years might be the most important that we can make. That’s why we are supporting children and their caregivers to provide a high-quality learning experience.

Our investment can also leverage other resources in the community, now and in the future. Take, for example, the state’s quality rating system for childcare centers. The higher quality rating they receive, the more reimbursement they can receive for their children who qualify for public subsidy. Governor DeWine’s budget released last week outlines a strong focus on early learning and support for quality, and our efforts locally help position our childcare centers to benefit from both state and federal investments in the next two years.

While all children benefit from high-quality early learning regardless of their socioeconomic status, children living in poverty benefit even more where there may be more stress at home due to a lack of financial resources, or where moms and dads are each working two jobs, or there is a lack of nearby extended family to help. A high-quality early learning environment can add value for both the child and her parents, engaging them in family-focused activities and quality enrichment.

Our ultimate goal with STARS is that children enter kindergarten ready to learn and ready for success. This matters to our community, to our Foundation, and most of all, to the kids who are Akron’s future.