Two Years of STARS: Supporting Teachers & Ready Students

Kirstin Toth \
January 14, 2021

It’s fair to say that education begins the moment we see children as innately curious and open to the world around them. (That’s every child from birth!)

That moment is our cue to be the purveyors of all that feeds a child’s curiosity. With a goal to support child care teachers who spend their days (and sometimes nights) with our youngest learners, GAR Foundation began a two-year initiative called STARS: Supporting Teachers & Ready Students

Preschool or childcare settings offer a rich opportunity to support the development of the whole child, including physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development. Decades of research support the understanding that brain development is most rapid from birth to age five, and the importance of early, positive connections to adults cannot be understated. As Bill Gates has stated, “the first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.” 

For the last two years, 24 early childhood centers in Akron have participated in the Foundation’s deep learning initiative, STARS. These centers represent 160 teachers serving more than 1,400 preschoolers. Thanks to the early childhood experts at the Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC), the participating centers have entered the State of Ohio’s quality rating system known as StepUp To Quality (SUTQ) and achieved a high-quality rating (3 to 5 stars out of five) as a result of their hard work. 

Over the past two years, the ECRC coaches have provided training in new curriculum, support to reimagine and refurbish classrooms, business management practices, staff training to achieve Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials, one-on-one coaching, mentoring, and peer networking. The results have been outstanding.  

Here are a few comments from our STARS centers: 

“My center is about to move to a 5 SUTQ rating. I never believed that was possible before STARS.”

“The tuition money was not the primary value of the CDA [credential]. It was the training itself and the STARS staff support.”

“Megan and Eli helped us to understand the importance of lesson planning.”

“I feel like the program helped with learning how to be more of a diverse teacher. How to expand on what we think, and how to get more to the children’s level. We like to think we are the best teacher out there and STARS helped me to realize that there is always room to grow as a teacher.”

But, most importantly, the proof is also in the outcomes for the children, including this data from our Kent State University evaluators

  • STARS children significantly outperformed a non-STARS comparison group on Language & Literacy Development, Cognition & General Knowledge, and Physical Health & Motor Development;
  • STARS students in a 3 or greater star-rated program statistically outperformed non-STARS children in similarly rated programs on all Transitions Skills Summary dimensions, suggesting that it’s not only the Center’s rating that makes a difference for students, but the support and work with the ECRC.

We know that the pandemic has had adverse effects on our entire community, and early childhood/child care settings have not escaped the financial and health stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why GAR Foundation will continue supporting the ECRC to work with this group of committed child care centers for another two years, to see them through the learning recovery that will be needed for the children in their care, and to continue to help them advance their profession.  

If we want the “next 80 years” to provide engaged, productive citizens, then our work starts right here, right now—in the first five years. 

We extend our thanks to the women and men of STARS for their commitment to our children and to our future.