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Not Just Babysitting: Initiative Aims to Improve Early Childhood Education in Akron

Lois Lester

By: Jennifer Pignolet, Akron Beacon Journal

For a moment, Tequlla Thomas almost had all four 2-year-olds sitting together on their floor cushions in preparation for story time at Lois Lester’s Learning Center.

Just as she secured one tiny tot, however, another found interest in a row of books in the corner of the room. Then another discovered a plastic elevated sandbox that required his immediate attention.

“Andrew,” Thomas said to one of them, coaxing him back to the circle. “Abigail,” she called to a little girl with a toy car in her hand.

“Car!” Abigail exclaimed.

“That is a car! What color is it?” the teacher asked.

“Blue!” the little girl replied.

Story time was clearly a bust. But the structure of the activity wasn’t as important as the fact that the toddlers were still engaged.

Patience for such a moment, and the ability to be flexible and redirect to an activity that will capture a small child’s attention, is what the Akron child care center’s leaders want to see from their teachers.

It’s also the kind of teacher-student interaction that coaches from the Early Childhood Resource Center are proud to see after six months of working with Lois Lester’s staff around building an age-appropriate curriculum and establishing meaningful relationships with the kids in their care.

The effort is part of an Akron-focused initiative to improve the quality of early education and to better prepare more students for kindergarten.

Changing the system

Lois Lester’s is one of 24 child care providers taking part in the initiative through the Early Childhood Resource Center and the Summit County-based GAR Foundation.

Supported by a $618,000 grant from the foundation, the ECRC launched the “STARS: Supporting Teachers and Ready Students” initiative.

Kirstin Toth, senior vice president for the GAR Foundation, said the goal was to invest in early childhood education in a way that would change the system. Only 40% of 5-year-olds entering Akron Public Schools are considered ready for kindergarten, and students who come from low-income households are often the furthest behind.

“This is capacity building at its very basic level, and the ultimate benefit is to kids,” she said.