DAYTON, Ohio — An upcoming roundtable conversation aims to address ways to improve access to early education in Dayton by eliminating social and economic barriers.
What You Need To Know
- Improvements to early education is the focus of an upcoming roundtable discussion in Dayton
- More than 100 invited guests will discuss pre-kindergarten learning options
- The event sponsor is Waterford.org, a nonprofit focused on providing online early education tools
- A goal is to find a way to blend Waterford.org tools into existing resources in Dayton, the organization said
The “Partnering to Provide More Access to Early Childhood Education” event will take place Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Eichelberger Pavilion at Carillon Historical Park. The discussion — sponsored by early education nonprofit Waterford.org — goes from 8:30 to 10 a.m.
Utah-based Waterford.org uses a mix of state, federal and philanthropic funds to set up online early education programs in communities across the country.
Attendees of the invitation-only event will include a mix of elected officials, educators and community leaders. The conversation centers on identifying and overcoming barriers preventing children from equitably accessing high-quality learning experiences at an early age.
Dayton Mayor Jeffrey J. Mims Jr., who will be part of the main panel, emphasized the importance of creating a high-quality life for residents as young as 3 and 4 years of age.
“We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to send our youngest learners to school ready to engage academically and socially,” he added. “In order to do that, we have to explore all the possibilities in a multifaceted way, and the community roundtable will have the right people in one room for informed dialogue toward real, practical solutions.”
Research shows that a child’s brain grows more than 85% to 90% of adult size by the time they’re 5 years old — before they’ve ever stepped foot in a kindergarten classroom, according to the organization First Things First.
“Their brains are like sponges in those first five years of life. Anything we can do to get them on the right track before they enter school is going to be a positive thing,” said Kim Fischer, national spokesperson for Waterford.org.
The goal of early education, she said, is to set a foundation for young children, between 3 and 5 years old, to excel not only in kindergarten but throughout their academic careers.
“To get those things like letter recognition, number recognition, knowing letter sounds, is going to have that child walk into their kindergarten classroom with a foundation,” Fischer said. “That’s not only going to allow them to learn more quickly, but it’s going to give them confidence, and competence.”
Fischer noted research showing that when children have confidence, they do better in school. But some students are coming into kindergarten far behind their peers from an intellectual development standpoint, which makes it difficult for them to catch up.
“You have some children who are already starting to read, beginning to string letters together and make words, and then you have other children who don’t even have letter recognition yet,” Fischer said.
“That makes it very difficult for a kindergarten teacher to know who to teach to,” she added. “It’s those moments where a child doesn’t feel confident, that they don’t feel like they can raise their hand, that you start to see them fall back academically.”
On a five-star scale, Dayton Public Schools received one star in three categories — achievement, graduation and early literacy. The early literacy component measures the reading improvement and proficiency of students in kindergarten through third grade.
While 99.8% of the district’s third graders met the reading requirements for promotion to fourth grade, only 39.5% of them scored proficient on the reading segment of the state English language arts test, according to the report card.
The Department of Education noted the school district needs “significant support to meet state standards” in each of those areas.
DPS received two stars in progress and “closing the gap,” which looks at the district’s success in eliminating educational disparities between subgroups of students. The district’s graduation rate is 71.4%.
Andy Myers, the president and CEO of Waterford.org, pointed out that those issues aren’t Dayton-specific. He highlighted recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics that points out what he called an “alarming decline” in reading scores among the nation’s 9-year-olds.
“Early education can do so much to offset that,” he said, adding that the expected 100 or more attendees plan to “dig in toward that end” during the event.
Other panelists Tuesday will include Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli, University of Dayton associate professor of early education Shauna Adams, Dayton Board of Education President Will Smith and Beth Hess, learning director for Groundwork Ohio, the state’s early childhood advocacy organization.
Representatives and decision-makers from other education-centric organizations such as Head Start plan to be in attendance as well, Fischer said.
Over the course of the 90-minute working session, the group will do a deep dive in the currently available early education resources, assess how they’re being used and identify possible barriers to accessing them or what’s keeping them from being implemented successfully.
As part of the conversation, Waterford.org plans to look for community-specific ways to introduce its online early learning program. Known as Waterford Upstart, the digital tool teaches children the basic skills they need to excel in reading, math and science.
Fischer said Waterford.org’s goal is to fill in any gaps by working with existing programs.
One of those is Preschool Promise, a nonprofit funded by Montgomery County, the City of Dayton and local philanthropists to help young children get ready for kindergarten.
Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Preschool Promise, will give the opening remarks on Tuesday.
"We haven't had the opportunity to work with Waterford.org much in the past, but we're excited about this event and discussing partnership opportunities in Montgomery County,” said Emily Broughton, director of marketing and development at Preschool Promise.