On April 24th, colleagues from the Office of Early Learning and School Readiness and The Centers for Families and Children presented at the 2nd Annual Ohio Early Childhood Mental Health Conference. The title of the session was Ohio’s Statewide Data: Preparing Ohio’s Children for Kindergarten Readiness. Presenters included Amy Parker, Jennifer Perkins, Elizabeth Sailer, Ed.D., Margie Spino, Ph.D., Christina Tomazinis, and Tonya Thompson.
The purpose of the intentional transformation session was to engage system partners in efforts to gain knowledge of Ohio’s success in implementing the statewide Early Learning Assessment (ELA) and Kindergarten Readiness Assessments (KRA). The session focused on recommended action and activities to enhance children’s achievement on the and the ELA and the KRA across major service delivery systems.
Statewide Kindergarten Readiness Assessment data from school years 2014-2017 indicated that more children in Ohio entered kindergarten in 2014-2016 demonstrating minimal or some of the foundational skills and behaviors than children demonstrating those foundational skills and behaviors that prepare children for instruction based on kindergarten standards. During this session, there was an emphasis on discussing the investments necessary to support early childhood development to improve kindergarten readiness
Five specific service delivery systems highlighted during this presentation included:
1. Home Visiting: Home visitors meet with families in the home environment from pregnancy through their child’s kindergarten entry, to help lay the foundation for the health, education, development, and economic self-sufficiency of the entire family.
2. Early Intervention: Early Intervention (EI) is a statewide system that provides coordinated early intervention services to parents of eligible children under the age of three with developmental delays or disabilities grounded in the philosophy that young children learn best from familiar people in familiar settings.
3. Early Care & Education: Early Care & Education programs are licensed by two major agencies: the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. All programs are eligible to apply for the Step Up to Quality rating and improvement system. Legislative mandates by 2020 ODE and ODJFS licensed programs must be star rated and by 2025 must be rated with 3, 4 or 5 stars.
4. Resource & Referral Agencies, State Support Teams, and other statewide supports: Resource & Referral Agencies provide professional development and technical assistance to local child care, early learning, and other child and youth learning and development systems. State Support Teams include regional Ohio educators with a history in school improvement, preschool and special education, and they provide local school districts with technical assistance, professional development and other supports. Other statewide supports such as the Ohio Department of Education employ Education Program Specialists to provide technical assistance, professional development and guidance to Ohio stakeholders.
5. Mental Health: The science of child development shows that the foundation for sound mental health is built early in life, as early experiences, shaping the architecture of the developing brain. Sound mental health provides an essential foundation of stability that supports all other aspects of child development from the formation of friendships and the ability to cope with adversity to the achievement of success in school.
In the early care and education field, stakeholders and families strive to make decisions based on personal preferences and beliefs, but also based on decisions that support the development and well-being of young children. Individuals working in specific organizations or systems retain autonomy while simultaneously acknowledging membership in the larger system. Much like the developing child is influenced by those systems surrounding them as seen in Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological approach to a child’s development, those supports surrounding the child must work in concert or harmony to be effective and meaningful.
With the guiding question, “What can we and these systems do to strengthen and improve kindergarten readiness?” participants worked in small groups facilitated by Amy Parker, Jennifer Perkins, Margie Spino, Christina Tomazinis, and Tonya Thompson. Each group had a graphic organizer with each of the five systems listed and space to discuss and document the following information:
- List 3 positive strategies already happening within these systems
- Come up with 3 recommendations that will support child development and learning, leveraging these systems
After each group had time for their discussions, Elizabeth Sailer collected the documentation from each facilitator. Total, the entire group listed 68 current positive strategies that are currently working or in progress within the systems and came up with 15 recommendations for leveraging those systems.
The groups identified where systems supporting the early childhood years offer many supports to families, parents and the development of the whole child. Some strategies are specific to certain regions or programs, such as Parent Plus, a home visiting program through the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Groups identified where services are offered free to families, while another group mentioned the importance of community organizations breaking down silos to further understand the problems associated with expulsion and transitions in early childhood programs.
To summarize, each group noted many great things happening in Ohio within these five systems, illustrated in Figure 1.
From these strategies, groups came up with a total of 15 recommendations to leverage what is currently happening to further support child development and learning. After synthesizing the recommendations from each group, five specific recommendations across the five systems emerged:
- Systematically involve third generation family members and community members in opportunities that increase their understanding of brain development and social emotional health, increase awareness of the availability of mental health resources, and promote home visits starting at prenatal and birth.
- Find out what is working in other places to involve parents in making smooth transitions from early intervention to preschool special education, along with a special analysis of graphics on counties and communities that includes resources, referrals and data, with this information available through a newly developed early childhood “Hub.”
- Create marketing resources to include in the child care search engine to explain in user friendly and clear language what the Step Up to Quality Star Ratings mean, and why it would benefit families to send their children to programs higher rated programs.
- Provide more money for universal preschool, funding for professional development, and increase wages to lessen the burden of low wages and high turnover.
- Support programs and organizations in preparing for their own readiness for mental health.
This intentional transformation session provided the opportunity for individuals to gain an understanding of what is involved in the various systems supporting the whole child in Ohio. Thank you to the participants and facilitators for engaging in such an important conversation during the presentation.
Since our joint focus is the success of each and every young child, how can we work in harmony with each other to strengthen and improve kindergarten readiness? The strategies are in place, and now it is up to individuals and organizations to put in the necessary investments and efforts to leverage the systems to put forth the recommendations from the system players. For questions or comments regarding the presentation or this summary please contact Elizabeth.Sailer@education.ohio.gov.