By The Canton Repository Editorial Board
Among the jobs of adults in every community are to get kids into schools prepared to learn, and once they’re there to keep them safe.
A pair of initiatives coming out of Columbus on Wednesday provide action plans to help ensure we can accomplish those important tasks in Stark County.
A policy research and advocacy organization called Groundwork Ohio unveiled what it is calling “Ready, Set, Soar Ohio.” Its goal: focusing on children’s development from prenatal care to age 3. It will target its efforts at pregnant women and their infants and toddlers in economically distressed households to provide greater access to a variety of services kids need in those irreplaceable early years of their growth.
Health care providers, child care instructors, youth advocacy groups and other professionals will play roles in working with the at-risk population. According to Groundwork Ohio, roughly half of all infants and toddlers in the state belong to families earning 200% of the federal poverty level or less in household income.
Health and education experts know all too well how poverty directly correlates with access to proper prenatal care and, thus, development of kids in their early years. It’s a major reason only 41% of all Ohio children are prepared to learn at the kindergarten level upon entering school.
“Our greatest opportunity to close gaps, whether in health or educational outcomes, is where they begin: during the first three years of a child’s life, when 80% of brain growth is happening,” Shannon Jones, executive director of Groundwork Ohio, said at a news conference in the Statehouse.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Dave Yost was announcing a training tool for school personnel and law enforcement to be better prepared in the event of an emergency inside a school building.
Stark County Sheriff George Maier and Marlington Superintendent Joe Knoll stood at Yost’s side as details were unveiled of a new, state-provided three-hour online video training course. It is designed to help with threat assessments inside schools, with the goal of preventing violence before it occurs.
Maier and Stark County superintendents have been involved with the Stark County Schools Safety and Security Task Force, which formed in 2018.
Yost used Wednesday’s platform to urge more school and law enforcement officials across Ohio to take the training and form threat assessment teams. He called methods for preventing violence and identifying “troubled” students pre-emptively a “missing piece” in many safety and security plans.
Warning signs often are there to be detected in advance, but go unnoticed by the untrained eye or unreported, Yost said. Grants are available to cover the minimal costs of creating threat assessment teams, he said.
Fully implementing the recommendations in Ready, Set, Soar Ohio would require a more substantial financial investment on the state’s part, but we believe that would be money well spent.
Study after study support investing money in kids’ earliest years, showing it pays off for their entire lifetimes. Higher academic achievement, better health outcomes, lower rates of incarceration and other benefits are linked to engaging with parents years before their kids first enter school.
Elements of Ready, Set, Soar Ohio include wider access to proper health care, child care and preschool, along with an increase in home health visits.
Among the 50 coalition partners are Stark Education Partnership and the Early Childhood Resource Center, which serves kids in a six-county area including Stark.
Ready, Set, Soar Ohio wants to make Ohio “the best place to be a young child.”
We’re all for that.