JACKSON TWP.  The Conference Center at Kent State University at Stark was packed with over more than 500 educators and others who came to learn ways to better prepare Stark County’s children to enter school.

The Stark County Great Start for Great Futures Committee organized the Early Childhood Advantage Symposium on School Readiness to focus attention on ways to better prepare children for elementary school.

"We have many educators here today along with superintendents and a couple of local mayors and we’re hoping to build awareness for the need to get involved with increasing the quality of programming and the need for more funding for early childhood education," event co-chair Kristine Filhour said. "Right now, for every three children in Stark County there is only one high quality early care center and education slot open. We need people to invest financially and advocate for higher quality centers."

Early care centers are rated using a one to five-star rating. Filhour said the three to five star rated centers are considered the highest quality.

"Of the 235 licensed early childhood center in the county, only 34 percent are rated and only 21 percent are highly rated. So, we have a long way to go. Today is about pulling everyone together to talk about our resources," Filhour said.

She said the committee hopes that the momentum started by the symposium will encourage the community partners to:

- Collaboratively address major issues facing early childhood education in the county

- Create a call to action to support early childhood efforts

- Increase the amount of high-quality professional development available to area early childhood providers

Filhour said that U.S. Census data shows that 53.4 percent of students of Stark County are economically disadvantaged and begin school underprepared and remain behind throughout their elementary school years.

There were several breakout sessions held throughout the day along with three speakers. Joni T. Close spoke about Stark County’s Historical Commitment to Early Childhood, keynote speaker Dr. Julian D. Ford spoke on Understanding Developmental Trauma and David Kisor talked about Building Resilience from Inside Out: Songs for Social-Emotional Learning.

"Our speakers and the breakout sessions are meant to focus on the issues facing Stark County. Some of the feedback the committee received through a survey was that many classroom teachers are seeing developmental trauma and running into a variety of behavioral problems," Filhour said.

Part of Ford’s presentation was about the common denominator in all forms of adolescent post-traumatic behavioral and emotional problems.

He talked about the four stages of stress response in kids and adults. The fourth stage is called tonic immobility where a person stays in a state of immobility.

"Kids go into this state when they just can’t go any further," he said. "Trauma related immobility is when the heart slows down and the body’s nervous system puts on the brakes and everything stops. There are fascinating theories about why this happens. It could be a way to reserve the body’s resources so that the person or child can get through the extreme stressor or trauma and have enough energy to run away."

The Great Start for Great Futures Committee consists of representatives from the Early Childhood Resource Center, the Stark County District Library and the Stark Education Partnership. PNC was the major sponsor for the event others included Canton City Schools, Early Childhood Resource Center, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, Stark County Community Action Agency, the Stark County District Library, Stark Education Partnership and State Support Team 9.