Story By Lyndsey Schley
Teachers and education-related professionals joined together for First Things First and the Summit Education Initiative’s School Readiness Summit at the John S. Knight Center Tuesday, Oct. 25.
The Summit, modeled after a similar event in Dayton, brought people working in the early childhood realm together with other experts from other fields and local professionals in order to improve educational outcomes in the Summit County.
Summit Education Initiative Executive Director Derran Wimer said the crowd exceeded expectations, with about 530 people in attendance!
How Literacy Forms the Young Brain
Keynote Speaker Dipesh Navsaria is an associate professor of pediatrics at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He shared how teaching literacy and avoiding toxic stress can help with the lifelong health and success of a child.
Navsaria described toxic stress as prolonged intense stress with few or no buffering, supportive relationships. While certain levels of stress are natural and healthy, he said stress responses can cause the body to produce chemicals that, in toxic stress situations, can create lifelong brain changes.
“You can’t have toxic stress happen anew in a teenager or adult,” he said. “This is something that happens in the young brain and then causes problems that can happen throughout the entire lifetime.”
He said stressors like homelessness and abuse can cause this kind of stress. These stressors can cause the mind to create a hyper responsive stress response. Navsaria said this is why some child have tantrums at small provocations.
He said often these kids seem to exhibit classic ADHD symptoms, while actually they are suffering from brain effects created by adversity.
“You start to realize by the time this child is 6, 7, 8, 9, whatever age I’m seeing them, they’ve had this pileup of extraordinary stressors that have been coming on top of them, and then we’re surprised they have these issues,” he said. “I have no magic medication that will fix this nor does anyone else. That’s why we have to focus on prevention and getting it right from the get go.”
He said we are putting too much effort into fixing these issues later when it is much harder, and not enough efforts towards preventing these conditions when children are young.
“We have a totally screwed-up, back end system here,” he said.
He said the best way to support these children can be to support their parents. A parent may have trouble reading to their child when they work two jobs or have health issues. He said solutions that help build parents’ capability and capacity to help their child can be very effective.
Navsaria said reading is one of the most important skills for children to learn. In our text-heavy culture, we use reading skills to learn many other things. He said it is important to find ways to work with your child at an early age, such as showing them books with pages without words, so they understand text has meaning. And having them squirmy toddlers interact with the story helps them to focus.
Navsaria is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, a program that encourages doctors to do their part for literacy. Doctors hand out “Prescriptions to Read” to show parents how important daily reading is for children. He said a doctor observing children can learn a lot about their development in a short amount of time.
“The kid that runs across the room, grabs the book from me and says ‘To Give a Mouse a Cookie. I love this book,’ tells me, ‘I’ve heard language.’” He said. “‘I’ve seen gross motor skills, fine motor skills.’ I know they’re being read to, and it took me six seconds.”
Braylee Gerber, a kindergarten teacher from Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools said she came away from the talk with a deeper understanding of the importance of interaction with parents.
“I was really interested in hearing about the kind of interactions with parents and seeing the importance, especially in those kids that are affected by different traumas and different adversities beforehand. Trying to develop relationships with parents so those more in-depth conversations and trust-building can happen so they’re more honest with you about maybe adversities they’ve already had before they’ve had you as a teacher,” she said.
Next week we’ll post Part two on Summit Education Initiative’s School Readiness Summit.
For more information on SEI (Summit Education Initiative) go to: seisummit.org/