Excel By 5, started in 2004, is an innovative early childhood community certification process focusing on a community’s young children. It emphasizes the important roles parents and early childhood educators play in the lives of children from birth to age 5.
Excel By 5 is not a classroom instructional program, but it helps make known and accessible all the resources in a town, city or county that can help children develop mentally and emotionally in the crucial first four years, when the brain is most receptive to stimuli that prepare a person for lifetime learning.
Lee County, the organizing committee was told at its Thursday meeting at the Hancock Center, has 7,258 children in the birth through age 4 range – and only 32 percent are in structured child care where teaching and learning can make a profound impact.
In fact, the 52 identified child care centers in Lee County have a capacity of only 4,263 children, with 2,317 children enrolled. That leaves 4,931 children in other kinds of prekindergarten care not fully documented. Excel’s communitywide focus includes an annual “community conversation” open to all, focusing on what has been done and what remains to be done for the welfare of children. Collaboration and cooperation are at the heart of Excel’s method, factors that are crucial because Mississippi does not have fully funded statewide pre-K education.
Excel was started in the private sector, with original funding from Chevron. At Thursday’s meeting, Lee County coordinator Beverly Williams announced that CREATE Foundation had approved a $5,000 grant from its Marchbanks Endowment for the essential communitywide assessment preceding official program startup.
The cornerstones of Excel are sensible and common-sense:
• Family and parent involvement;
• Encouraging early care and education, especially in child-care centers and programs like Head Start;
• Health and safety, including an annual children’s health fair with free assessments, information and some examinations.
• Community involvement that results in putting together a family resource guide that is comprehensive and timely.
In Northeast Mississippi, Excel has programs or candidates in Corinth/Alcorn County, New Albany/Union County, Lee County, Lafayette County, West Point and Oktibbeha County.
At the state level, Excel’s employees work under the umbrella of Mississippi State University, but MSU does not run the program.
The action is in the communities with children – those eager young minds on whom Mississippi must depend moving forward.