By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Lee County recently was accepted by Excel By 5 as a candidate community in its early childhood education program. Excel By 5 is a Mississippi organization that provides communities with guidelines to follow to support children from birth to age 5. Candidate communities that meet the guidelines are officially recognized as early-childhood certified communities.
Currently, there are eight certified communities and 19 candidate communities in the state. Daily Journal education reporter Chris Kieffer spoke with Beverly Williams, who will serve as Lee County’s Excel By 5 certification manager, about what this means.
Q: What will be different for parents of young children now that Lee County is an Excel By 5 candidate community?
A: There will be a greater focus on the needs and development of those children ages birth to five years of age. We will assess the needs of the community to identify all of the resources currently available, and we will identify gaps where resources are not readily available or accessible to all. The Excel By 5 coalition will work to provide those needed resources. We will create partnerships between parents, early childhood educators and school teachers, which should improve the transition of these young children into kindergarten.
Q: Why is this significant for Lee County?
A: Lee County has a lot to offer families with young children, but currently there is no framework to tie all of the available programs together. I also don’t think that all of the parents of young children know about the resources that are out there, and we want to increase awareness. Excel By 5 will partner with the existing programs and try to enhance them or create new programs where there is a need. The object of all of this is to improve the school readiness of incoming kindergarten students and to reduce the number of kids repeating kindergarten and first grade. If we can prepare our kids early in life, we should see benefits such as a reduction in dropout rates, an increased number of college graduates and improved income levels.
Q: How can people participate in this effort?
A: Anyone who is interested in participating can contact Beverly Williams (beverly@create foundation.com or 844-8989). We currently have about 25 people participating in the coalition, and since we cover such a large area with nearly 83,000 people, we would love to have more volunteers who are passionate about improving the lives of our young children.