By Riley Manning
TUPELO – The Tupelo Public School District’s Early Childhood Education Center has an additional classroom, thanks to a grant from the Toyota education endowment fund.
Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation and Doug Formby, vice president of production control and administration for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, formally announced the new classroom’s opening in front of an audience of preschoolers Wednesday morning.
“We recognize early education is crucial to the state. You folks are going to be the future,” Formby told the attentive class. “We want you to grow up and be everything you want to be. Without investing in people, we can’t meet the needs of our customers.”
Formby said an educated labor pool will give Toyota a competitive advantage, but more important, investing in the people of north Mississippi will create a bigger economic engine overall.
“When Toyota came to the area, they made a commitment to invest in the eight school districts in Lee, Pontotoc, and Union counties,” Clayborne said. “Each district was invited to submit proposals on how to improve their districts, and one thing Tupelo proposed was an additional pre-k classroom.”
The Early Childhood Education Center currently hosts 15 pre-k classrooms, which accommodate just fewer than 270 students. The extra classroom, which opened about a month ago, allowed 20 students to be removed from the waiting list.
“Every dollar we invest in early childhood education typically yields a return of eight to 10 dollars,” said Gearl Loden, Tupelo superintendent. “It’s a solid investment.”
Money from the classroom comes from a $200,000 grant from Toyota Mississippi as part of a $50 million endowment fund to improve area school districts. Loden said the district plans to use the rest of the grant to improve reading and math skills in grades two through six, and, at the high school level, boost enrollment in advanced placement classes.
“With the grant, we’re able to cut the cost of the advanced placement exams, as well as the costs of dual enrollment classes,” Loden said. “We’ve also been able to send teachers to receive training for advanced placement classes.”