OUR OPINION: Support Excel by 5 in Lee County work

By NEMS Daily Journal

Excel By 5 – a statewide movement in communities and counties linking the necessary resources and volunteers to prepare children from birth to age 5 for early education – barely existed as a conversation in Lee County/Tupelo in early 2012.
Thursday at the Hancock Leadership Center, a countywide coalition of teachers, parents, trustees and essential institutional representatives met and agreed that a series of events to flesh out the Excel By 5 program can be held in 2013 in Tupelo and Lee County.
Four working groups formed in a series of meetings held during the year have gained recognition as a candidate community from the statewide Excel organization, remarkable progress that’s the product of intentionality, passion and understanding of the need.
Mississippi has no statewide, state-funded early childhood (birth to 5) education program – sadly the only state in the South without that critical resource in some stage of work or implementation.
Excel, a first-of-its-kind in the United States, emphasizes the important roles communities play in educating their children during their most formative years – birth to five. The idea is if all the key interest groups and resource leaders in a community join forces the existing infrastructure for early childhood education in day care, private pre-schools like those run by some churches, and programs like Head Start, can coalesce for the benefit of as many children as possible.
Lee County has thousands of children from birth to age 5, but only a minority are in a structured pre-school program of any kind. Despite the claims of some critics, the goal is nothing but good for the welfare of children.
Excel sets a variety of standards involving parent training, community participation, child care and health to help communities focus on supporting young children and their families. The certification process also identifies available resources and existing best practices to help Excel By 5 – Early Childhood Communities reach the goal that “all of their children will be ready to learn when they start school at age five.”
From nothing to the cusp of implementation within a calendar year is a remarkable step, but the Lee County/Tupelo coalition has been deliberate and will remain so moving ahead because the task is large and complex.
Lee County as a whole has more day care enterprises than any other county so far accepted as a full or candidate member, and their leadership is essential in the whole, larger picture.
Funded initially with a grant from Chevron, Excel By 5 is in 27 communities: Biloxi, Central Clarke County, Cleveland, Copiah County, Corinth/Alcorn County, Grenada County, Gulfport, Hancock County, Hattiesburg, Hernando, Hollandale, Humphreys County, Indianola, Lafayette County, Lee County, McComb, Mid-Jackson, Moss Point, New Albany/Union County, North Bolivar County, North Madison County, Oktibbeha County, Pascagoula, Petal, Stone County, West Bolivar County, and West Point.
Parents especially are encouraged to become involved in the Lee County coalition.
CREATE Foundation’s Beverly Williams (beverly@createfoundation.com or 662-844-8989) can steer people to involvement.
Lee County’s pre-schoolers, and ultimately the community as a whole, will benefit greatly from a unified effort to get them off to a good start.