Excel - which focuses on children in participating communities from birth to age 5, operates under the larger umbrella of Mississippi State University's early childhood programs - has a simple but demanding mission: Engaging families and communities by promoting best practices in early learning, child development and education.
The Excel approach does not involve a single-program focus but networks communitywide resources and programs involving the mental, physical, emotional and social development of children.
Excel By 5 pilot was launched in 2004 with the support of Chevron, Mississippi State Early Childhood Institute and the Phil Hardin Foundation. Excel By 5 has received additional support from the Walker Foundation, Mississippi Building Blocks, the Gilmore Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation, through its support of the Mississippi Center for Education Innovation.
The extensive certification process, guided by community-based leadership and certified by the Excel program staff, is usually a demanding two-year effort - thorough and far-reaching.
In Northeast Mississippi, Union County and New Albany, Lafayette County, Monroe County and West Point are either certified Excel communities or candidates for certification.
The program involves certifying non-school-based early childhood care providers in gaining state licensure, develops resource centers where parents, childcare providers, teachers and the public can check out or make learning materials for children and receive training on early childhood topics. The center is also a resource for information to services available to families in the community.
Excel By 5 is working statewide in 28 Mississippi communities: Alligator, Belzoni, Beulah, Biloxi, Cleveland, Duncan, Gunnison, Hancock County, Hattiesburg, Hollandale, Isola, Lafayette County, Louise, McComb, Mid-Jackson, Monroe County, Moss Point, New Albany/Union County, North Madison County, Oktibbeha County, Pace, Pascagoula, Petal, Rosedale, Shelby, Silver City, Stone County and West Point.
Excel is a fine program, but we affirm our support for statewide funding for pre-kindergarten education as the best long-term plan for Mississippi, whether school-based or in certified, licensed early childhood centers.
Research presented, in part, by MIT sums up the universal need for comprehensive early childhood learning.
"Why should taxpayers want to invest their dollars in quality early education for every child whose family wants it? The research is clear that it helps children succeed. ... Tax dollars invested create economic development in communities now, and save money for years to come."