EXCEL BY 5 - "The Story"
Several years ago, kindergarten teacher Debby Renfroe told her husband Steve about the problems many kindergarteners face when they start school—they just aren’t developmentally ready to grasp the material. Debby asked Steve what could be done to better educate parents on children’s developmental stages from birth to five years old. Steve, a Chevron Public and Governmental Affairs Manager for Mississippi, suggested Chevron put an ad in the local newspaper listing these critical stages. To get the information for the ad, Steve contacted Dr. Cathy Grace of the Mississippi State University Early Childhood Institute, and the rest was history.
In 2001, Chevron began working with a group of early childhood experts, such as notable leaders Dr. Grace and Claiborne Barksdale. The group consisted of representatives from Mississippi State University’s Early Childhood Institute, the Barksdale Reading Institute (founded by Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape), the Mississippi Department of Education, the Mississippi Department of Health, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the Mississippi Legislature, the Mississippi Governor’s office, Mississippi Community College Board, Mississippi State University Extension Service, Head Start, the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, and several non-profit organizations.
This group met for the purpose of discovering the best way to use existing knowledge and resources for the greatest benefit of Mississippi’s pre-K children. The group developed the basis of a standard for “child-friendly” communities, referring to it as “the program” at that time. Essentially, the group designed a standard certification whereby communities that choose to can be formally recognized as “child-friendly,” but it doesn’t stop there. The program identifies gaps in community resources, encourages community collaboration and volunteerism, promotes economic development, and addresses children’s needs with regard to education, health care, safety and childcare. Over all, children in these communities will be healthier and better prepared to begin their formal education at age 5.
In 2004, Mississippi's First Lady Marsha Barbour joined early childhood development experts and Chevron representatives to launch EXCEL BY 5. Funded with a $650,000.00 grant from Chevron. The project is currently underway in Alligaotr, Beulah, Biloxi, Central Clarke County, Cleveland, Corinth/Alcorn County, Duncan, Gulfport, Gunnison, Hancock County, Hattiesburg, Hernando, Hollandale, Indianola, Isola, Lafayette County, Lee County, McComb, Mid-Jackson, Moss Point, New Albany/Union County, North Madison County, Oktibbeha County, Pascagoula, Petal, Stone County, and West Point, MS.