CORINTH - Corinth and Alcorn County have joined other Northeast Mississippi communities addressing their prekindergarten children's needs.
3Qs Beverly Williams- NEMS Daily Journal
By Chris Kieffer
Lee County recently was accepted by Excel By 5 as a candidate community in its early childhood education program.
Lee County Seeks Early Childhood Certification- NEMS Daily Journal
Excel By 5 Program Plans Celebrations- Starkville Daily News
By Steven Nally
Excel By 5 certification has arrived in Starkville just in time for Amelia Nell Wiseman.
West Point Well Represented at Excel By 5 Summit- Daily Times Leader
October 1, 2012
Many experts say that the most important years in a child’s life are from the time of birth until the age of five.
35 Mississippi Communities Unite at Excel By 5 Summit- The Clarion-Ledger
Best practices in early learning is the focus as representatives from 35 Mississippi communities convene today at Excel By 5’s annual Community Collaboration Summit.
Excel By 5 Summit Highlights Importance of Early Development- WLOX
Oct 04, 2012
JACKSON, MS (WLOX) -
Excel by 5 is changing the way Mississippi thinks about early childhood education.
Town Hall Meeting Tonight: Excel By 5 Seeks to Get Children School Ready- Desoto Times Tribune
HERNANDO — Hernando’s budding Excel by 5 program is looking to build on its assessment of the needs of young children in the community by holding a Town Hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 in the city hall board room.
Public Invited to Give Input on Excel By 5 in Hernando- The Commercial Appeal
By Henry Bailey Posted September 30, 2012
"Is that the mummy?" asked little Bella Port, a just-turned 3-year-old, as she pointed to a fantastic figure in a book illustration for her nanny, Lisa Lackey.
Excel By 5 recognizes local children’s services- Starkville Daily News
By STEVEN NALLEY
Excel By 5 named Oktibbeha County as a “Certified Early Childhood Community” on Friday, culminating two and a half years of effort from the county’s Excel By 5 coalition to make the county a better place for families to raise young children.
Excel By 5 helping prep for school- Madison County Journal- August 3, 2012
Click on the link for Excel By 5 news: http://madisoncountybusinessleague.com/excel-by-5
By MICHAEL SIMMONS
For the sixth year in a row, the Canton Parks and Recreation Department is hosting a school readiness event, but this year they are partnering with other organizations including the North Madison County Excel By 5 Coalition.
Corinth, Alcorn County seek Excel By 5 certification- Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
Chevron Recognizes Excel By 5 Program - United Way of Oxford-Lafayette County
Chevron, major sponsor of the Excel by 5 Program, sponsored the January 18th UM vs MSU basketball game and chose to highlight the work of the Excel by 5 Program (www.excelby5.com) in Mississippi from the gametron to the game ball. The Lafayette Oxford University (LOU) Excel by 5 Coalition was also honored as Kathy Sukanek, Executive Director of United Way, received the game ball from John Hartwell, Senior Executive Associate Athletic Director. Sukanek was chosen by the Coalition to receive the game ball. United Way is serving as the lead institution in LOU’s effort to seek certification as a child friendly community through the Excel by 5 Program. LOU Excel by 5 Coalition members and Excel by 5 Program staff distributed information on both programs before the game and during half time. And Ole Miss won!
Excel By 5 shaping next generation - Desoto Times Tribune
By ROBERT LEE LONG
Published: Saturday, March 31, 2012 12:52 AM CDT
HERNANDO — Children's brains are three-fourths of an adult-sized brain by the age of three.
Excel By 5 Featured in MSU Research Magazine
Ten years ago, a kindergarten teacher in south Mississippi told her husband of her concern for children who were starting school without having mastered some basic skills which should be developed during their most formative years.
In response, her husband, Steve Renfroe, manager of public and governmental affairs for Chevron in Pascagoula, suggested a Chevron-sponsored public service newspaper advertisement with tips for parents about preparing children for kindergarten.
But what advice should these tips include? For that, he turned to Cathy Grace, then director of Mississippi State University’s Early Childhood Institute. Some initial brainstorming about the ad turned into a broader discussion about early childhood needs across Mississippi. A planning retreat was set, and Excel By 5 as a conceptual idea was born in 2001.
But the concept no longer involved a simple newspaper ad; instead, it was the start of an innovative initiative designed to encourage and assist communities to become
actively involved in supporting their youngest citizens. The first of its kind, this certification initiative emphasizes the important roles parents and primary caregivers play in educating children from birth through 5 years old.
Renfroe, who recently retired from Chevron after 35 years of service, now is president of the Excel By 5 board of directors. His wife, Debby, also is a board member, and
Chevron continues its role as a leading sponsor.
Chevron, with additional funding from the Phil Hardin Foundation, initially funded Excel By 5, while MSU’s Early Childhood Institute provided leadership and insight into research findings about issues that affect early childhood education. Grace helped assemble a group of representatives from the MSU Extension Service, Mississippi
departments of Education, Health and Human Services, the state legislature, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, the Barksdale Reading Institute at the University of Mississippi and several other organizations. These leaders developed the basis of a
standard to define “early childhood” communities.
Excel By 5 incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and the Early Childhood Institute is in contract to administer the certification process, by which communities may be formally recognized for their progress to support young children and their families.
Through the program, communities work to identify gaps in local resources, promote local collaboration, volunteerism and economic development. The goal of certification is to help communities nurture local children who are healthy and well prepared for kindergarten and first grade.
“This is about a grass roots, local support base that communities can take on to help parents and young children,” Renfroe said. “Excel By 5 is about growing the leadership base for early childhood issues in Mississippi. It’s centered around personal responsibility and a community’s responsibility for supporting parents and young children. It’s truly a bottom up initiative.”
Renfroe explained that the initiative doesn’t provide leadership in communities; but rather, facilitates community involvement. This encourages local citizens to become
leaders and advocates for early childhood education in their own area. He said one of the successes of the initiative is bringing together different community entities which may not have worked together previously.
Within the coalition, volunteers work in one of four groups: community involvement, family and parent support, early care and education, or health. The leadership team is made up of representatives from key community groups, including schools, churches, businesses, hospitals, early care and education centers, and governmental organizations, as well as parents.
“Different individuals come together to form the Excel By 5 coalition in each community. These people typically have not worked together before so they have to learn how to
work together, and our staff helps them get organized and work successfully toward the goals,” Renfroe said. “It takes about two years to earn certification, and it is a lot of hard
work,” he added.
Many individuals working on the coalitions do not have professional backgrounds in early childhood care and education, although coalitions do include early childhood
“We need a diverse leadership in early childhood for our state,” Renfroe said. He cited an assistant district attorney involved with Excel By 5 in Pascagoula, as well as a judge who sits on both the Hattiesburg and Petal coalitions.
“Often their involvement would not have happened if it had not been for Excel By 5, but these people become passionate about early childhood,” he said. He also explained that communities may define themselves in a variety of ways when going through the certification process. Some Excel By 5 communities include an entire county; single
cities; groups of cities or even an area within a city, such as mid-Jackson.
After Excel By 5 standards and the certification process were established in 2004, First Lady Marsha Barbour helped announce the new program in each of the pilot
communities – Cleveland, Pascagoula, Petal and West Point.
Petal became the first community to earn certification two years later, followed by the others.
Currently, there are 29 Excel By 5 candidate and certified communities. Candidate communities are: Alligator, Belzoni, Beulah, Central Clarke County, Duncan, Gunnison, Hancock County, Hattiesburg, Hollandale, Isola, Lafayette County, Louise, McComb, New Albany/Union County, North Madison County, Oktibbeha County, Pace, Rosedale, Shelby, Silver City and Stone County. Communities that have fulfilled all the requirements to become certified communities include Cleveland, Biloxi, mid-Jackson, Monroe County, Moss Point, Pascagoula, Petal, and West Point.
Lynn Darling stepped into the role as interim director of the Early Childhood Institute upon Grace’s recent retirement from the university. Grace now works in Washington, D.C., as director of early childhood policy at the Children’s Defense Fund.
Darling said a large body of research has established how important it is for babies and young children to have significant positive interactions with adults, such as parents. In order to facilitate social and emotional development, which later contribute to academic success, as well as cognitive development. For example, parents help infants develop receptive language skills before they develop expressive language skills. Both of these forms of language development are crucial components in learning to read.
“That receptive language is developing every single time we talk to a child. Excel By 5 is encouraging parents to read to their children and talk to them even when they are babies. A language rich environment helps them to develop important receptive and expressive language skills, and we can’t wait until children are four years old to begin reading to them,” Darling said.
She explained that households, neighborhoods, schools and communities all should contribute to building positive environments for children.
“In a learning environment, if children feel comfortable exploring, experimenting, asking questions and trying new things, then they will develop a positive attitude toward learning. Children who are socially and emotionally secure feel confident trying new things and understand that they are in charge of their own educations. It’s the questions they ask and their actions that help them learn, so they will become active participants in an educational experience instead of passive receptors of direct
instruction from a teacher,” Darling said.
She said research shows a connection between children’s social and emotional development and their academic success. Children who are socially and emotionally well-adjusted have the skills they need to participate in class, work cooperatively
with others, and respect the rules of the classroom.
Bob Clay, who was named executive director of Excel By 5 this year after serving as sites coordinator for the organization since 2008, explained how the certification process helps communities collaborate to support this type of learning within
families, childcare centers and elsewhere. He said local school systems, government officials, businesses and other community organizations work together for this single purpose.
These communities must promote resource centers, where families can check out books, and even toys, to use with their children. Events geared toward families must become the expectation rather than the exception. Health fairs, professional
development training for childcare providers, and programs to provide information and resources for new parents are examples of how communities are stepping up efforts to show support for young children and their families.
Clay said among the positive results he has seen in the communities are additional programs that go beyond the scope of what Excel By 5 requirements prompt candidate
communities to achieve, such as programs for teenage mothers and programs for grandparents that are serving as primary caregivers.
Grace, speaking from her Washington office, said her belief in the program has only grown. She said it is not only impacting individual children and families, but it serves as an economic development strategy as well.
“If you want your community to be viable 20 years from now, then you need to look at the folks who will be leading the community in 20 or 25 years and make sure that they have the skills and the support that will be required to do that. You establish a sense of importance of early childhood education within the community,” Grace said.
She explained that while some may think support is important only for low-income families, in reality, all families need resources, but the initiative may prove especially beneficial to those in poverty who are likely to have faced more limited access to
resources and services.