Helping children excel by 5

By Meggan Gray - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - All parents want to see their child succeed. The key to doing that, is laying a strong foundation during their formative years. Thanks to some passionate child advocacy leaders, south Mississippi communities are doing their part to make sure children excel. It's called Excel by 5, and it's all about making sure children grow up happy, healthy, and ready to learn.

So, when can you start teaching your little one? Dr. Connie Jo Williams says right away. She's been an early childhood educator for 34 years.

"Children get 50 percent of their cognitive intelligence by the time they're four years old, and then they come to school when they're five. I want them to come to school ready. I want them to come with everything they need."

That common goal brought early childhood leaders together in 2001 to create "Excel by 5." It's not a place. It's not a program. But rather an in-depth certification process for communities to become "child-friendly."

Steve Renfroe is one of its founders. As he explains, "Excel by 5 is sort of a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval for a community having met certain certification standards."

"It is a community grass roots initiative that brings in community involvement, health, early care and education and family and parent support," adds Williams. "All the resources that go with that all come together as a coalition to make sure that community is Excel by 5 certified."

Pascagoula is one of four certified communities in our state. The city's Early Beginnings Resource Center is probably the most tangible thing to come out of Pascagoula's transformation.

"I mean we didn't have this." Brice Wiggins, Chairman of Excel by 5 Pascagoula has two children, so he knows first hand the changes that have come to Pascagoula. "Of course we had the library, but this is specifically designed for children birth to five. Parents can bring their kids in here, they can let them roam around. They can play, they can learn."

Dr. Connie Jo Williams runs the resource center.

"Just within this room, we have over 850 resources that are developmentally appropriate for infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers as well as their parents and their caregivers," she says.

As Excel by 5 leaders will tell you, it takes an entire community, a collaboration of assets to ensure a healthy start for our children.  Pascagoula is setting the example.

Wiggins says, "There's a new focus and a new partnership of different community organizations on childhood development that we haven't seen before."

And as Renfroe explains, the collaboration is on-going.

"It continues to develop and the community continues to have great ideas and do more and more to help these little young children, and that's what it's really all about. So when they reach kindergarten, they're healthy, happy, and ready to learn."

The process to become Excel by 5 certified can take up to two years. Then those communities have to go through a re-certification process every three years. Pascagoula, Petal, mid-Jackson and West Point are the only Excel by 5 certified communities in the state. Moss Point and Biloxi are in the process of becoming certified.

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