GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Parents and their little ones arrive at the pavilion at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center a little nervous. For some students, it's their first day in school and saying good-bye can be a bit difficult.
But mom Sandy Samayoa knows she's giving her son an opportunity she never had.
"He's not quite old enough for kindergarten. So you know, you want to give him any opportunity possible," she says. "I had wanted to go to Head Start. We were not approved, so we just had to wait until next September. So this came along and it was perfect."
Cynthia Minton, Executive Director of Lynn Meadows Discovery Center and a pre-K board member says they've received great response from parents.
"These parents were very excited. We had parents in tears when they came and heard their children could be accepted into this program."
That's because this is the first time Gulfport has offered a free, pre-K program open to any four-year-old living in the city. Cynthia Minton is thrilled Lynn Meadows could help, and hopes others will see the same potential in the program that she did.
"There's so much interest about children. We as business leaders and those in the community who are leaders understand if we're going to change the complexion of our work force in the future, you have to begin early. We also need to understand it takes a village to raise a child and we need to be that village."
Jane Stanley, Director of the Nourishing Place, also serves on the Gulfport Pre-K committee.
"The research shows that the earlier they have access to opportunities to learn outside out of their home and little world, the better they'll do in school, the more successful they'll be," explains Stanley. She believes building confidence in children at a young age, is the key to their success.
"If a child is confident and knows he or she is loved they can learn. So we're going to make this exciting, we're going to build their self-esteem, we're going to teach them to respect themselves and other people. And then they will be able to learn whatever we put in front of them."
Stanley and Minton both hope this pilot class will be a success in Gulfport before spreading to other cities along the coast, and eventually across the state.
Stanley says, "This is just the first step. We'll just grow as we can, but I think now is the time to start taking down data about what the kids are accomplishing and comparing it to other areas that don't have this, and maybe we can talk the legislature in five or six years into funding it state wide. It certainly is needed."
Anyone interested in learning more about Gulfport's pre-K program can call Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport at (228) 897-6039.