WAVELAND, MS (WLOX) - It was a proud achievement for Hancock County. On Wednesday, the county officially became a certified Excel by 5 Community in Mississippi. It took two years and a lot of effort to show that Hancock County is committed to helping children grow up happy, healthy and ready to learn.
The celebration took on a Mardi Gras flare.
The tiny tots walked into Waveland Elementary School and received golden crowns. After the coronation, the adorable princes and princesses got a quick lesson on how to properly bow and curtsey. Then, the "Excelebration" began.
The 80 preschoolers and their teachers received the royal treatment because they helped Hancock County earn its Excel by 5 certification.
"It's my pleasure to present you all with this plaque commemorating your achievement and as one of the 15 certified communities here in the state of Mississippi," announced Bob Clay, Excel by 5 Executive Director.
"It's been such a long journey for us when we started years ago and to finally reach today and to celebrate that we are a certified community is just amazing," said Angie Kothmann, Hancock County Excel by 5 Coalition Chairperson.
To be certified, the Hancock County Excel by 5 Coalition had to meet some tough requirements.
It had to show the community it is committed to providing the little ones with the tools and skills they need to enter kindergarten. That includes offering workshops and resources for parents, partnering with child care centers, and addressing health issues for children from birth to five years old.
"Because when they hit the steps of school, they're going to be expected to learn. With all the brain development that occurs before the age of five, these children need to be prepared," said Clay.
The celebration showed that the Hancock County community wants the three and four year olds to succeed and be proud of their crowning achievement.
"The significance is we as a community are working together to make sure when our children arrive at age five for kindergarten, they're ready to excel. We're excited about their future. They can be anything they want to be, but we want to lay that foundation. It starts at age zero," said Cathy Wilson, Hancock County Schools Community Relations and Coalition Member.
The designation is also considered a big boost to businesses in Hancock County.
"It's wonderful for economic development. When new businesses are looking to move into Hancock County, the first thing they look at are high school test scores, our dropout rate, our literacy rate, and it's been proven that with this program, it raises all of these and just builds a better community," said Kothmann.
In South Mississippi, Biloxi, Moss Point and Pascagoula are also certified Excel by 5 cities. Gulfport and Stone County are in the process of becoming certified.
Communities have to keep up the momentum, because they have to be re-certified every three years.