Pascagoula recognized in MS as official 'child-friendly'

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Lauren Wood has two preschoolers, and she knows that it takes more than just good parenting to raise a young child. That's why she's thrilled at Pascagoula's 'Excel by Five' designation.

"(It) really makes me proud to be a part of Pascagoula. This is amazing," Wood said.

The designation comes from the statewide 'Excel by Five' program and means the city is actively working to help kids get a head start in life. Pascagoula celebrated Saturday with "Excelebration," a kid-friendly festival at Beach Park. The festival was fun for everyone, but the reason behind it is no laughing matter.

"What happens between birth to five actually sets the stage for a child's development and the success in school and in life," said State Excel by Five Director Annjo Lemons.

The Pascagoula community recognizes the importance of that idea.  They formed a coalition two years ago, to make sure the community was ready to help every child in their early years.

"If you get involved with children first and provide them the educational resources and the economic resources and the parental resources that they need from that start, then graduation is better. Education is better, and it's better for the community," said Coalition Chairman Brice Wiggins.

Pascagoula is the third and largest community in the state to get the 'Excel by Five' designation. The other two are Petal and West Point. Other South Mississippi communities aren't far behind. Moss Point and Biloxi have started the process to get their designations as well.

It's not easy to get. It takes nearly two years and help from everyone. The community must make sure every child and family has access to four different components. They are:

  • child-related health care
  • family and parent support through a resource and educational center
  • community-wide events focusing on children
  • elevated credentials for early care and education professionals

These four components require the cooperation of almost every community member.

"It is an initiative of the City of Pascagoula, so it is a status that the city earns by the whole community joining hands and doing the work," said Lemons.

"It takes a village to raise a child, not just a school system (or) not just the hospitals but everybody," said Dr. Connie Jo Williams.

She has worked in education for years and now serves on the coaltion. Pascagoula parents are happy to have an entire community behind them.

"It really shows how much they care about our children and how much they care about our children excelling and what they need to learn about our community," said Wood.