Mississippi's PreK pilot program moves forward in Picayune

PICAYUNE, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi's pilot preK program is moving forward, helping more little ones grow up happy, healthy, and ready to learn. Our state took a historic step by passing the Early Learning Collaborative Act last year. In December, the first round of grants were awarded to 11 communities to either establish, expand or improve early learning opportunities in their districts. Of those, only one was in south Mississippi - Picayune.

"We were so excited to receive this money because it's going to make such a tremendous impact for our young children in our community," said Dr. Pamela Thomas, program director for the Picayune collaboration.

Dr. Thomas went on to say she is excited for Mississippi, because she sees so much potential in our four year olds.

"I mean we may be looking at doctors, lawyers, our next president. I mean, we just don't know what the future holds for this group of young children."

Twenty students are already enrolled in a free preK four class in the Picayune School District. The district was able to offer it this year after creating a partnership with the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation. Their collaboration was one of eleven selected across the state to participate in Mississippi's first funded preK program. The $46,000 they received from the state, will fund an additional four-year old class this fall.

"So in other words, we'll be able to serve more four year old children. So we will be using the money for training, curriculum development, classroom materials, actually providing training for our teachers," Dr. Thomas explained.

Another requirement of the Early Learning Collaborative Act, is that participating districts measure the success of their students. Picayune is doing that through an electronic test which assesses developmental milestones.

"And so this will tell us exactly where our children are, and if they are ready for kindergarten. And so we've been practicing with the Renaissance (test), and most of our children exceeded the level of where they need to be for four year olds."

Dr. Thomas is encouraged by the state's investment in high quality preK, saying it will help close the gap.

"I think the earlier kids are exposed to early childhood development, kids are given the tools and knowledge they need to be successful, then we can't expect no more than for them than to do well."

Our state legislature took it a step further this year by passing a measure to allow businesses to also invest in children. There's now a state preK tax credit so individuals or businesses that make a contribution to support the Picayune School District, or any other approved early learning collaborative, may be eligible to receive a state tax credit for the donated amount, up to $1 million.

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