By: Nancy Baker-Faul
Biloxi has become the 8th city in Mississippi to be granted the distinction of being named an Excel by 5 Certified Early Learning Childhood Community. Excel by 5 is a program aimed at supporting parents and children by connecting them with the available resources to lead healthy, strong lives.
“By helping prepare children and their families for kindergarten and first grade, we are making strides that invest in our future,” said Susan Hunt, Certification Manager with Biloxi Public Schools.
Funded by a $650,000 grant from Chevron, Excel by 5 is currently in 26 Mississippi communities. The Excel by 5 programs is the first of its kind in the United States. It requires the assistance and support of community leaders, caregivers, parents, school officials and spiritual leaders to implement goals for each child. “Children should be given the proper tools and guidance to not only get them into the first years of school but help them soar, as they take this next step in their young lives. We must all work together to make sure that our children are prepared mentally, physically and in all ways so that they will be ready to enter kindergarten and first grade with confidence and courage. Everyone in our community can help,” said Hunt.
The program began when First Lady Marsha Barbour joined efforts with Chevron representatives and early child development experts in launching Excel by 5 in 2004. The groundwork had been laid beginning in 2001 when the wife of a Chevron Public and Governmental Affairs Manager, came home from teaching her kindergarten class and told him of the problem facing young students today. “They just don’t have the developmental skills to start school. They simply can’t grasp the material,” the teacher said.
Communities are first designated “child-friendly” and then the real work begins. The program identifies areas where that particular community is lacking in resources, encourages volunteerism and community collaboration, promotes economic development, and addresses children’s needs with regard to education, healthcare, safety and childcare. By assisting families in the areas that are lacking, the Excel by 5 program can help children be healthier and more prepared to begin their formal education by age 5.
Parents, educators, family and community members can help children in small ways every day. By speaking and singing to children regularly even before they can talk and even “picture” reading to a child can significantly boost early language development. Children do not learn as well by just watching television or listening to the radio. There is no substitute for open and verbal communication in front of a child.