Picayune considering Excel By 5

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 7, 2015

TIME TO EXCEL: Bob Clay, executive director for Excel By 5, spoke to two groups in Picayune Wednesday about the importance of becoming certified by the organization. Photo by Jeremy Pittari

TIME TO EXCEL: Bob Clay, executive director for Excel By 5, spoke to two groups in Picayune Wednesday about the importance of becoming certified by the organization.
Photo by Jeremy Pittari

Children who are ready to learn before they enter kindergarten can not only create an educated population, but also be an economic development driver.
That’s the aim of Excel By 5, a non-profit organization that helps communities coordinate to ensure children are ready for school.
Excel By 5 Executive Director Bob Clay spoke to members of the Picayune Exchange Club and with community members at the Intermodal Transportation Center on Wednesday about the importance of becoming Excel By 5 certified.
Since 90 percent of the development in a child’s brain takes place before the age of 5, it’s crucial to ensure that proper steps are taken to prepare them before they enter their first year of school, Clay said.
Communities begin the process by applying, which makes them a candidate community. After a two year process the city can become certified if they meet all of the requirements. Clay said Poplarville is currently a candidate community, and expects them to receive their certification within the next six to eight months.
The organization began in 2004 with only four communities, but now has 38 on the list. Of that total, 19 are certified and 19 are candidate communities.
One of the first steps toward achieving certification involves collaboration with schools, city officials, the health care industry and day cares.
Other collaborators might include people who represent the faith-based organizations, parents and the local library.
Becoming certified within the program not only ensures children are ready for school, but by selling a community as Excel By 5 certified businesses and industries will be more willing to establish there, Clay said.
“When you can say you’re a certified Excel By 5 community that’s a big check mark for you,” Clay said.
Once certification is acquired it is good for three years before recertification is required.
A good education starts at home, so one of the things the organization likes to see is the establishment of a newborn packet that would be provided to new parents. The contents within the packet is determined by each community, but could include information pertaining to medical services, where educational materials could be acquired or checked out and a list of other services and activities available to children younger than 5-years-old.
“We all know that a parent is a child’s first teacher,” Clay said.
By working with representatives of the school district, childcare facilities will be able to provide instruction that will ensure they are prepared for school while working with healthcare providers will help keep the children healthy.
Clay said that statistics show children who received academic instruction before kindergarten were more likely to graduate, go to college and be less likely to repeat a grade. Additionally, for every dollar invested in ensuring a child is prepared, the community will receive $7 to $12 in return in the form of additional tax revenue, reduced crime and a reduced burden on public assistance programs.
Clay also shared some statistics concerning the birth rates within Pearl River County. Picayune’s population from the last census is estimated to be about 10,816, of that number there were 930 children younger than 5-years-old, and of those 192 children were born in 2013. Of that number, 31 babies were born to teenage mothers, but only three of those mothers were married.
Clay said on average about 68 percent of new mothers of any age are not married.
Within the county there are 12 full time childcare facilities, including Head Start. Those facilities employ about 178 people who can potentially care for 1,000 children. Currently those facilities are caring for about 700 children, Clay said.

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