Kiwanis hear Excel By 5, Early Learning Collaborative update

Starkville-Oktibbeha Excel By 5 Program Manager Ellen Goodman speaks at the Starkville Kiwanis Club meeting Tuesday. Goodman gave an update on both Excel By 5 and the Early Learning Collaborative. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

The Starkville Kiwanis Club got updates on two programs aimed at early learning in the Starkville-Oktibbeha community when Excel By 5 Program Manager Ellen Goodman spoke.

Goodman discussed the development of the Excel By 5 program in the area and also touched on the Early Learning Collaborative, a similar program pushing for pre-K in the area. The programs are based out of the Emerson Family School. Statewide, there are 42 Excel By 5 communities, with interest from communities outside of Mississippi. The Starkville Excel By 5 Community was formed in 2010, certified in 2012 and recertified in 2016.

Excel By 5 is dedicated to helping children with kindergarten readiness by ensuring they have access to care and programs from birth to age five. Excel By 5 focuses on four areas: community involvement, early care and education, family support and health.

“We had our strategic planning session last week, last Wednesday as a matter of fact,” Goodman said. “The executive director of Excel By 5 and one of the community coaches came to Starkville and sat down with us for four hours and we did our strategic planning, seeing what it is we’re doing well and what we need to work on.”

Goodman also described some of Excel By 5’s plans for the future, including focusing on young families, particularly the Mississippi State University community, trying to build a, stronger partnership with MSU. The organization also plans to update its charter and bylaws in accordance with changes in the region since 2010.

“A lot of our students who are here at Mississippi State also have young children, so that’s something that we’re going to focus in on,” Goodman said.

Goodman also said the program planned to continue finding other agencies and groups to be involved in Excel By 5.

“You have to have that local financial support, and Kiwanis has been doing a super job at that,” Goodman said.

A golf tournament sponsored by the Kiwanis to support Excel By 5 is scheduled for July 28.

Goodman also discussed the Starkville-Oktibbeha Early Learning Collaborative, which pushes pre-K education in the region. She said one of the area’s childcare facilities had shut down, leaving a need for more in the community. However, more pre-K space is on the horizon, with the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District adding three pre-K classrooms district wide, and an additional classroom being added at the Head Start.

The Early Learning Collaborative is required to provide professional development for early childhood teachers, and also offers health screenings for children in the program.

“We also have a curriculum,” Goodman said. “We are told what we have to use. There are qualifications for the teachers and assistants, and those qualifications are more so than just a general childcare center. That’s a challenge that we’re having now, and the colleges and universities are working with us to make sure that they have those students coming out qualified to teach in a pre-K classroom.

Under the 2013 Early Learning Collaborative Act, which formed all the collaboratives in the state, any person or company can receive a state tax credit for a donation of up to $1 million.