By STEVEN NALLEY
Excel By 5 named Oktibbeha County as a “Certified Early Childhood Community” on Friday, culminating two and a half years of effort from the county’s Excel By 5 coalition to make the county a better place for families to raise young children.
Based in Madison, Excel By 5 sets standards for communities to improve children’s overall well-being by age 5. Bob Clay, Excel By 5 executive director, said 26 communities across Mississippi are pursuing the certification, and Oktibbeha County is one of only nine that has received it.
“I think what made Oktibbeha County a very strong candidate to become certified is, first, I believe there’s a passion in Oktibbeha County for children ages 0-5,” Clay said. “There were so many initiatives already occurring in Oktibbeha County. The coalition had support from the school districts as well as the mayor’s office in Starkville. The passion of the people that were involved is really what made this thing successful.”
Clay said the Oktibbeha County Excel By 5 Coalition has been pursuing the certification since January 2010. Ellen Goodman, Oktibbeha County Excel By 5 certification manager, said she is glad to see the coalition’s efforts pay off.
“(The certification) means we’re working harder to become a strong community for young families and working harder to provide all those services needed,” Goodman said. “It’s a great honor to have.”
The certification does not mean the coalition’s work is over, Goodman said.
“There is a re-certification (process) we do have to follow,” Goodman said. “We will still have community events and services we’ll need to continue.”
Clay said Excel By 5 certification lasts for three years before a community must go through re-certification, which is similar to the original certification process.
“They will continue moving along just as if they’re trying to be certified,” Clay said. “We’ll get a quarterly checklist to see the progress we’ve made. The third year, we’ll send people to monitor (the coalition’s activities.)”
Goodman said the coalition is planning to celebrate the certification in October, but no firm date has been set yet. Other Excel By 5 events in the works include a Grandparent’s Day event at 3 p.m. Sept. 9 and a family community event at Emerson Family School Dec. 8.
“We’ve got to get the steering committee together (for the celebration),” Goodman said. “We’re looking to get that planned within the next month and a half. We’ve got to look at the community calendar to see what date would be available and what type of event would be suitable for it.”
Joan Butler, coalition member and Starkville School District Family Centered Programs director, said she is ecstatic about the certification. With Excel By 5 supporting the community’s pre-kindergarten programs, children will be better prepared when they enter Sudduth Elementary School and other kindergarten programs, which translates to success in school and later in life.
“This shows our community supports early childhood education and puts a great deal of emphasis on early learning and development from birth to age 5,” Butler said. “We feel that all children will be more ready to learn.”