By STEVEN NALLEY
Excel By 5 certification has arrived in Starkville just in time for Amelia Nell Wiseman.
Amelia Nell was born July 18, the first-born child of Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman. Less than a month later, on August 10, Excel By 5 named Oktibbeha County as a “Certified Early Childhood Community,” 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.
“It gives me a great deal of comfort to know that the resources we have as a family for the first five years of our child’s life are second to none,” Parker Wiseman said. “I have served on the steering committee for the past several years and have become very familiar and impressed with the Excel By 5 program. That experience also has led me to understand just how hard it is for a community to obtain the Excel By 5 designation. I am very proud of our community for going the distance and crossing the finish line.”
Wiseman will accept a certificate on behalf of the Starkville and Oktibbeha County communities at an “Excelebration” from 3-5 p.m. at the Starkville Sportsplex.
The event is free and open to the public. Elmarie Brooks, Emerson Family Resource Center coordinator and Excel By 5 county coalition member, said the coalition has invited not only Wiseman but also the superintendents of both the city and county school districts, the city aldermen, Excel By 5’s statewide board of directors and all the area’s preschool staff, children and parents. She said Wiseman will receive the certificate from Bob Clay, Excel By 5’s executive director.
“We are extremely excited,” Brooks said. “Everything is in place — our medical facilities, our preschools, our parenting classes, our prenatal classes, our health care, looking after grandparents as parents (and) child birth classes – to make sure any child that is born in Starkville or Oktibbeha County has the resources to make sure they are successful in kindergarten.”
Also present to interact with children will be football players and cheerleaders from Starkville High School, Brooks said, the latter of which will offer face painting for children. Volunteers from MSU’s Maroon Volunteer Center and Day One Leadership Community will also be present, Brooks said, and the Sportsplex will have inflatables set up for children to play.
“Kayla Gilmore with KMG creations (will) be performing with her dance students,” Brooks said. “Everything will be on the outside, but if it rains, we will be able to go inside.”
Joan Butler, coalition member and Starkville School District Family Centered Programs director, said the Excelebration will also have a commemorative cake composed of cupcakes, along with other refreshments. Free books for preschool children will be available, she said, courtesy of Emerson Family School with support from Starkville Kiwanis Club and First Books.
“We want to make sure we thank the Starkville Kiwanis Club for their overwhelming support financially as well as volunteering time to assist us (throughout the Excel By 5 certification process),” Butler said. “In addition to that, there are many people who have volunteered their time.”
Butler said Excel By 5 will also hold a town hall meeting to identify what Excel By 5 programs need to continue and what gaps remain for Excel By 5 to fill.
“This is just the beginning,” Butler said. “We have to continue to do the things we were doing in the process of being certified. We invite the public to ... come and join us in this wonderful occasion ... and recognize the importance of early childhood education in Oktibbeha County.”