601-707-7726 info@excelby5.com

By Henry Bailey Posted September 30, 2012

“Is that the mummy?” asked little Bella Port, a just-turned 3-year-old, as she pointed to a fantastic figure in a book illustration for her nanny, Lisa Lackey.

Lackey was reading from “There Was an Old Witch” in the children’s section of the Hernando public library.

“There was a mummy in the last book we read,” Lackey told an onlooker.

Meanwhile, Bella, the daughter of FedEx pilots Victoria and Corey Port, was reaching for other books, including “Tyrannosaurus Dad,” “What Happens in Autumn” and “Slithery Jake,” about a friendly snake.

Halloween, dinosaurs, princesses and fall were major topics.

“She loves the library,” Lackey said. “We come here at least once a week. Usually I read a book and then she reads it back to me.”

The nanny reached for another piece of reading material that she knew Bella’s parents would want to know all about for the betterment of their daughter — a flier announcing Thursday’s “town hall” meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Hernando City Hall, 475 W. Commerce west of the square. The meeting is to discuss the budding Excel by 5 preschool initiative as it moves to another crucial level — getting views of moms, pops and the public.

“We’ve received all the basic information that’s out there to get young children ready for the challenges of school; now, we want to know what the public wants,” said Shelly Johnstone, city community development director and one of the program’s co-certification managers for Hernando. “We want to hear about any barriers or roadblocks the people see and work to remove them as a coalition.”

Hernando is a candidate community working toward certification as an official Excel by 5 community.

“We’ve been working through the certification checklist that helps us gauge where we are in the two-year process,” said co-certification manager Victoria Penny, early childhood services coordinator at the First Regional Library in Hernando.

The process that began last year involved forming a coalition and doing a community needs assessment of child care, health, family and community resources.

“Now,” said Penny, “we hope a lot of people will come and share their views on what we’re doing well, what we can enhance or improve, ideas they have from other communities and join us to help make sure Hernando kids are as prepared for kindergarten as they can be.”

Excel by 5 sets forth a variety of standards involving parent training, community participation, child care and health to help areas focus on supporting young children and their families. The certification process also identifies available resources and existing best practices to help Excel by 5-Early Childhood Communities reach the goal that all of their children will be ready to learn when they start school at age 5.

“We’ve got to reach children while they’re young,” said Penny, noting that the first five years of a child’s life are important. It’s the time when his or her personality and intelligence level are determined.

“A big part of the process is the development of a resource center, and we’re fortunate to already have a wonderful resource center in place at First Regional Library,” Johnstone said. “This allows the coalition to spend its time on other issues, like developing health fairs, working with local child care centers and coordinating family education workshops.”

Local groups represented on the coalition are early childhood centers, schools, doctors’ offices, civic organizations, churches, parents, the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and similar groups and businesses. The Hernando Excel by 5 program is designed to provide resources and opportunities for learning for all the participants in a child’s upbringing, from parents to child care operators; pediatricians to school officials.

“Our foundation recognizes that improving the early experiences of children is the most effective and efficient way to improve their educational outcomes,” said Community Foundation president Tom Pittman. “We commend Hernando for stepping out as the first community in Northwest Mississippi to prepare its children to excel by 5.”

Funded initially with a grant from Chevron, the Mississippi Excel By 5 program is under way in 34 communities across Mississippi, from Lafayette County and West Point to Hattiesburg and Gulfport.

Lackey said she’s hopeful for Hernando’s success and certification.

“Excel by 5 is a great idea,” the nanny said.

For more information about the Excel by 5 program, go online to cityofhernando.org, call Shelly Johnstone at 662-429-9092 or e-mail sjohnstone@cityofhernando.org, or call Victoria Penny at 662-429-4439.

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