BY ALYSSA SCHNUGG
Now that Oxford is a certified child-friendly community with a focus on pre-schoolers, the LOU Excel by 5 Coalition is looking at how to keep the momentum going and providing as many services and resources to children 0 to 5 years old to retain the certification.
Excel by 5 emphasizes the importance of parental roles and early childhood education in children during the most formative years, birth through age 5. The program is being used in 29 communities in Mississippi.
Excel by 5 sets forth a variety of standards involving parent training, community involvement, child care and health and safety, to help communities focus on supporting toddlers and their families. The certification process identifies available resources and existing best practices to help children excel by age 5. Before a community gains certification, it must meet a long list of requirements. The process can take about two years.
The local coalition began its certification effort two years ago and received the Excel by 5 early childhood community certification in the spring.
The certification lasts for three years before the community has to go through the recertification process.
During a LOU Excel by 5 Coalition community meeting held Tuesday at the Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library, Gabrielle Phillips with the Excel by 5 state organization asked the coalition members and other community members at the meeting to spend a few minutes writing down on large pieces of paper the challenges, strengths, weaknesses and ways to improve efforts in the four focus areas.
Getting parents involved
Several areas showed a weakness, and one of the challenges, is getting parents more involved with early childhood development. A common strength was having a lot of resources available in the community.
Phillips said the need to recertify is to ensure communities don’t become complacent and, instead, continue to grow and improve.
“I don’t worry about this coalition though,” she said. “You all have done a fantastic job.”
Kathleen Sullivan, who serves as chairwoman of the community involvement committee, presented some statistics from a recent survey of area kindergarten children which shows vulnerabilities in various domains such as language, cognitive, social/ emotional and physical areas. The data allows specific intervention strategies targeted on specific neighborhoods.
“One area which we are concerned about is the social/ emotional area where 10 percent of the children showed vulnerability,” Sullivan said.
The behaviors exhibited were high instances of behavioral problems, hitting, fighting, hyperactivity and aggression.
Sullivan said this can often be attributed to high levels of stress. If left untreated, this behavior can develop into “toxic stress,” unrelenting stress caused by extreme poverty, neglect, abuse or severe maternal depression which can weaken the architecture of the developing brain, with long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.
Sullivan said the coalition is working on five initiatives to help combat toxic stress in area children. These initiatives include working with other agencies around the community, home-visit programs and educating parents and caretakers on the importance of talking to their children, even infants to help develop language so children can express their desires, concerns and worries better.
The coalition will host a community meeting Oct. 22, during which members of the public will be invited to voice their opinions and give ideas and input on the future direction of LOU Excel by 5.
For more information, visit www.excelby5.com or call 236-4265.