The City of McComb and the McComb School District have joined hands with area businesses, educators and concerned citizens to concentrate efforts to shape youngsters in their formative years of age 1 to 5.
McComb is one of about 20 Excel By 5 candidate communities in Mississippi. Launched in 2004, Excel by 5 define communities that embrace early childhood education by supporting and encouraging children and their families.
Although the McComb School District plays a key role in the Madison-based Excel By 5 program, it’s not a school program; it’s a community initiative.
McComb began its three-year certification process in August, and the coalition group held its second quarterly meeting this week.
Certification requirements are divided into four groups — community involvement, family and parent support, early care and education and health and safety. Monique Gilmore, who handles community relations for the school district, is the Excel By 5 certification manager.
McComb’s efforts are in the early stages, but already excitement is building within the district and the community.
“We can do it,” said Carol Rawlings, Excel By 5 chairman and a retired teacher in McComb schools. “I feel like we’re well on the road to getting this initiative at full speed.”
Getting parents, educators and child care providers to work in unison is a big part of the plan.
Projects include a children’s health fair, which is set for March 2012 and will cover nutrition, developmental screenings, transportation safety and immunization; early childhood update meetings for the community each year, and early childhood educators alliance meetings three times a year.
Among those meeting on Tuesday were government officials, including Summit Mayor Percy Robinson and McComb city board member Tammy Witherspoon; pre-school educators; health care providers, including the district’s Margaret Hart and longtime pediatric nurse practitioner Gidge Clayton; and other school employees.
Carol Rawlings said at least 13 child care centers are on board with the program, which will provide educational continuity.
“Getting kids ready is the universal goal,” she said.
The coalition has already taken a major step by making a needs assessment and determining where efforts most need to be.
School superintendent Therese Palmertree is excited about the Excel By 5 project and she said it will bolster the education efforts for a concentrated number of residents in McComb.
Early childhood efforts are vital, she said, noting that some 40 percent of children who enter kindergarten in the McComb School District come to school at a developmental disadvantage.
Many in that 40 percent don’t have social experience, either, and efforts will be made to get young children integrated in the community and what it offers — the McComb Railroad Museum being a prime example.
“How can we begin to impact that environmental delay,” Palmertree said. “We have to give more children opportunities.”
Literacy efforts will be paramount. The coalition has a school-owned house that is adjacent to Kennedy Elementary School, where early childhood education efforts are centered. Structurally, the house is in good shape, but it needs work before being used. Coalition members agree that the house could be a “centerpiece” in the Excel By 5 program.
“The community is asking for ways to be involved and help us. This gives them to opportunity and is a wonderful venture to come together,” Palmertree said of the building’s plans.
Several of those who attended the coalition meeting also attended Monday’s area economic development meeting, where former McComb resident Robert Ingram spoke.
Ingram told the audience that the community must have a strong school system and show support for school efforts to attract business interests.
Robinson said Summit shouldn’t be left out, and he said he felt sure that a meeting site with plenty of room would be available, possibly through a church in town.
“The challenge is getting the word out,” Palmertree said.
Coalition member Warren Ellis Gilmore noted that hundreds of students from age 0 to 5 are concentrated in the Utopian Homes area in the northern section of town.
A large portion of McComb’s population, he said, lives in public housing.
Having an Excel By 5 site in the northern section of town would eliminate the need for transportation, he said.
He noted that McComb already has a designation as a Certified Retirement Community. The Excel By 5 designation is just one more tool to help the community attract businesses and growth.
Gilmore noted the addition of a Facebook page — Excel By-Five McComb — already has drawn some 200 “friends.” For more information about Excel By 5, call Monique Gilmore at the school district at 684-4661.