“Early is very important, even before age four and that’s one of the great things about Excel By 5, they start at birth,” said Governor Haley Barbour.

With a focus on early childhood development, the program was launched back in 2004 by Governor Barbour and his wife Marsha, thanks to a $650,000 grant. Two years later, Petal became the first certified community.

“Excel By 5 has really been an amazing piece of our education system,” said Nadine Coleman with the Petal School District and Excel By 5 state board member. Coleman says it’s the preschool ages where investments need to be made. As a former kindergarten teacher, Coleman says she saw first hand the language gaps in new students.

“In education, this really is where we have the greatest potential to impact change,” said Coleman.

Eight communities are now certified under the program stretching from Moss Point to Monroe County. Twenty other communities are now on track to do the same.

“Anywhere there are young children from birth to the age of five, Excel By 5 is crucial,” said Moss Point Excel By 5 certification manager Patrice McCullum.

McCullum says the program is helping to identify educational needs and available resources in making sure children are ready for the school system to truly excel by five.

“Just being able to provide the educational opportunities that address very young children is really beginning to catch on,” said McCullum.

The program relies on more than just school systems. Barbour says it takes community efforts through volunteers to ensure a brighter future for the state’s youngest.

“In our state we can’t afford four year kindergarten on a public scale. However, we’ve got eighty percent of our children already in some kind of child care, some kind of preschool, so the key for us was how do we improve the quality of that,” said Barbour.

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News link: http://www.wlbt.com/story/15676827/excel-by-5-program-grows