601-707-7726 info@excelby5.com

Excel by 5 coalition members took a first look inside the new toy library Monday that will be open to children up to 5 years old and their parents.

The toy library is part of a larger community-based initiative, funded by a $650,000 grant from Chevron, designed to teach parents how to educate their children during their most formative years. It is one of four pilot programs in the state.

“The toy library will serve the entire community,” co-director Anita Belcher said. “It will help prepare children for kindergarten.”

Belcher pointed out the colorful games, puzzles and books, saying that every toy has its way of teaching children a skill. Children can learn their shapes, colors, numbers and more.

The program will also give children from economically disadvantaged households the chance to keep up developmentally with their peers, so that they aren’t behind when they start school.

“It is a way we hope to keep children in school and keep them ahead and not behind,” Belcher said.

The room contains $20,000 worth of toys and books, and, when it opens, parents will be able to visit with their children and even check out items for two weeks, just like they would a library book.

Excel by 5 has arranged with the Singing River Hospital System to hand out a child’s first book and resource books for parents for every child born at the two hospitals.

The packet also contains a release form that allows program organizers to continue mailing the families educational information.

Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said as the program grows, it should draw the whole community to participate.

“This center here will be the only one of its kind along the Gulf Coast,” Rodolfich said.

Annjo Lemons, the state Excel by 5 director, said that despite Hurricane Katrina, Pascagoula should be Excel by 5 certified by the end of the year.

Belcher said the program hopes to eventually have teachers visit participating with families at their homes and, eventually open a daycare for teenage mothers, so they can continue attending school while their children are small.

“We just think it’s a dream come true,” Belcher said.

Reporter Amber Craig can be reached at acraig@themississippipress.com or (228) 934-1428.

News link: http://www.gulflive.com/news/mississippipress/news.ssf?/base/news/1172574924320420.xml