Starkville Kiwanis hear early learning update

Ellen Goodman speaks at the Starkville Kiwainis Club meeting Tuesday. Goodman is the project manager for the Starkville-Oktibbeha Early Learning Collaborative and the certification manager for Oktibbeha County Excel by 5. She gave updates and information on both programs. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

Members of the Starkville Kiwanis club were brought up to speed on some local early childhood education initiatives Tuesday, when Starkville-Oktibbeha Early Learning Collaborative Executive Director Ellen Goodman spoke at their meeting.

Goodman is also the certification manager for the Oktibbeha County Excel By 5 program, and discussed both with the organization, giving a picture of where both currently stand, plans for the future and their roles in the community.

She said the Early Learning Collaborative began with 2013 state legislation allotting funds for qualifying communities statewide to operate collaborative. The Starkville-Oktibbeha collaborative includes four classrooms at the Emerson Family School and the ICS Head Start. The Starkville Oktibbeha collaborative is funded for 115 students. It serves to get students who will go into kindergarten the following school year ready for the transition.

“We have a curriculum that is mandated by the Mississippi Department of Education for us, and there are qualifications for the teachers and assistant teachers, and those are quite strenuous,” Goodman said.

The program offers professional development for teachers, workshops and trainings for parents to assist in school readiness, health screenings and assessments to measure student progress.

The program also offers a tax credit, allowing individuals or corporations to make donations of up to $1 million to the collaborative and receive a credit on their state taxes.

The Excel by 5 program is also for kindergarten readiness, and offers resources targeted art children in the community from birth to age five. The program was founded by Mississippi kindergarten teacher Debbie Renfroe and her husband Steve Renfroe, a public and governmental affairs manager for Chevron.

“The whole premise there is to help the children so they will be healthy enough and prepared for kindergarten and first grade,” Goodman said.

In total, 42 communities across Mississippi have Excel by 5 programs. Services offered include free quarterly childbirth classes, packets of information and books given to parents of newborns at OCH, preschool, tutoring and a resource center for parents. Emphasis is placed on helping parents understand and know the early learning guidelines.

“Those are the objectives that are used in childcare and pre-K to help children be ready for when they go to kindergarten,” Goodman said. “Those are the objectives that if you complete (them) this year, they can transition easily to the next age level.”

For more information on the ELC, call 662-615- 0033, and for more information on Excel by 5, call 662-617-9748.