- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

PONTOTOC, Miss. (AP) - Pontotoc County received its Excel By 5 certification Feb. 24 after nearly three-and-a-half years of working toward the designation.

Excel By 5 is a Mississippi-only organization that provides communities with guidelines and support for children from birth to age 5 in hopes of getting them ready for kindergarten.

Participating communities must meet certain qualifications to become certified early childhood communities.

The communities are required to form a coalition to facilitate the certification process and host a health fair and other community events, among other requirements.

A certain number of child care centers within the community also must meet Excel By 5 standards.



Pontotoc County joins 23 other certified Excel By 5 communities across the state.

Mechelle Wallace, sites coordinator for Excel By 5, began working with the Pontotoc coalition during the home stretch of their certification process about seven months ago.

Wallace said completing the process was a matter of organization. She helped the coalition reorganize and re-energize to complete the last few requirements for certification.

“They were exhausted going through the process in the fact that they couldn’t see the end,” Wallace said. “But when we started to look at the things they had done, we were like, ‘Oh, we’re almost there.’”

One of those last requirements was the creation of an early-childhood resource center in the community. The resource center houses books and other materials for parents of young children to use for free.

“They struggled to find that space,” Wallace said.

Eventually, the Pontotoc County Library stepped up to the plate and provided a space for the center.

“The library worked hand in hand with them,” she said. “That partnership was really the last piece of this process.”

The library will continue to be involved in promoting early childhood education in Pontotoc.

Christi Littlejohn, manager of the Pontotoc coalition, said the library also helped the community launch an early childhood literacy program, called “UP,” as part of the Excel By 5 certification process.

On the second Monday of each month, children and parents are invited to come to the library to eat a free meal and receive a book to take home.

“UP” is designed to promote children and parents reading together, which Littlejohn said is crucial to developing literacy skills.

Parents are not allowed to drop their children off, Littlejohn said. They have to stay and participate with them.

“Lots of children in our area spend time with aunts and uncles or grandparents,” Littlejohn said. “And the thought is to entertain them, so they’re not just read to and nurtured in that way, and I think they’re suffering as a result.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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