- Associated Press - Saturday, October 7, 2017

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - For Dr. Susan Chiarito, education has always been an important part of life.

“I’ve always been a proponent of education,” she said. “As a resident, I was always pro patient education; getting whatever person to function at the maximum capacity they could.

“There is a definite variety of education levels and understanding. I knew if we don’t have good early education, if a child can’t read by third grade, they’ll have a high chance of dropping out of school.

“And in a community like Vicksburg, if we have kids dropping out of school, then they’re not going to have as good an opportunity to work in a higher level of income and bring their children up in a higher level of income.”

A Texas native, Chiarito was a nurse before deciding to go to medical school and completing her education at the University of Mississippi Medical School. She has been a family practitioner in Vicksburg since 1996.

Her interest in education earned her an invitation from United Way of West Central Mississippi director Michele Connelly to join the community’s Excel by 5 steering committee. Excel by 5, Chiarito said, can give children the ability to be productive members of society.

“There’s always those great stories of a mom who’s a single mom, and she works three jobs and her kids all graduate from college and go to med school,” she said. “But the majority of people who have a single mom don’t have the opportunities to have early education and lots of vocabulary here in their homes. They have less chance of graduating high school and a less chance of graduating college.”

Excel by 5, Chiarito said, is a four-pronged approach involving parents, teachers of early education, the community and the medical community.

“By having healthier children, we knew they are going to be able to study better, and if we have the schools on board, and there’s healthy food for breakfast and lunch, they are going to have a better score on tests.”

The challenge, she said, is getting the community to be aware of this problem.

“Because if we can get every child ready for kindergarten, then we can get every child reading by third grade and we can get everybody passing junior high and staying in high school, and everybody working or going to junior college or to college.”

She said the steering committee meets every other month to plan projects. Presently, she said, the organization is still trying to meet the obligations to qualify as an Excel by 5 community.

“The community is still in the formative stage of Excel by 5,” she said. “We haven’t been approved as an Excel by 5 community; this year, we will have fulfilled all the basic things we need to do.”

The committee has completed questionnaires of parents to see what the parents think is lacking in the community so the group can prepare a resource guide for parents outlining what services are available. Once the Excel by 5 program is in operation, she said, the committee will continue supporting kindergarten education and other efforts to provide better learning.

“It’s whatever we can do to help our community, because in the grand scheme of things, if we had more educated people, we’d have a bigger tax base, more people, and we can build better parks and better public facilities.”

Outside of Excel by 5, Chiarito is a member of St. Michael Catholic Church and sings in the choir. She is a director for the Vicksburg Medical Foundation, which provides scholarships to students entering pre-medicine, nursing or dental school, and is a past president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians.

She and her husband are also active in United Way.

And while Excel by 5 “Is the thing that needs me right now, United Way has always been a huge part of our lives. I always try to do things in the community that I see are going to make a difference.”


Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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