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Lafayette County Certified ‘Child Friendly’

Kids enjoy painting at the Square Fair, a special pavilion set up for youngsters at the recent Double Decker Festival in Oxford. / Photo By Tad Wilkes
Kids enjoy painting at the Square Fair, a special pavilion set up for youngsters at the recent Double Decker Festival in Oxford. / Photo By Tad Wilkes

Lafayette County can add another community title to its present lineup of awards and accolades making it an attractive place to live, but the newest community title is dedicated to the area’s youngest group of residents –– Lafayette County children under the age of five.

The Lafayette-Oxford-University (LOU) community has become the newest certified child-friendly community by the Excel By 5 Program, becoming the most recent addition to Mississippi’s family of Excel By 5 Certified Communities.

The commitment to ensuring that children will enter kindergarten healthy, happy and ready to succeed has paid off for a core group of community leaders and educators dedicated to the cause. Lafayette County children under the age of five are the benefactors of all the hard work and dedication by those who worked tirelessly to see this certification process through.

Launched in the fall of 2004, Excel By 5 is an innovative process that is designed to encourage and assist communities to become actively involved in supporting their young children.

“We are thrilled that our community has achieved Excel By 5 Certification,” said Mary Harrington, certification manager of the LOU Excel By 5 Candidate Steering Committee. “Through the dedication of many people involved in this effort, we have made significant progress toward our goal of having every child prepared to enter kindergarten, but our work is far from done. Our Coalition plans to expand its efforts, particularly in neighborhoods where children are most vulnerable.”

The first of its kind, the Excel By 5 certification process emphasizes the important roles parents and primary caregivers play in educating children during their most formative years, birth to age five. Quality early learning experiences for all children are critical to a community’s economic success, a key driver of school readiness, and vital to improving high school graduation rates.

Studies show that children entering kindergarten with the cognitive, social and emotional skills necessary for success are more likely to graduate high school.

“What a great community accomplishment, but certification is just the beginning, definitely a milestone,” added Kathy Sukanek, executive director of the United Way of Oxford & Lafayette County. “Many people have worked very hard and have established resources that are now available to parents, child care workers and other caregivers of children under the age of five.”

One such community resources established is the Family Resource Center that is now open at 1097 Jackson Avenue West by the Oxford Malco Movie Theater. Known as the Northwest Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Center and L.O.U. Excel by 5 Coalition Family Resource Center, this free community resource offers development learning tools, books and other materials to parents, grandparents and families in the community who have children under the age of five.

Also, the Resource Center can be used by educators, school teachers, child care workers and child caregivers who work with children under the age of five.

The Family Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“To work with people whose sole purpose is to help young children, birth to age give, learn and develop emotionally and socially is a privilege,” said Kerry Holmes, steering committee chair. “Congratulations and thank you to all the groups and individuals within our community who made it possible to become an Excel By 5 Certified Early Childhood Communities in Mississippi.”

Lafayette County joins 27 other communities in the state of Mississippi who are Excel By 5 certified communities. The recent addition to Mississippi’s family of Excel By 5 certified communities will help Lafayette County champion for the success of the community’s babies and children.

This recent dedication also demonstrates the coalition’s willingness to invest in the future of the community and state. To find out how to become involved with Excel By 5, call 662-236-4265 or visit www.excelby5.com. –– Kelly Graeber, Volunteer Oxford

Email Kelly Graeber at volunteer@oxfordms.net

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