Child#8217;s group to get a healthy grant to help kids get healthy

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 6, 2007

A local organization now has the resources it needs to plan for the future of our youth.

The Franklin/Southampton Early Childhood Commission recently received the news that it is to receive $30,000, part of 16 grants awarded throughout the state, from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation for the Smart Beginnings initiative.

The Smart Beginnings planning grant will be used to find out what is needed in the community and schools to help preschoolers become more prepared.

“What we really want to do is to educate everyone—teachers, school administrators, childcare directors,” said Martha Kello, FSECC Chair and head of the Early Childhood Development Program at Paul D. Camp Community College.

“We want everyone to be aware of the needs of young children so they can be prepared for success in school and in life.”

Barbara Mease, FSECC member and executive director of The Children’s Center, said, “We’re also thinking about the children’s total well-being, the interrelationship between the child’s health and mental health.”

According to Kello and Mease, it was once thought that children could not learn until they are 6 years old.

“Researchers have found that children who came into first grade knowing certain pieces of information, such as the alphabet or colors, were more successful in learning,” said Mease. “That was the beginning of Head Start. It gave the kids who were not exposed to this information an opportunity (to be prepared).”

Added Kello, “In the fall of 1974, kindergarten became mandatory. Since then, the focus has really been on the capacity of learning in those early years.”

Mease and Kello said not only do children learn through books, counting and reciting ABCs, they learn by doing everyday things around the house.

“They learn by matching socks, for example,” said Mease. “They learn by putting flatware in a holder and separating the utensils.

“An infant in a high chair who drops a toy from there learns about gravity, and if the toy makes a sound, that someone is going to pick it back up and play with them. They are learning that they can control their environment,” she said.

The local commission is made up of a wide range of about 46 members from both localities that include school superintendents, social services representatives, business leaders, law enforcement officials, childcare facility directors and Chamber personnel. Partnering with so many other agencies with various offerings, they say, will eliminate the repetition of programs and enable them to work together to achieve goals.

The Commission is looking to increase leadership in the community, increase resources and support and increase awareness of needs and combine efforts for success. They will look at what is already available, even programs that they may not be aware of, fill in the gaps between what is available and what is needed, identify priorities, and look at options for funding.

“We want to develop subcommittees into working entities,” Mease said.

Those committees will be Ready Children, Ready Families, Ready Services, Ready Schools and Ready Communities.

“This is our first year,” Kello said. “We’ll have our subcommittees form and bring back a plan that can be turned into a strategic plan.”

According to Mease by next spring, the FSECC can apply for the Smart Beginnings Partnership grant that will help with implementation of the plan.

Kello noted that early childhood education should concern everyone.

“One of the things that people don’t realize is the effect that quality childhood programs have on us,” she said. “Just because you don’t have a child doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you.”

Kello said that quality programs reduce the crime rate, citing juvenile delinquency and drug use as examples, and reduced need for remedial education in schools.

“It makes sense that I, as a regular citizen, need to be concerned. I’d rather my tax money go into the prevention rather than the correction of problems.”

The next meeting of the full commission will be a breakfast meeting to be held Oct. 3 at the Workforce Development Center. More information will be published prior to the meeting. Anyone wishing to serve on a committee may contact Kello,