Smart Beginnings prepares local youngsters for school

Published 8:32 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

FRANKLIN—As a retired educator, Dr. Mary Mehaffey knows the importance of students being prepared to enter school.

That’s why she’s involved with Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater. The non-profit coalition includes residents from Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties who ensure children enter school healthy and ready to learn.

“I just see tremendous opportunities for children,” said Mehaffey, who served as Isle of Wight Schools’ associate superintendent for instruction. “In this time of tough budgets, it’s an excellent way to share resources.”

The Smart Beginnings collaboration links the Smart Beginnings stakeholder interests with program and service priorities that impact school readiness for children from birth to 5 years old in Western Tidewater, according to Executive Director Ellen Couch.

Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater is one of 24 local or regional initiatives across the state supported by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. The foundation is working to build a comprehensive network of early care and education services, according to Couch.

“We are tracking data now that shows that the work of the committees is helping the community,” she said.

Ipek Taffe, vice president for children’s services for The Planning Council, a non-profit community-based planning corporation, said research shows that most human brain development occurs before age 5. An investment in children at that age pays off down the road, she said.

“It takes less money to invest in early-childhood education than incarceration,” she said.

Anne Bryant, executive director of the Franklin/Southampton Area United Way, said the partnership has “been a great fit.”

“This has been a great opportunity for us to do something other than fundraising and to do something to help children,” she said.

Smart Beginnings is not immune from the budget crunches affecting local governments.

“Of course I am concerned regarding funding, but we will streamline our budget and do what we have to do, because ultimately children are who we’re here to help and serve,” Couch said, adding that the collaboration leverages local money to “acquire grants in order to make a bigger impact in the community.”

“We’re just trying to reach as many kids and families and providers within the Western Tidewater community as we can,” she said.