Grant to benefit local early childhood education

Published 11:57 am Saturday, November 3, 2018

by Stephen H. Cowles / Staff Writer
and Stephen Faleski / Staff Writer

Early childhood education in three public school divisions of Western Tidewater — Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight — will benefit from a $1 million grant bestowed by the Obici Healthcare Foundation. The announcement was made on Wednesday afternoon in the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

This shared grant is part of the foundation’s new overall strategy in not only preventing illnesses and diseases, but also addressing other factors that can affect the long-term health and growth of individuals and communities. One of the latter is early childhood education.

The organization looked at recent information from the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program, which foundation CEO Annette Beuchler stated “indicates that 40 percent of students enter kindergarten ‘not ready’ in terms of demonstrating key school readiness skills… Consequently, an investment in the early years of life is one of the best investments we can make.”

The Virginia General Assembly has already made an investment, reportedly at nearly $6M, which will be devoted to improving preschoolers’ learning. In turn, the foundation is building on that action.

“Improving the level of early childhood education is the primary path for improving overall academic achievement and ultimately better health status,” stated Beuchler.

So the Obici group is supporting a pilot preschool extension of the VKRP in the aforementioned localities. The foundation will also support the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, which enables teachers to get periodic individualized professional development. This will be for Head Start, faith-based and private classrooms. Further, the group is backing the pilot of the STREAMin3 (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) Curriculum in Virginia Preschool Initiative and Head Start classrooms.

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School leaders from Western Tidewater were contacted about how the grant will benefit their respective school divisions.



Robert Holt, chairman of the Franklin City Public School Board, spoke for the division about this announcement.

“In terms of Franklin Schools, the grant will provide two days of professional development training at the University of Virginia for all Pre-K teachers, our elementary school principal and assistant principal. The grant will cover the cost of travel, instruction and materials and substitutes. It will span a period of 20 months.”

Kelvin Edwards, deputy superintendent to Supt. Tamara Sterling, added that the money will also cover the instructional coach and stipend for a coordinator.

Holt continued, “The Franklin School Division is very appreciative of the Obici Foundation’s grant. We are always looking for professional development opportunities for our staff, and outside funding allows us to do more of that. We have worked diligently with our Pre-K partners to increase the level of school-readiness for our incoming kindergarten students; this grant allows us to enhance that effort. I am certain Southampton, Isle of Wight and Surry feel the same way.”



Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon, division superintendent for Southampton, said, “As educators, we understand the importance of early education and the impact it has on learning throughout a child’s life. The Obici Healthcare Foundation has generously supplemented funds from the Virginia General Assembly to invest in the educational experience for our preschool students.

“The three-part initiative is aligned with the vision of Southampton County Schools’ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) program, in which teachers are provided training and access to research based educational tools to enhance the classroom experience where students are immersed in hands-on, interactive learning on the cutting edge of technology.”

She continued, “The Obici Healthcare Foundation Grant will give us the ability to assess our students’ progress, deliver tailored professional development for teachers and provide the STREAMin3 curriculum in all PreK classes.

The shared vision of the Obici Healthcare Foundation and Southampton County Public Schools for our PreK students is an investment in our most precious assets, the students of Southampton County. The Obici Healthcare Foundation is a valued partner of our school division and we are honored to be a recipient of the grant.”

Chris Tsitsera, coordinator of Federal Programs, said, “Southampton County Public Schools is excited to be working in conjunction with the Obici Foundation to provide our teachers staff development opportunities as we embark on the new STREAMin3 curriculum developed by the UVA’s Curry School of Education.”

Linda Drake, a PreK teacher at Meherrin Elementary School, said, “The early years of learning leave an imprint on a student’s life that impact them far into the future. A quality Pre-K program enhances not only their academic performance but also teaches them social/emotional skills that will carry them through life.”

Dr. Deborah Goodwyn, chairwoman of the Southampton County School Board, said, “I am excited that Southampton County Public Schools will be a part of this initiative to improve early childhood education in Suffolk and Western Tidewater. Research consistently shows a link between participation in high quality early education and improved health for children.”


Dr. Jim Thornton, superintendent of Isle of Wight County Public Schools, stated, “This is an incredible an opportunity to support our efforts in creating high quality experiences for our preschool students.

The resources and professional development we will receive through this partnership will better prepare our youngest learners for success in school.”

Tracy Agnew, editor of The Suffolk News-Herald, contributed to this article.