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Childhood readiness program lands $70,500 grant / November 29, 2012
Smart Beginnings Southside (SBS), a local school readiness initiative to improve the quality of early childhood care and learning in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, has received a grant of $70,500 from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF), a public-private partnership headquartered in Richmond.

Representatives with Smart Beginnings were on hand in South Hill yesterday to accept a ceremonial check from the VECF. Joining the grant presentation was United Way Executive Director Jewell S. Medley. Halifax United Way is one of the organizations that supports Smart Beginnings Southside, both financially and by providing volunteer support.

Medley said her organization is excited to work with Smart Beginnings, which she said struck a personal note with her. “When I was young, no one told me I was a light bulb waiting to be turned on. Smart Beginnings recognizes that all little kids need is for someone to help them turn on that light,” said Medley. “They not only work with the kids, but they also teach parents what they need to do for their children.”

SBS was founded in 2010 as a collaborative partnership of public and private agencies, businesses, and individuals in Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties.

Edwina Gill, coordinator for Smart Beginnings, said the organization is committed to improving the care and education of preschool children, an undertaking that not only will improve children’s kindergarten performance but will yield tremendous economic and social benefits.

Southside Virginia Community College is the fiscal agent for this grant, said Gill.

The grant money will go toward information sharing and training programs that could ultimately impact the quality of life and education for more than 4,400 preschoolers in the three-county area.

“We are an informational clearing house,” said Gill. “Communication is very difficult in a rural area.” Thus, SBS exists to ensure that every organization aimed at helping children knows what the other is doing, and also, that the parents know what resources are available.

SBS is also a service provider. Gill said some of the services SBS will offer in the coming months include:

Parent Education: SBS will work with multiple parent education to develop a “best practices” guide for educating parents about positive parenting skills, nutrition, school readiness and health.

Gill explained that 18-20 percent of all children in Southside Virginia are born to mothers with less than a 12th grade education. Some of the money will go toward studying current informational resources and advise how to better use those resources. Example: Assign a centralized place (web site, local stores) to post information that parents can use.

Quality Early Learning: SBS will offer local training for daycare providers who must take at least four hours of continuing education each year. Currently these courses are only available in places like Richmond or Roanoke.

SBS also plans to look at what educational programs are available and how they can be expanded to improve childhood care skills. Gill said the motivation behind these programs comes from discovering that most of the preschoolers in Southside Virginia do not attend preschools — many are cared for by babysitters or family members.

Health Services: Some of Southside Virginia’s preschool children are not getting good nutrition, are not being immunized properly or given vision screenings. SBS will examine what health care resources are available and how to better use those resources.

One example offered involves local Lions Clubs: SBS will help bring the Lions Clubs’ pediavision screening to the schools and daycare providers. Pediavision uses infrared technology to screen vision for children as young as six months. The test can give indications of multiple vision problems that could impact learning. Gill said 17 percent of children tested are referred to a professional for further testing and treatment.

SBS was founded in 2010 as a collaborative partnership of public and private agencies, businesses, and individuals in Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties. Its goal is to unite various groups whose mission is, in whole or part, to improve the care and education of preschool children to ensure Southside’s children have the skills needed for 21st century jobs.

Gill said their motto is “Ready for school — Ready for life.”

The SBS team is made up of daycare providers, Extension services, Head Start, community service board, educators, the United Way and others who serve preschool children. So far, the group has looked at ways to improve and increase services offered the children and their parents, while also eliminating any overlap or duplication of services.

Much of its early work has involved investigating barriers to programs: “We wanted to know what those barriers were, if they existed, and how we could help remove them so more children would have access to various programs,” said Gill, who is based in South Hill.

“When young children experience high-quality, enriching early learning opportunities from birth to age five, they are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed,” she said.

Dr. John Cavan, president of Southside Virginia Community College, said at the check presentation yesterday that SBS members “are on the side of angels.” Through their programs, he sees new traditions being borne for the families in Southside Virginia. Instead of poverty, struggle, and neglect, he sees a tradition of education that will lead to achievement and success.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school. Now my children all have advanced degrees. I started the new tradition for my family and that is what Smart Beginnings is bringing to families here in Virginia,” Cavan said.

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