Mississippi Public Broadcasting has always placed a high importance on education. So when Mississippi First, a non-partisan, non-profit organization specializing in education policy research and advocacy, approached MPB to help shine a light on the state of Pre-K education in the state, it was an automatic yes. This needed to be shared.
It’s true, Mississippi was one of 11 states that did not have a statewide pre-K program. But because of the foresight of the 2013 Legislature in their passing of the Early Learning Collaborative Act, 11 communities were chosen as a starter program for pre-K collaborations in Mississippi. In speaking with Rachel Canter, the Executive Director of Mississippi First, we learned why Pre-K education is so important. “It can have a deep impact on economic development because there is such a huge return on investment for every dollar invested in pre-k. There is a $17 return on every $1 invested.”
To find out more, MPB Director of Production Ed Ellington, along with photographers Ryan Bohling and Joey Gibson travelled to one of these 11 communities: Monroe County in northeastern Mississippi. They talked with educators, administrators, parents, and yes-even kids to find out how this collaboration was working. Dr. Cathy Grace, director of the Gilmore Early Learning Initiative had a lot to say about the importance of reaching kids early. “Most of our learning is done from birth to age five. We need to reach those kids and give them the tools they need before they reach first grade. This is such an important time, because you’re only four once.”
Drussel Bailey, the Assistant Director of the Gilmore Early Learning Initiative Collaborative was in the G.E.L.I program himself growing up, and he had this to add: “These children are the people that will affect the economy. These are the people that will affect tax-payers’ money. This is the future.”
But our team discovered there’s a gap between the number of kids that need Pre-K and the number of seats available to them. Superintendent Scott Cantrell of the Monroe County School District told us that most Pre-K classrooms in the Collaborative can take only 20 students, “But there will normally be between 85 to 105 children entering kindergarten.”
So how can this discrepancy be fixed? MPB Producer Keri Horn invited Legislators from Mississippi and administrators from the Mississippi Department of Education to come to MPB studios and talk about next-steps and solutions. Representative Toby Barker from House District 102 said, “These 11 Pre-K school districts are in their second year. So we will look back in a couple of years and see did this make a difference. And that’s been our message to these collaboratives: Prove us right on this. Because we all know that this can make a difference. The evidence says it can.... We need to be on the front lines and make this happen for children.”
Dr. Kim Benton, the Chief Academic Officer from the Mississippi Department of Education had this to add: “The one beautiful thing about this Early Learning Collaborative is it’s a model. While we’re starting small with 11 collaboratives, it provides that model of what it can look like in our communities.... There’s a consistency in terms of standards and the learning opportunities.”
Senator Brice Wiggins from Senate District 52 said, “Since the passage of this bill, we’ve received national recognition for how we’ve addressed the need for Pre-K in Mississippi.... I’m proud to say that Mississippi is leading the way. And for Mississippi to be first in Education, wow. That’s something you never thought you’d hear!
The Production Team at MPB looks forward to visiting all 11 communities in the Collaborative to see how this plan continues to work over the next few years. We hope to follow kids throughout their educational journey to see what impact early learning has had on their lives. And with the help of these groups, leaders, as well as the Committee for Economic Development, MPB will do just that.
MPB is also going beyond production and extending its education and outreach resources to these collaboratives. On February 17, 2015, Dr. Kim Benton announced the Mississippi Department of Education’s partnership with MPB on early childhood and dropout prevention efforts, including college and career readiness. Maggie Stevenson, MPB’s Deputy Executive Director for Education, stated, “MPB has a long history of focusing on early childhood. We are excited about this partnership and the opportunity to impact Mississippi’s youngest citizens.”