Union County schools among Northeast Mississippi early childhood grant recipients

The Toyota Wellspring Education Fund vision is for Northeast Mississippi to build a world-class, home-grown workforce to ensure all young people are exposed, prepared, and connected to living wage employment opportunities through strong career guidance and education-to-career experiences.

The foundation for this work is started with early childhood, and the TWEF committee has committed $89,500 in grant funding annually over the next three years for this purpose. These funds can be requested across the eight school districts in the Pontotoc, Union, and Lee counties.

The target for these early childhood funds is to increase the percentage of students that are kindergarten ready. However, the school districts have the autonomy to come up with programs to address this target.

According to Mike Staten, the President of BNA Bank and member of the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund Advisory Committee, “Early childhood education is critical for the emotional, mental, and physical development of our children. I am excited about this grant initiative and it is my hope that each child who benefits from this will have an opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling and successful life.”

The Union County School District, one of the grant recipients, has received money for several years to help prepare students.

“We call it Pre-K Boot Camp,” Union County Assistant Superintendent of Schools Windy Faulkner said.

“It’s for incoming kindergarten students who have never been enrolled here.”

“We give them a taste of what it will be like,” she continued. “We take them to the cafeteria, let them sit as the desks, so they know what to expect.” The children will be introduced to using tablets if they are not already familiar with them.

All four county schools will have the boot camps, but participation will be limited to 20 each.

Schools were unable to have the camps this past year due to the pandemic but officials did do some online preparation and had packets available for the children.

“We are very thankful we have the grant,” Faulkner said. “We all know how important early childhood education is. During those four weeks they are like little sponges.”

The Union County Pre-K Boot Camps will be June 2-4, June 7-10, June 14-17

and June 21-24.

The other school districts in the area developed plans related to summer programming or targeted remediation support during the school year.

Specifically, Lee County and Pontotoc City requested funding to support part time staff during the school year to support reading development.

Baldwyn, Nettleton, New Albany, Pontotoc County, Tupelo, and Union County all coordinate summer programming for incoming kindergarten students.

The Toyota Wellspring Education Fund approved requests spanning from $6,000 to $20,000 for a total of the full $89,500 to be distributed at the end of May 2021.

Although the outcomes related to MKAS data are an important data point related to this funding, the processes and procedures that these incoming kindergarten students learn help set them up for success as they transition into the school setting.

For example, Pontotoc City students can expect support during the school year from an experienced educator that will provide classroom support for students and small group academic readiness interventions. The combination of academic enrichment and procedural support will set the foundation for a strong kindergarten year. The anticipated outcome for these students is to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten, especially those students that have not had a structured prekindergarten experience.

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