ABCs to MBAs

Lessons that Last a Lifetime
It has been scientifically proven that beginning education at an early age can help contribute to the advancement of children as they learn throughout their lives. Children in the Pine Belt are at an advantage thanks to the efforts made for early childhood education, with programs like EXCEL BY 5, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, After School Academic & Arts Program (A.S.A.A.P.), Mission Possible and Jumpstart to Success.

Excel By 5, with programs at Hattiesburg Public School District and Petal School District, is a collaborative effort of educators, parents and local stakeholders that strives to support children from newborn to five years old.

“We work with families with young children to try to ensure they succeed when they get to kindergarten,” said Dan Kibodeaux, former director of the United Way of Southeast Mississippi and co-certification manager of Hattiesburg Excel By 5. “Studies have shown that by the age of 5 a child’s educational foundation has been set. We are working together to help families better prepare their young children for student success.”

Through Excel By 5, parents and children have access to numerous resources, such as family fun events, kid’s health fair, GED preparation classes, community workroom, Medicaid/CHIP application assistance, access to books, toy lending library and so much more.

Also working to ensure kindergarten readiness is the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program—a nationally recognized book gifting initiative that mails books to children from birth until they begin kindergarten.

After launching in 1995, the program grew quickly, and recently, came to Forrest and Lamar counties in 2017.

“We have recently sent out our first round of books to children in the area,” said Staci Cox, director of community impact at United Way of Southeast Mississippi. “It is our goal to have the young children in the area stocked up with books before they enter kindergarten.”

A.S.A.A.P., established by Van Jones and his wife, Nicole, is an after school and summer program that focuses on academics and enrichment concepts to help working families.

“We keep our fees affordable for the working families and offer more services than babysitting,” said Jones.

The program assists with homework and other educational needs to help give working families more quality time together, with less time spent doing homework every night. Since inception, the Joneses have opened three locations to serve the greater Pine Belt area.

In addition, the Area Development Partnership (ADP) has developed education initiatives to create a workforce-ready community by connecting educators to business needs and students to the realities of the workplace. Programs such as Jumpstart to Success and Mission Possible allow the community entities an opportunity to unite and better prepare students for the future.

Mission Possible is a day of learning where 11th graders hone in on soft skills, such as crafting a resume, learning how to communicate during an interview, learn about proper job etiquette and more.

Likewise, Jumpstart to Success is an interactive career expo hosting more than 1,000 ninth grade students from Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties. The expo provides insight on workplace environments and shares opportunities and employer needs from throughout the region, benefiting students in the Greater Hattiesburg school districts.

While students graduate high school fully prepared to enter the workforce, some may choose to attend a higher education institution. The Pine Belt region boasts some of the top schools in the nation, including University of Southern Mississippi (USM), William Carey University and Pearl River Community College’s (PRCC) Forrest County Center.

USM, a research driven institution, offers more than 140 undergraduate academic degree plans and more than 220 graduate degree plans. Students can pursue programs of study in applied technology, construction engineering technology, nursing and marine biology, just to name a few.

The university has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s best online graduate nursing programs and has been ranked as one of the best schools for online master’s degrees by Affordable College Online.

William Carey University boasts numerous undergraduate, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees in a variety of areas, such as nursing, speech communication, education, instructional leadership, pharmacy and physical therapy. William Carey University has been ranked as one of the top institutions among regional universities in the South for best value by U.S. News & World Report.

During the past decade, the college has seen significant growth in its health care programs, such as physical therapy.

“Our aim is to provide increased access to physical therapy for the residents in this area to provide adequate services to this part of the state,” said Dr. Cyndi Scott, professor and program director of physical therapy. “In addition, the program acts somewhat as an economic engine for the Hattiesburg area. The living accommodations, professional services and commodities that these students and faculty purchase enhance the economic well-being of Hattiesburg and the surrounding area.”

By Gennie Taylor