$5M award addresses state’s early education
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The Mississippi State University Extension Service has been awarded $5 million to directly impact early-childhood education in the state by developing a new curriculum for children from birth through age 5.
The funds awarded by the Mississippi Department of Human Services will be used to develop “My Mississippi Adventures,” a developmentally appropriate, integrated curriculum to be used in licensed child care facilities. It will focus on people, places and things indigenous to Mississippi.
Curriculum materials, which will be developed by faculty across the state, will be aligned with the Mississippi State Department of Education’s Early Childhood Learning Standards. The curriculum will offer a professional development component for early child care and education professionals in the state.
Michael Newman, director of the MSU School of Human Sciences, said faculty members in human development and family science have a history of providing Extension programing aimed at improving conditions for children and families in Mississippi through early-childhood programs.
“This project has the opportunity to impact both future teachers still in our college classrooms and existing teachers already working in the field as child care providers,” Newman said.
An estimated 42% of Mississippi children through age 5 are cared for in one of 1,473 licensed child care facilities across the state. Curricula that prepare children for kindergarten are expensive, so many are not able to participate in structured educational activities.
Lori Staton, an associate professor of human development and family science, said the curriculum under development will be offered free of charge to licensed child care providers.
“Social and emotional development are the most basic elements children at this age need,” Staton said. “If they get this early, they will do better academically. This curriculum is being designed to provide that developmental foundation so children are ready to be successful in school.”
Staton, who holds appointments with Extension and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, previously authored a children’s book published by MSU Extension. She will write five more books to highlight the Gulf Coast, western Mississippi, the state capitol, the Delta and northeast Mississippi for the My Mississippi Adventures curriculum.
“We will highlight unique characteristics of each region to start young children recognizing that they can take pride in where they are from,” Staton said. “This also allows teachers in the other regions to teach their children things they may not know about the rest of the state.”
Julie Parker, an associate professor of human development and family science who holds an Extension appointment, said the curriculum will provide a full year of education and will be theme- and project-based.
“The professional development component and the curriculum will be in tandem, and we will offer strategies for the teachers to use to better work with their children,” Parker said.
The four-year project will begin with stakeholder input from those involved in the early-childhood industry in Mississippi.
“We will use focus groups to gather data from community-based child care providers and then build our curriculum based on educational principles and what they see as critical for them,” Parker said. “We believe this curriculum will have excellent buy-in and utilization since it will be based on what these teachers have identified as important.”
As teachers are better equipped to meet the demands of preparing young children for school, this will result in reduced turnover among child care providers.
“Jobs in the child care industry are hard, and the pay is low,” Newman said. “Many people who love children and want to work with them find they are not equipped as teachers for the demands of the job.
“I expect this curriculum and the professional development component to make them more competent and comfortable in their role as teachers of young children, and the program will give parents confidence about what their children are receiving in their child care programs,” he said.