Conway business, community and school leaders have joined forces in an effort to better prepare preschool-aged children for Kindergarten and create a better workforce for Conway in the future.
“We want to create world-class opportunities for our young people and prepare the next generation’s workforce and neighbors,” said Jamie Gates, senior vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber announced Thursday plans to commit $50,000 to a new nonprofit, Lifelong Learners, Inc., which is piloting a program to help day care centers offer professional development to staff and to reach out to parents to help them become more involved in their children’s education.
“Lifelong Learners will assist local preschools and day cares with professional development, installation of highest quality curriculum and parent education. Lifelong Learners will also develop and distribute parenting and teaching methods focused on milestone achievement for children from birth to age 5,” according to a news release from the chamber.
Gates officially announced the $50,000 commitment during the 2012 Business Expo’s breakfast. The money comes from the Toad Suck Daze Festival proceeds, he said.
On Thursday morning, Conway school employee Charlotte Green stood in front of about 150 business and education professionals and community leaders to talk about her nonprofit that started this year. The organization has already visited some day care centers where plans are underway to pilot the initiative for one to three years.
“I don’t know a more vulnerable age than 0 through 5 — they are completely dependent upon what we provide for them,” Green said. “I think this is a great day for Conway because what we are saying is ‘we get that. We understand that 0 through 5 is going to impact our graduation rate.’”
Gates said businesses care about Conway students’ education because those students are future employees, customers and business owners. The chamber markets Conway’s quality education to businesses to bring them to the area, he said.
The initiative launched Thursday, Green said, and Michelle Ford also officially started as the program director. Many parties are participating in the initiative, including Conway Public Schools, AETN and preschools.
Conway Public Schools superintendent Greg Murry said the district wants to help preschools better prepare children for what they will learn at the public schools in kindergarten. Some children come to kindergarten unprepared, Murry said.
Lifelong Learners takes a “multi-layered approach” to preventing children from being behind, Green said. The group began working with four pilot sites this fall, affecting nine child-care providers and more than 270 area preschoolers, according to the news release.
Preschool teachers at Helping Others Prepare to Excel (H.O.P.E. Preschool) — another nonprofit organization working with Lifelong Learning — are excited about the training staff will receive, Director Lia Tate said. The initiative will impact about 65 children and may give them an advantage, she said.
“It’s a stepping stone for them,” Tate said.
Parents in the program also can get training on everything from cleanliness to choosing a day care center, Green said. Involved parents increase children’s success in the school, officials said.
“The family structure is the core of the community,” Green said. “Most parents want to do what’s best for their kids but sometimes they just don’t know what that is.”
Lifelong is here to help, she said.