Community engagement in the early years helps Mississippi vulnerable children and families thrive
In Alligator, Miss., a town of 200 people in the rural, impoverished Mississippi Delta, there are no formal early childhood education programs for miles. But Mechelle Wallace, a mother of three who has raised her family in the Delta, understood the importance of her children getting an early start, and now works with other families and community members through Excel by 5 to get more people invested in improving early childhood education.
This micro-documentary, a powerful two-minute film that premiered at the Learning Labs Network 2012 conference, captures Wallace’s story around how W.K. Kellogg Foundation grantee the Center for Education Innovation and its partner programs, including Excel by 5 and SPARK, helped her children with early literacy and education and inspired her to become a community organizer.
“It’s been very difficult in that we live in a vulnerable at risk area – it is predominately African American and impoverished,” Wallace says. “The piece that makes it a little harder is that I feel the pain of other families who may not be at my capacity to move forward.”
But Wallace says that after seeing the benefits of community and family engagement programs, she felt inspired to work with others to create safe environments for children and families to thrive. She often quotes Frederick Douglass, who said that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Especially in a state like Mississippi, where one in three children lives in poverty, a dedication to early childhood education is critical. Wallace says that the initiatives that WKKF has supported have created “a mindset shift around early education and why it’s important for parents” in the Delta, and now more people are really starting to see its importance, and parents and communities are more connected with education than they have been before.