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Next Step Tour stops in Natchez

NATCHEZ — What our community’s preschoolers do today will have effects on the Miss-Lou for years to come.

That was the message of the Mississippi Economic Council’s Early Childhood Development Next Step Tour, which was in Natchez Tuesday for its third stop.

The program’s aim is to increase awareness on the importance of development in a child’s first five years of life.

Communities should be using resources already in place to assist day care centers, speakers said.

Blake Wilson, president of MEC, said, at its root, this was not about teaching ABCs to infants or mandating pre-school, but rather about simply talking and playing with children.

“Leaving a child stuck in front of a television is not good enough for the state of Mississippi,” Wilson said. “We just have to take a little bit of interest in the stuff already available.”

Mike Petro, vice president of the Committee of Economic Development in Washington, D.C., said early childhood development is absolutely an economic issue.

“Business leaders across the country are starting to see the statistics about long-term economic benefits,” he said. “We need more and more skilled workers, and we are getting less and less.”

But it is not just a long-term issue, Petro said. It has short-term implications, as he stated in a story about a receptionist with a young daughter.

“She talked about what kind of worker she was when daughter was in a center that was dirty and unsafe; she said, ‘I’m the first person you see when come into company, and I’m not at my best when I’m worried about my daughter,’” Petro said. “Once she got her daughter into better program, she talked about how much better of a worker she is.”

Executive Director of Mississippi Building Blocks, Laurie Smith, had a story about a center that had reared generations of children in Mississippi.

“For three hours, I watched the director come in and out of the room, leaving 12 toddlers of all races unsupervised in high chairs,” Smith said. “They had no toys, no diaper changes, no food and they did not cry.

“They had nothing but a soap opera on the television, and they were in something of a lethargic state.”

Smith said the children did not cry because their brains had not made the connection that crying gets them attention, the director had assumed that keeping children quiet and safe during the day was how to run a day care.

In Natchez-Adams County, day care centers can receive ideas, assistance and staff development through the Mississippi Childcare Quality Step System, which evaluates day care centers, and the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Between the Lions Program, which introduces learning to children in a fun way.

Contact Connie Clay at 662-325-4836 for more information about the Quality Step System. For more information on Between the Lions, contact Nikki McCelleis at 601-432-6565.

Mississippi State University’s Childcare Resource and Referral is also available at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. It is a resource that allows parents, teachers, day care operators or anyone interested to check out tools to help with early childhood development.

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