Bertie Smart Start auxiliary seeks funding for ‘Better Beginnings’

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WINDSOR – The earliest years of childhood are critical.

That’s been the hallmark of Smart Start since the initiative began in the state in 1993: to take those 2,000 days between childbirth and the start of kindergarten and make them the most, and best, they can be as far as early childhood development.

At the May 2 meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, Dr. Denauvo Robinson, CEO of the Albemarle Smart Start Partnership, discussed an auxiliary of the parent organization they believe will benefit the county’s children: Better Beginnings for Bertie’s Children.

Also attending were members of Robinson’s Leadership and Implementation team, composed of education leaders, faith-based leaders, agency leaders, and grass-roots citizens. Robinson thanked them all for the work they had done.

“What we’re finding is that when you raise the floor, the ceiling also rises,” Robinson said. “60 percent of children coming into kindergarten are coming there without having any type of regulated care experience. They’re coming from home – which is fine – or some other form of kith and kin care, but not in a facility that prepares them for kindergarten.”

Robinson said these 60 percent enter kindergarten behind children who have been in some sort of pre-K program. He adds they enter their first regulated education experience often two grade levels behind due to a lack of literacy and social skills.

“We think if we can address this particular issue that we can help change some things in our school system, and move to a higher plane with all our children, rather than a few,” he added.

Robinson said Better Beginnings would implement a “Triple-P” – Positive Parenting Program – focusing on parents; equipping them with the skills needed to work with their children.

Also vital to Robinson’s blueprint is the early development of social behavior.

“Kids have to understand that you don’t bite, you don’t kick, you sit where you’re supposed to,” Robinson elaborated. “We’re saying identify these three-and-four year olds and work with their parents to help them have skills that make them ‘school-ready’.”

Robinson said a program needs to be in place to help identify these children because most children are born outside of Bertie County.

“We can find them through Health Department, through faith-based community, and other ways through a child-find program,” he said. “Once we find them, we can have social behavior professionals to work with parents and children.”

Robinson said the Better Beginnings program would be unique to North Carolina.

“What’s going to cost us is having a coordinator to pull all of this together and to maintain it,” Robinson stated. “This is a program that, given time, would work for the betterment of everyone.”

Robinson proposed a budget of $105,000 and requested the county to fund 50 percent of that amount by July 1. He noted that transportation zone monies would keep some of the programs afloat through December 31.

“For that amount, it’s a bargain,” Robinson emphasized. “Please support Bertie’s youngest to start a program with positive ramifications down the line. There is no negative; this is a win-win.”

Commissioners’ chairman John Trent asked for a figure of the number of undocumented children in the county and Bertie County Schools superintendent Elaine White said the number was somewhere around 200 kindergarteners.

Angela Charlton, part of the Leadership team, and Smart Start vice-president of Early Care and Education said there are problems with everything from parents’ awareness of county agencies to transportation.

“They need to know there are services available to them,” she said. “There are families who want to know about these services, and Child Find will help that.”

White added that the county schools’ pre-K program has 130 spots for children, but only 70 have been filled for next year.

“This means we have spots available if we could find children to take them,” she informed. “But we don’t have any way of identifying where those children are. If we had a central place, we could get the referrals.”

Commissioner Ernestine (Byrd) Bazemore, herself a former educator, called Better Beginnings a good investment into the county’s children, but asked about the funding.

“Is this a one-time, or yearly?” she asked. “Because there are so many things that Bertie County needs.”

Robinson said the $100,000 would be an annual allotment, but $50,000 would be seed.

“We’re hoping next year this time we’re talking about what we’ve done, not what we’d like to do,” Robinson added.

Better Beginnings is currently housed at the old Bertie High School north of Windsor. White said while there is a request for start-up funding, there will be grant applications for the program after December 31.

Other members of the Leadership team spoke on behalf of the program, and one Commissioner stood and addressed his fellow members.

“These agencies present today (DSS, Vidant, Rural Health) know how vital this is,” said Commissioner Ronald (Ron) Wesson. “They deal with these children, and not just for schools. We have to give these children a good start … this will impact test scores, keep kids out of truancy, and affect the lives of kids.”

Most kids, Wesson maintained, are born in Hertford, Chowan, Martin counties and elsewhere, not in Bertie, adding to the difficulty in identification.

“Once we identify these kids, then these funded positions that we’re about to lose in our pre-schools can be filled; and if we lose them they go to the counties around us,” he stated.

Trent said the request would be looked at, and instructed County Manager Scott Sauer to list the program as a line-item for review as the 2017 county budget is considered.

“That’s all we can ask,” concluded Robinson, “that you consider a program to help Bertie’s finest – and youngest – citizens.”