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Miss. Building Blocks shows results

Improving kids’ socio-emotional development

Mississippi Building Blocks, a private business-funded early childhood education initiative, is in its second year and showing positive results, particularly in the area of socio-emotional development.

MBB randomly selected 100 licensed child care centers from 15 counties across Mississippi to participate in the program that includes teacher mentoring and scholarships, classroom materials, parent education and business consulting. The selection process included all types of centers, not just those that serve low-income populations.

MBB executive director Dr. Laurie Todd-Smith said, “We can transform education in our state if we start investing early.”

Although cognitive abilities in the test groups of first-year MBB participants didn’t make statistically significantly improvements, students did show significant strides in socio-emotional growth.

This type of growth in “soft skills” – such as social skills, motivation, self-control and communication – taught in early childhood programs lowers the future rates of crime, teenage pregnancy, high school drop outs and adverse health conditions, according to Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economics professor at the University of Chicago and an expert on economics of human development.

Raising kids’ IQs is not the only important aspect for being successful in life, Heckman says. By his calculations the return on investment for every dollar spent in early human development is 10 percent.

Because 90 percent of human brain growth human occurs before a child enters kindergarten, “it’s pretty clear to me that disparities in education are there well before children enter the public school system,” Smith said.

MBB has been well-received by day care centers and has a waiting list of those hoping to participate. “A lot of what we’ve learned is teachers just didn’t know what quality looks like,” Smith said.

Child Education Needs:

Licensed child care centers:  1,740

Kids served by child care centers:  101,000

Kids born:  42,000 annually

Percentage of working mothers:  60%

New kids needing day care:  25,000 annually

Note: Numbers are approximate. Source: Mississippi Building Blocks

What MBB provides to teachers

MBB provides day care teachers with mentors who provide 120 hours of on-site classroom help as well as $3,000 in materials for each classroom.

Belinda Thornton, director of North Jackson Daycare and a licensed master social worker, said MBB has boosted morale at the center, which serves approximately 60 children with six teachers is participating for a second year in the program.

“MBB has provided one-on-one technical assistance to each one of the teachers. That’s something we’ve never had before. We go to work shops and conferences, but to have someone actually come in and work with you in your own classroom was really refreshing.”

MBB has made a difference in the kids at North Jackson “in the fact that they are more excited about learning. The teachers are more excited about what they’re doing because I think they feel a little bit more confident.”

Regarding behavioral problems with children at the center, Thornton said, “I don’t think it’s the fact that they’re low-income. I think it’s the fact that their mothers are young — the ‘under 30 crowd.’”

MBB also has a parent education component that includes home visits. Additionally, the program includes scholarships for teachers to obtain CDA (Child Development Associate) certification and provides business consulting for financial management.


MBB is a business-led initiative with all funding coming from corporate sponsors with exception of one grant. MBB is a four-year project that began in fall 2009, fully funded with approximately $7 million. (See ‘Donors’ inset.)

“We’re estimating if we were to implement a model like this, the cost to do it would be approximately $2,000 per child. But if you look at remedial education in trying to help a kid learn how to read in 3rd and 4th grade” it’s much more expensive,” Smith said.

The Governor’s Office has applied for a federal Race to the Top grant, which would provide $50 million over four years to build a system that could sustain that investment. “We could expand quality improvement with things happening now and pre-K could be built,” Smith said.

A pre-K program is a public school program for 4-year-olds, who are taught by teachers with degrees and higher salaries and housed under state Department of Education.

Right now child care in Mississippi is managed by the Department of Health, which requires certain health and safety standards. Employees of child care centers usually make minimum wage and don’t receive benefits.

Most states invest money in early childhood education. According to the National Institute of Early Education Research, Mississippi is one of 10 states nationwide that does not have a state-funded pre-K program offered to children.

Amounts other Southern states spend on early childhood education are approximately: $17 million in Alabama; $341 million, Georgia; $111 million; Arkansas; $74 million Louisiana.

Since 60 percent of mothers work outside the home and approximately 42,000 babies are born annually in Mississippi, 25,000 new children need child care every year, Smith said.

The goal of MBB is to help kids become kindergarten-ready and to gather data to convince state legislators that early childhood education is important, Smith said. “I don’t think our business funders want to the pay for this for the next 20 years.”

Building Blocks Donors:

> Phil Hardin Foundation

> Mississippi Power Company

> Barksdale Foundation

> AT&T

> Entergy

> Barksdale Reading Institute

> Federal Appropriation- Sen. Thad Cochran

> Cellular South

> Community Foundation for Northwest Mississippi

> McAlister’s Deli

> Meredith Creekmore

> Rock River Foundation

> CREATE Foundation

> Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative


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