Be the Bulb challenge shines light on kindergarten readiness

When the call went out, the community answered, a resounding voice more than one thousand strong.

Since January, a plethora of people, dedicated and determined to help prepare children for kindergarten, submitted ideas for the Studer Community Institute’s Be the Bulb challenge.

The responses were, suffice it to say, impressive and intriguing.

By the time the deadline ended at midnight on April 27, more than 1,000 submissions filled the Institute’s database.

After eliminating the blank or incomplete entries and duplicates, we were left with 272 submissions from individuals or groups from the general public and 116 from Escambia County School District employees.

That so many individuals, groups and organizations took the time and energy to develop, write and submit their ideas demonstrates the depth and breath of their care and concern for the well being of our little children.

When I started school eons ago, few people talked about or seemed to care that much about early education. Kindergarten then was mostly daycare at best or babysitting at worst, a place to eat, sleep and play our little rambunctious hearts away.

During those days, we cared little about seatbelts, childproof medicine bottles and second-hand cigarette smoke as well.

But we know now that seatbelts can save lives, cigarette smoke can be deadly and kindergarten readiness is crucial to success in school and in life.

Research by the Studer Community Institute and the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement has shown that kindergarten readiness is the most critical education issue facing Escambia County.

We know that some 1,000 children in Escambia County every year are not ready for kindergarten. That means one out of three children start behind in school, and statistics bear out that they rarely, if ever, catch up.

Of the 67 counties in the state, Escambia ranks in the bottom quartile at 51. By soliciting ideas and finding the best ones possible to improve early education, we hope to move Escambia into the top quartile of counties whose students show up prepared and ready for kindergarten.

That’s the scope and mission of the Be the Bulb challenge

That’s why Quint and Rishy Studer in January announced they would offer two awards totaling $50,000 for proposals to improve kindergarten readiness in Escambia County.

Once the entries are combed through, evaluated and judged, the Institute will award:

— $25,000 for the best idea to improve kindergarten readiness submitted by an individual or group of people employed by the Escambia County School District.

— $25,000 for the best idea to improve kindergarten readiness submitted by an individual, nonprofit or other groups of people who are not employed by Escambia Schools.

It’s clear and consistent that all the experience, care and learning opportunities children receive from birth to 5 years old contribute to their school readiness. So will, we hope, the long list of thoughtful and imaginative ideas submitted in the Be the Bulb challenge.

As expected, a lot of them have common themes on the best ways to help more children get ready for kindergarten.

Some of them were as short as a Haiku poem and as simple as a nursery rhyme. Others were as long as a doctoral dissertation and as detailed as an algorithmic expression.

The majority of entries were submitted via email, but a few were hand-delivered or sent in the mail.

They used poster boards and books and folders stuffed with spiffy proposals and promising suggestions in efforts to make their bright ideas stand out among the crowd.

If the winner were judged on presentation alone, it would be hard to beat the entry packaged in a gift box, wrapped with paper of a county map, tied with black-and-white telephone cords and centered like a bow with a bulb (that actually lights up).

Then there’s the artist who painted a canvas bag (the odor of paint still lingers) in a camouflage of colors, containing a box stuffed with shapes, stencils and samples of diagrams and sketches to improve kindergarten readiness.

Each of them — the short and the long, the simple and complex — has at heart the deep and abiding hope of helping our children get ready for kindergarten, and in the long run, preparing them for the arduous journey of life.

For better or for worst, they all support and sustain our mission to improve the quality of life in this community and the vision to make Pensacola the greatest place to live in the world, one child at a time.