Early Learning on Wheels and the Pop Up Learning Fair came out on top in the Studer Community Institute Be the Bulb Challenge.
Quint and Rishy Studer awarded $50,000 on Thursday to the two winners for the best ideas to improve early learning in Escambia County and raise the kindergarten-readiness of area children.
The top two ideas were selected from more 272 submissions from individuals or groups from the general public and 116 from Escambia County School District employees.
The two groups each received $25,000 for their award-winning submissions.
Andreal Johnson, Dynita Bufford and LaTris Sykes won the award for the School District with the Early Learning on Wheels, a mobile learning center designed to target high-poverty neighborhoods in Escambia County.
“We really have a passion for early learning and we wanted to know how could we get early learning out into the community for everyone,” said Dynita Bufford, who works for the School District’s Title 1 program. “So we decided to take a bus or a van and flip it into a classroom so that everyone can have access to early learning.”
The winning idea involved placing a mobile learning center on the grounds of homes, schools, local parks and low-income housing and apartments. The goal is to provide young children from birth to 4 years olds, and their families, access to materials that are critical for early learning.
Inside either a van, school bus or charter bus turned into a a mobile center, children will find five interactive learning stations, along with books, technology and a variety of early learning materials and resources.
The winning proposal from the general public came from two Sacred Heart Hospital neonatal intensive care nurses, Leslynne Green and Vanessa Kennedy.
“It is surreal right now,” said Vanessa Kennedy. “All our energy was focused on trying to make this work, trying to put our hearts on paper.”
They came up with the Pop Up Learning Fair with the belief that the maximum impact of early learning would be to focus on the geographic areas in the county with the greatest need.
The fairs would be set up in neighborhoods, schools or parks and filled with general early learning information, fair-themed festivities, sponsor booths and giveaways.
They would be targeted to specific age groups with rooms for babies, 1- and 2-year-olds, up to age 5.
For parental engagement, volunteers would gather contact information for follow-up, e-mails on the questionnaires, specifically for the child’s age to keep them abreast and involved in efforts to assist in early learning.
“This is the opportunity to see multiple families across the county doing things that they learned because of these resources that they’re going to be exposed to,” said Leslynne Green. “For us that’s very rewarding.”
The Be the Bulb challenge came on the heels of two years of research by the Institute and the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement, highlighting kindergarten readiness as the most critical issue facing Escambia County.
Of the 67 counties in the state, Escambia ranks in the bottom fourth. By soliciting ideas and finding the ones with the most potential to improve early education, the Institute’s goal is to move Escambia from the bottom fourth to the top in terms of kindergarten readiness.
Research shows that children who start behind in kindergarten struggle throughout their academic careers.
Improving those educational outcomes is crucial not only to improving the lives of our children, but also is critical to having a community with a skilled workforce that supports the growth and development of small businesses.
The hope is that Early Learning on Wheels and Pop Up Fairs will play critical roles in improving early childhood education in Escambia County.
The parent is the child’s first teacher,” Bufford said. “And with the Early Learning on Wheels we’ll be able to build capacity with the parents and help them with different things to help them interact better with their child and help them learn.”