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Culture 2

Excel by Eight Improving Educational Outcomes


Excel by Eight, part of Arkansas’ Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR), focuses on improving health and educational outcomes for children in Arkansas. While this grant-funded program serves six specific counties, a united goal exists for all Arkansas families and communities to have what they need to help children thrive from the beginning.

Excel by Eight (E8) expanded the main goals of AR-GLR as they realized a third-grade reading level begins with the proper child development in the first three years of life. While the organization has been around since 2011, a shift in the focus to early childhood development has earned national recognition for parent involvement, community engagement, school readiness, classroom attendance and summer learning.

Six counties currently serve as model communities for E8:

  • Conway – Morrilton, Plumerville, Menifee, Oppelo, Center Ridge
  • Independence – Batesville, Newark, Cushman, Oil Trough, Sulphur Rock, Pleasant Plains, Southside, Magness, Moorefield
  • Monroe – Clarendon, Holly Grove, Brinkley, Roe, Fargo
  • Pulaski – Alexander, Cammack Village, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Maumelle, North Little Rock, Sherwood and Wrightsville
  • Sevier – De Queen, Horatio, Lockesburg, Gillham, Ben Lommond
  • Union – El Dorado, Smackover, Junction City, Calion, Huttig, Strong, Norphlet, Felsenthal

Building a grid for a change

Excel by Eight took their focus areas and built a reliable resource grid for families and communities across Arkansas.

In each of these focus communities, educators, local health care workers, social workers and other child development officials work together to take the resource grid and identify gaps in the local community. These gaps become a plan built to make changes for children and those who raise, teach and influence them.

In addition to a local community Task Force, the E8 Foundation works with policymakers to keep early childhood development and family support at the forefront of new policies and community funding. The E8 Foundation gains momentum by three core values – healthy beginnings, healthy families and high-quality child care that leads to early learning. Moving beyond simple inclusion practices, E8 works to lead the way with prenatal services, early childhood well visit benchmarks, creating access to therapy services, and supporting working parents needing safe, local child care options.

The organization can leverage the power of change through their statewide Steering Committee and use those relationships to make more extensive changes for these smaller, rural communities needing access to care, prenatal screenings, development trackers and general resource knowledge.

Why is the work of E8 so important?

The most significant growth in the language and communication centers of the brain happens in the first year of life, between ages 2 and 5, higher cognitive function development peaks. This part of brain development is essential to executive function skills such as focus, ignoring distractions, prioritizing, organizing and planning, adapting to the unexpected, problem-solving, getting along and working as a team, and keeping our emotions under control. In addition, these executive function skills are crucial to success in the workplace. So, early childhood protection and growth are critical factors to developing local community economic and workforce development in the future.

Arkansas early childhood development factors:

  • In Arkansas, 12% of births are premature.
  • Only 10% of infants and toddlers have access to high-quality child care in Arkansas, and less than half of three and four-year-olds are enrolled in PreK.
  • Only 38% of third-graders met the reading readiness benchmark in Arkansas, up from 35% in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Yet, only 22% of Black and 28% of Hispanic students met the benchmark compared to 43% of white students.

It is easy for those not actively raising young children not to notice the changes and development that happen in their first three years and how those milestones catalyze each next step. These changes and challenges apply to grandchildren, co-workers and employees’ children, children at church, and the table next to us in a restaurant. As community members, we all play a role in developing the next generation, and engaged communities provide ample opportunity for children to learn and grow.

Excel by Eight offers all its resources to any community in Arkansas. As plans flourish in their current six counties, a new focus will come in other regions. But any community can use the grid as a model for local conversations and early childhood development plans. For more information, follow E8 on social media, sign up for their newsletter or visit their blog for resources and articles about development successes.

Other Arkansas educational resources for families:

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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2 responses to “Excel by Eight Improving Educational Outcomes”

  1. […] writer, and communications strategist.  She serves as the Communications Director for Excel by 8, a community partnership focused on reading levels in Arkansas communities. In addition to her day […]

  2. […] Excel by Eight is committed to improving educational outcomes, focusing on getting Arkansas students to read at grade level through preschool and early grade school level initiatives. Partnering with six counties across Arkansas, E8 uses a community-level reliable resources grid system to offer standardized metrics to measure a community’s commitment to the vulnerable by tracking access to food, child care, books, transportation and health care. By working with community leaders, they identify gaps and actional steps for improvement. Communities committed to childhood development see improved workforce and quality of life among its members. […]

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