Summit to engage churches in child literacy effort

By Reggie Ponder

Chowan Herald

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EDENTON — The Chowan/Perquimans Smart Start Partnership will hold a first-of-its-kind meeting in Chowan County on Feb. 1 to help leaders of the faith community understand how congregations can boost early childhood education.

The first-ever Faith Summit will be held from 8:30 a.m. – noon at Edenton United Methodist Church. Organizers ask that those planning to attend contact Sarah Williams at the Smart Start Partnership office at 482-3035 or by Jan. 22 so that there will be adequate arrangements for food and space.

A light breakfast will be served at 8:30 a.m.

While the event is designed specifically for church leaders, the general public is invited.

The summit is part of the overall effort to promote early literacy, good parenting skills, and development of healthy social behaviors in young children.

Chowan last year was one of four counties in the state — the other three were Bertie, Hyde and Beaufort — selected to be part of the Transformation Zone program through Race to the Top.

A key part of the Faith Summit will be informing leaders of the faith community about what resources are available through the Transformation Zone grant, how churches can help their members and others in the community access those resources, and how churches can support the work of the various programs.

Sarah Williams of the Chowan/Perquimans Smart Start Partnership said this week that churches can be involved in early childhood education in many ways, including offering an early childhood education program or parenting program on-site, collecting and donating supplies for a program, referring parents to a program, providing volunteer support, and transporting people to parenting classes or other programs.

Smart Start has not held a Faith Summit in Chowan County before.

“It’s the very first one,” said Susan Nixon, director of the Chowan/Perquimans Smart Start Partnership.

Nixon said the partnership decided that with the Transformation Zone grant in place, this was a good time to inform the faith community about what the organization is doing and how churches can be part of it. Through the Transformation Zone grant, Williams explained, “the community helps transform early childhood education so that children are ready to go to school.”

The early childhood initiatives through Smart Start include parenting programs, help with child discipline strategies, and child care.

These initiatives can benefit from the support of the faith community, according to organizers of the Faith Summit.

“The idea of the Faith Summit is to get the faith community involved, because especially in rural counties that is where you can get in touch with the parents and get them involved,” Williams said.

Williams said another message that the Smart Start Partnership wants to get out to churches is that state licensure of child care programs is an important step for churches to take — and will not undermine the faith content of their programs.

“We want to dispel the myth of being under the state and not being able to do your own faith agenda,” Williams said.

Among those scheduled to be on the program at the Faith Summit are Edenton-Chowan Schools Superintendent Allan Smith and Board of Education member Glorious Elliot; White Oak Elementary School Principal Michelle White; Kay Wright of Edenton Teapot Child Development Center; Pam White with the Chowan/Perquimans Smart Start Partnership — star rating system; and Jacque White with the youth ministry program of Center Hill Baptist Church.

In addition to presentations about various initiatives in the community, there will be an opportunity in the latter part of the event for participants to walk around and get information at booths set up by various programs.

Programs expected to have informational booths at the summit include Triple P, a parenting program offered through Albemarle Regional Health Services; Motheread, a program that helps mothers read to their children based on their own literacy level; Reach Out and Read, a program that promotes reading through pediatricians’ offices; and Family Connects, a Medicaid-funded home visitation nursing program for the first weeks after a baby is born.