Quint Studer has the idea last year: offer two prizes totaling $50,000 to people who could come up with the best plans to help children in Escambia County be kindergarten ready. Studer says he's had good luck over the years asking other people for ideas. "So the thought is why not ask the community what ideas they have? If I ask them what ideas they have they'll realize there's an issue with kindergarten readiness."
That’s where the Be the Bulb challenge started. The Studer Community Institute offered $25,000 to employees of the Escambia County School District, and another $25,000 to the public at large to come up with ways to make preschoolers more ready to learn when they showed up for the first day of kindergarten.
Shannon Nickinson is a Research Fellow at the Studer Institute. She was charged with narrowing down all the entries. She says it took a long time to come up with the winners. "We were so pleased to see the response, because it meant that we touched a nerve in the community. It meant that people heard what we were trying to do and wanted to participate. "
Thursday afternoon, at a gathering of a few dozen people at the So Chopped store in downtown Pensacola, Nickinson announced the winners. From the pool of Escambia School District employees, the winner were Andreal Johnson, Dynita Bufford, and Latris Sykes. Their idea was the Early Learning on Wheels Be the Bulb Bus. The three women plan on the specially designed bus to travel around to the five highest need zip codes in Pensacola. Dynita Bufford came up with the idea for it to be a bus. "I always felt like we just needed to get into the neighborhoods and make (learning) accessible to parents. So I just said 'let's just do a bus'. If we get a bus and get it out there to the parents then we'll be able to (better) reach them." Bufford and her partners did the research on buying and flipping a bus to their needs.
The winners from the general public pool of ideas were Leslynne Green and Vanessa Kennedy, a pair of neo-natal intensive care nurses from Sacred Heart Hospital. Shannon Nickinson said "They told us, when they see the light in a parent's face when that parent uses what that nurse taught them to soothe their child or to have a meaningful moment with their new baby, that's the inspiration they wanted to draw on for their Be the Bulb idea. They want to bring that light of parent empowerment to even more families all across our community. They would do that through an idea called Pop Up Early Learning Fairs."
The fairs would be set up so parents could bring their young children to the events and find learning stations tailored to that child’s age. Vanessa Kennedy says there’s a lot out there to learn. There is a lot of information out there about the importance of birth to three, and birth to five. I work with the early Steps Developmental Program and we serve the birth to three population. That early intervention is key to get those babies ready for school. And if we miss the birth to three, there's still hope at the four to five age group. We can get in there. We can impact parents (and) empower them with that information."
But that impact will only be felt if the ideas can be put into practice. Shannon Nickinson says that’s the next step. "We are going to strategize about the best ways to implement some of these things. Some of the ideas, and even some of the ideas that didn't win, there are people in the community that can make them come to pass. And we want to share that information with them."
As for the winners, their next project is planning how to spend the prize money from the challenge.