Starting kindergarten is a major life event for both a child and his or her parent/caregiver. While it should be an exciting time of new adventure, the transition can be stressful for both the child and the adult.

With Douglas Cherokee Economic Authority as the anchor organization, the Rural Accelerator Initiative was launched in May to support Cocke County, including Newport City.

While the initiative broadly seeks to accelerate progress toward cradle-to-career outcomes for all students in Cocke County, the initial focus will be on kindergarten readiness. The initiative emphasizes the importance of pursuing educational results through cross-sector collaboration among community partners.

Along with Kathy Holt, Save the Children Senior Specialist for Collective Impact in Cocke County, Crystal Chambers with Unify Cocke County, Alicia Dalton with Newport Pediatrics, and Matthew McConaughey with Cocke County Health Department have been selected to serve on the leadership team to support the initiative.

The leaders of the program point to two important facts: no one organization owns kindergarten readiness. Preparedness is affected by many factors and different groups of people. Secondly, parents and caregivers are a child’s first and most important teachers.

With this understanding, the leadership team is working with school systems, businesses, non-profits, faith-based, and civic organizations to accomplish the goal that “all children in the county will enter kindergarten with the necessary skills to be ready to learn.”

Kindergarten readiness covers a number of areas, not just academics such as recognizing letters and being able to count. Over the coming year, the goal of the initiative is to increase awareness as to what it means to be kindergarten ready, through a program called “Count Down to Kindergarten.”