Whitney Stevenson -

Today we are sitting down with Whitney Stevenson to learn more about her and her role with First 5 Lex.

Can you tell us about First 5 Lex’s community outreach/community partners? What role do you play in the community? In the beginning, we all came around a big table, before Covid, and we began to talk about how as a community, using what each agency brought to the table, we could support this initiative. We looked at this through each partner’s lens.

We kept inviting people to the table as people mentioned who could help us meet different needs. It started with an open and honest conversation about our Lexington, KY families birth to 5 and how we could best support them.

Why was First 5 Lex created?

First 5 Lex is a community initiative. It encourages families, child care providers and anyone who has an impact on children birth to 5 years old to read, talk and play with children. As we began to develop this initiative, we looked at various topics and catchphrases to use. We felt read, talk, play best encompassed what we wanted to encourage in our community. We also asked, “how can we get the word out about that”? We processed through this and came up with First 5 Lex to encourage the community to know birth to 5 is very important. Here in Lexington, Kentucky, we want to do whatever we can to make sure our children are ready for school.

Can you talk about First 5 Lex’s growth since its inception?

Initially, with read, talk, play, our catchphrase for First 5 Lex, we begin by thinking about how we can get activities and information out to the community around these three things. We know read, talk and play are very important for anyone who interacts with a child from birth to 5. We looked at what we could do to encourage that in our community.

One of the first things we came up with is the Read to Me Library. We partner with our community, including some organizations that aren’t in the core First 5 Lex team, but are brought in along the way to support the initiative, to take libraries out to places we know children and families visit and might have to wait. We hope to give families access to read to their children and make it fun to wait by looking at books.

Another initiative that has evolved throughout is Book Madness. We ask our community members to pick their favorite book. They record themselves reading the book and we do a bracket in March similar to March Madness. We put this out on social media for people to vote. In the end, we have a winner. We pull people into First 5 Lex and share that while encouraging people to watch videos of books and reading. It’s fun. I think people can see that reading is fun and it’s not just having to sit still and look at a book.

Our social media presence has also grown. We are out on all of the platforms. We look at the analytics of social media and see where we are going and what we can focus on a bit more. We want to take the message out to our families where we can.

Why do you think the First 5 message - to read, talk and play with little ones each day - is so important?

Children aren’t born knowing words. We have to help build their brains. Reading, talking and playing are three of the most important things we can do with children. You can do that with a child from birth. It seems natural that people play with their children, which is great, but the importance of reading and talking can be lost. The engagement of the baby seeing your face and hearing your voice helps the baby begin to respond with cooing and sounds coming back and forth. Reading, just sitting, and having that one on one time with an infant, is important to give them the chance to hear your voice. They are watching what you’re doing. They end up having so much experience coming into school with books, vocabulary words and talking.

As children get older, it is important for adults to sit on the floor and let them lead in an activity they like to do. Making a game at the grocery store, picking out the red fruits when you’re in the fruit section, this is play and it is entertaining for children. They seek out adults and want that interaction. Encouraging families and caregivers to know the importance of reading, talking and playing, and to be intentional about it, is very important.

Why does Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) place such a strong emphasis on early childhood education?

Families are everywhere in our community and FCPS is a large entity here. We serve children, preschool through 12th grade. We open our doors for preschool in Fayette County at 3 years old. We know school readiness starts way before children enter the door here. For Fayette County, we knew we needed to recognize where our families are. We consider any family birth to 3 as part of our family. The children in these families will come to Fayette County Schools. Through partnerships, we wanted to start early and all work together so when children get to preschool, or kindergarten, we could ensure they are ready for school when they walk through the door.

Just for fun:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

My favorite book to read is “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”. The rhyming piece of it is so funny. When I taught preschool, the children loved that book and I think watching them get excited when we would pull it out was so much fun to be a part of at circle time. It has really stuck with me. If someone asks me to come read, I am more than likely going to pick “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” off the shelf and take it with me.

If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

Honestly, it would be to go for a walk. Especially with COVID, I just like to get outside and take a walk while looking at the trees.

If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

If I could talk to one person, it would be my granddad. Here is what I would say to him:

“I know how much education meant to you. On the day I graduated with my doctoral degree, I thought of you often. I would laugh thinking of you saying, ‘Now, what kind of doctor are you?’ You may not have ever realized exactly what the degree was, but you would be proud of me for continuing my education. Your honorary high school diploma is displayed in my office and I look at it every day. The day you received your diploma, I was so proud of you. Someone in their 80s receiving a high school diploma is not something you see every day. The picture of you in your cap holding your diploma means so much to me. Just having these things in my office, knowing you are watching over me, makes me a better person every single day. Love to you and Nana.”

Thank you so much, Whitney, for all you do with FCPS and First 5 Lex!

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