School Readiness

The NEW Central Virginia School Readiness Initiative

The United Way of Central Virginia, in partnership with Smart Beginnings Central Virginia, is proud to be entering into its third year of the Excellence in Children’s Early Language and Literacy (ExCELL) for preschool children in the counties of Amherst and Bedford, with plans to expand to other school divisions in Central Virginia in the future.  ExCELL is one component of the newly-named Central Virginia School Readiness Initiative

ExCELL does not replace the curriculum a school uses, but enhances it.  Through classroom coaching, teachers learn new strategies that maximize instruction, complimenting any curriculum.

ExCELL brings together families, teachers, schools, community resources, and early literacy specialists with the goal of ensuring that children receive the learning opportunities (at home, at preschool, and in the community) necessary to develop critical early learning language and literacy skills known to predict later reading success.   The ExCELL model includes classroom coaching, family-fun literacy-focused events, high quality learning materials for use at school and at home, and tools to evaluate progress.

Early outcomes from the first years of the program are strong, with 96% of children (all deemed at-risk) entering kindergarten “ready” and 86% of those entering kindergarten “advanced.” The goal of the program is to help increase the school readiness of children, thus helping move the needle towards the Central Virginia School Readiness Initiative goal that 94% of area children will enter kindergarten “ready” by 2025.

Recent data indicate that only 86% of Central Virginia children enter kindergarten “ready”, with 14%  having Fall Pals-K scores below kindergarten readiness levels.

Raised: $221,844.00

Goal: $450,000.00

The ExCELL program is managed by UWCV’s lead School Readiness Partner, Smart Beginnings of Central Virginia ( For more information about the statewide ExCELL program, visit

In AY 2015-16, UWCV invested $16,500 in the Appomattox Literacy Intervention Project (ALIP). Through this grant, ALIP provided such services as parent education programs such as The Incredible Years, and workshops, training, and professional development to the preschool providers in Appomattox County. Part of the funding went to bring in early learning educators and performers from Wolf Trap Theatre for a half-day training on the value of performing arts in early education.

In addition, we granted $5,500 to two local Appomattox preschools – Tiny Angels and Precious Angels – to improve their facilities and to buy much needed educational materials, including supplying mulch to rehabilitate Precious Angels’ playground, thus ensuring the children enrolled in the rural preschool would have a safe and inviting place to play!

In AY 2015-16, United Way of Central Virginia invested $89,600 in a free, one-of-a-kind in our area, home visiting, family-education program in partnership with HumanKind and Lynchburg City Schools. All children in the program are referred by LCS and are deemed 100% at-risk.  The Family-Education Partnership program served 31 families of pre-K students during its inaugural year, touching the lives of 139 community members. Of the 87 children reached, 52 have not yet entered  kindergarten, allowing the program to impact education readiness long before children reach school. Through 386 supportive and informative visits with families, the program has built bridges between the school and home environments to promote academic success.

Parent testimony:

“As the school year comes to an end I have found myself often looking back on the day when I first entered the program. It was the beginning of the school year at our elementary school’s open house. I walked in very nervous and discouraged. Lynchburg City School’s pre-k was nothing like the day care setting; it seemed not as open for parents and I was feeling left out. After the presentation in the classroom was over I walked out of that classroom smiling on the outside but still nervous inside. I was unsure how this year would go; my outlook was kind of grim, that is until I met Mrs. Sandra. She greeted me with the best smile and drew me in with her amazing craft display. Then she told me about this amazing new program that’s purpose is to support and encourage families and to be a bridge between the school system and families. What an answer to prayers! I am so glad that this program exists. Sandra has been an amazing support. This school year wouldn’t have been the same without this program and without her. Thank you HumanKind for offering this wonderful program to families!”

– Parent at Paul Munro Elementary School

To learn more about the program, click here.

Through a grant from The Greater Lynchburg Community Trust, United Way of Central Virginia is investing $8,600 in the Central Virginia Dolly Parton Imagination Library and currently has enrolled approximately 80 children in the program. This program mails one new free book a month to predominantly at-risk children in Central Virginia, starting at birth until their fifth birthday.

Additionally, in partnership with Smart Beginnings Central Virginia, UWCV expanded a literacy outreach program utilizing Gus the Resource Bus in the housing developments of James Crossing Apartments in Lynchburg and Raintree Apartments in Bedford to further engage parents and their children in the new books they receive each month.

Brick’s Way, Go Green!

UWCV received a generous donation from New York Jet D’Brickashaw Ferguson in February 2015 of 10,000 copies of his children’s book, Brick’s Way, Go Green! and to date has since distributed approximately 7,500 of these to children in preschools, elementary schools including every third grader in all five school divisions for the past two years, homeschools and private schools, community events, and to walk-ins at the United Way office.

Click here to read more.

United Way of Central Virginia invested approximately $60,000 in its early education initiative, Smart Beginnings Central Virginia. This initiative provides services to preschool aged children and their families in the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Campbell, Nelson, and Lynchburg. In AY 2015-16, SBCV provided the following:

Literacy Buses
Rex the Learning Bus and Gus the Resource Bus visited over 1,000 children in its outreach-based bus service, visiting community events, low-income housing developments, libraries, schools, and pediatrician offices.

Early Childhood Education
Provided teacher education and professional development, materials, and technical assistance to over 60 early education providers in the Central Virginia area.

Read for the Record
In October, engaged school districts in Lynchburg, Amherst, Appomattox, Campbell, Bedford and Nelson in a coordinated, volunteer effort to read the same book to children in Pre-K and Kindergarten classes; private childcare and preschool programs also participated as well as Head Start.  Nearly 5,000 children were read to.

Amazement Square and Smart Beginnings established Amazing Children, Quality Beginnings, a formal partnership, visiting childcare centers serving at-risk children, modeling high quality interactions and reflecting with staff.

Kindergarten Readiness Kits Partially funded with a generous donation from Progress Printing, created 1,000 “Getting Ready for Kindergarten” – My Summer Activity Kits for all area 4-year-olds entering kindergarten in the fall.

Partially funded through an $83,333 grant from Red Nose Day/Comic Relief, United Way of Central Virginia invested $106,000 to implement the ExCELL (Excellence in Children’s Early Learning and Literarcy) in all five Amherst County Smart Start (VPI) preschool classrooms as the pilot phase of a planned five year rollout in Central Virginia.

This program was developed by The Literacy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University and is implemented by The Virginia Literacy Foundation in Richmond, VA. ExCELL is a four-part, wrap-around service that includes professional development and coaching, literacy and classroom materials, assessments, and family engagement.

For more information about ExCELL, click here:

Funded through a grant of $4000.00 from the Food Lion Foundation as well as countless food, backpack, and monetary donations from our generous community, UWCV completed its third year of the Backpack for Kids’ Sake program.

Managed by UWCV’s affinity group, the Young Leaders Society, backpacks were provided to students in three area elementary schools—Paul Munro, Big Island, and Perrymont—to supply 63 children with backpacks full of food to take home for their families on the weekends.

In AY2015-16, through this program, 18,144 meals and snacks were provided to food insecure children at an estimated cost of $5 per backpack per week for 36 weeks for a total of $11,340.00 invested into the Backpacks for Kids’ Sake program, all helping to better ensure the readiness of our area children!