Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday August 21st 2019


Outtakes—A Bold, New Vision

By Rick Outzen

The Studer Community Institute (SCI) has gradually redefined its focus over the past year, and in doing so has come up with a new vision for our community. Quint Studer, who funded the non-profit, non-partisan research institute, talked about that vision when SCI unveiled the winners of its “Be the Bulb” competition on June 30.

“We want Pensacola to be known as “America’s First Early Learning City,’” said Studer. “That’s our goal. All we have is a start, the bulb’s been turned on, but it won’t work if we don’t execute them.”

Two years of research by SCI and the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement, revealed that kindergarten readiness is the most critical issue facing Escambia County. Of the 67 counties in the state, Escambia ranks in the bottom fourth.

Research showed that children who start behind in kindergarten struggle throughout their academic careers. Of the 25 largest counties in the state, only Collier and Polk counties have a lower kindergarten-readiness rate than Escambia.

“Be the Bulb” asked the community for ideas to improve early learning in Escambia County and raise the kindergarten-readiness of area children. The Studers awarded $25,000 for the best idea submitted by an individual or group of people employed by the Escambia County School District; and $25,000 for the best idea from an individual, nonprofit or other groups of people not employed by the School District.

The winning ideas were the Be the Bulb Early Learning Bus and Pop Up Early Learning Fairs. The bus will bring educational, health and wellness resources for children ages birth to 4 to parents in communities with the most need six days a week. The portable fairs will bring fair-themed games with an age-appropriate educational bent to community centers, churches, preschools and elementary schools across the community.

For SCI, these two initiatives are part of a bigger plan to promote early learning across the community. Studer said the new downtown YMCA will have a sensory garden so children waiting to go into the Y can be learning. He has asked Caldwell and Associates to come up with tips for architects to incorporate early learning in their building designs

“We think everywhere that you go in this community, you can grab on to the idea of using visuals to teach children,” said Studer.

Later this month, Studer and SCI CEO Randy Hammer will visit the University of Chicago and hope to tap into their research project, “Thirty Million Words Initiative,” to get Pensacola on their map and further early learning in our area.

The vision is bold, but bold visions are the only ones worth pursuing.