Community-building from a math major's perspective

By Daija Harris
Achieve Escambia Intern

The past several years have been all about math in my life.

I do it everyday, I learn more about it everyday, and even though it gets challenging sometimes, I push through just so I can say “I did it.” After my summer job ended this year, I wanted to work for a company that would help me acquire more professional development experience. That’s how I got my internship here at Achieve Escambia, our community’s first cradle to career collective impact initiative.

After learning about Achieve, I was so excited to come on board as the communications intern. The position allows me to engage in different activities every day, scope out the Pensacola community a little more, and immerse myself in all things student success. My name is Daija Harris and I am from Biloxi, Mississippi. I grew up in a military oriented home so, I moved across the country quite often. I graduated high school in Maryland and what brought me to Pensacola was family. I was also awarded education benefits if I chose a school in Florida and that’s why UWF (University of West Florida) became my first choice.

Success to me is very simple. I think success happens when the person is happy and they’re doing what they love or what they’re passionate about. Success comes on a spectrum so I don’t equate success with wealth or fame. It’s something that has been accomplished by your standards or goals. My own educational journey has been a wild ride but one thing that’s stuck with me and will always stick is perseverance. There have been many times where I wanted to give up but I have a good support system on my side and I continue to work harder.

I recently took a trip to the Pearl Nelson Child Development Center with my manager, MJ Ziemba. The exposure to this kind of environment and to the different occupations gave me a different perspective and it made me realize how much more I care about education in the community. Early intervention to those who are at risk of developmental delays is very important for children to succeed.

Early Screening Matters! is a community wide endeavor, lead by MaryAnn Bickerstaff and Dr. Deborah Goldberg, to build a stronger network of people willing to improve the detection and diagnosis of early child development in Escambia County. One in four children ages five and under are at risk of a developmental delay and even then, children who are in poverty are more likely to be at risk than those who are privately insured. It’s important for all children to have access to health care providers, the help the community and early childhood programs in order for them to flourish. With that being in mind, Early Screening Matters centers their goals around these three things: Increase the number of children getting screened by the appropriate tools, increase awareness about the importance of early childhood screenings, and improve the community’s ability to identify the needs of children.

When babies are born it’s highly recommended they get regular check ups from the doctor for their physical health but it’s just as important for babies to get screened early as well. In Achieve Escambia’s 2018 Annual Report, it states that, “23% of pediatricians in a recent national survey reported using a standardized screening tool, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to screen babies and toddlers at 9 months, 18 months and 30 months.

That percentage can be raised with the help of the community and child development centers like Pearl Nelson. The center offers pediatric speech, occupational and physical therapy as well as developmental instruction. I never really knew what occupational therapy was until I actually spoke with MaryAnn Bickerstaff. MaryAnn explained everything to me and I was intrigued at the intricate work they do to help children in our community. They had multiple play rooms with obstacles the kids can go through, the design was fascinating! It made me think of myself when I was younger and I couldn’t help but smile the whole time I was there. I’ll never forget my time there and I highly recommend a visit if interested.

Learn more about the services provided and what they have going on by visiting their Facebook page. Also visit the link “Help Me Grow Florida” to learn more about the detection and early diagnosis of early child development in Escambia County.

Kimberly Krupa