Independence County

Excel by Eight in Independence County

Out of five goals in Independence County, one is to strengthen the foundation for oral language and literacy. The E8 steering committee was awarded a $60,000 grant to invest in LENA, a professional development opportunity focused on increasing adult-child interactions.

Research shows that increased verbal interactions between children and the adults who care for them, called conversational turns, are one of the most important factors in language development. Program participants included 4-year-olds and educators from early childhood centers in Independence County’s four school districts – Batesville, Cedar Ridge, Midland, and Southside. Watch this video from Independence County to see LENA in action.

Through weekly data reports and coaching sessions, teachers were able to implement a more equitable talk environment in real time. Children who started the program in the “low talk” range, about 15 conversational turns per hour, increased their conversational turn rate by 42% by the final week. Overall, each center saw an increase in the quantity of adult-child interactions across all children during the 10-week program:

  • 96% of teachers reported seeing positive changes in children’s language development.
  • 91% of teachers reported feeling more confident in their teaching abilities after the first five weeks of the program.

Planning and strategy development in Independence County are ongoing in areas of physical child development, social-emotional development, oral health, and access to child care. With the help of the federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, child care facilities in Independence County added a total of 128 infant and toddler slots, a 50% increase in county-wide capacity.


North-central region of Arkansas, adjacent to the White River

Specialties in agriculture, healthcare, banking and retail

Lyon College

Implemented first community school model in the state

Steering Committee


Jamie Rayford, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce

Committee Members

LaToshia Carroll, Cedar Ridge School District
Jennifer Douglas, Batesville School District
Amy Finster, White River Health System
Jessica Gilmer, Midland School District
Mary-Katherine Hardin, STARS Academy
Gracie Hellums, STARS Academy
Novella Humphrey, Southside School District
Kristie Jenkins, Southside School District
Crystal Johnson, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce
Abbi Limbaugh, Cedar Ridge School District
Whitney Massey, Baker Family Dentistry
Lisa McGhee, Southside School District
Bani Meharg, Midland School District
Dr. Lesley Milton, Tooth Be Told Pediatric Dentistry
Debbie Mize, Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas
Brandi Nelson, UAMS North Central
Leslie Patterson, Pinnacle Pointe
Kimberly Poole, Southside School District
Dr. Julia Roulier, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Mindy Shaw, Batesville School District
Dr. Nikki Yonts, Lyon College

Read more about E8 Communities

Excel by Eight hosts Spring 2023 Learning Community

Excel by Eight hosts Spring 2023 Learning Community

Excel by Eight hosted its semiannual Learning Community at the end of April, bringing together more than 50 people from its six communities to share network connections, celebrate accomplishments, and discuss resources that can move their local community development plans forward and help children thrive.

Independence County: Building Brains in Preschoolers One Conversation at a Time

Independence County: Building Brains in Preschoolers One Conversation at a Time

Preschools in Independence County have adopted innovative technology to support early brain development. LENA – short for Language ENvironment Analysis – is a professional development opportunity for early childhood educators that uses cloud-based software and a small, wearable device – often referred to as a “talk pedometer” – to measure and increase conversational turns that happen between a child and an adult caregiver.