Thrive By Five Pinellas to roll out initiative for early childhood development

There’s a role for the private sector in the Pinellas-based initiative to create better workplaces and more access to education when young children can use it most.
Keesha Benson is director of Thrive By Five Pinellas for the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas. (Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas photo)
Keesha Benson is director of Thrive By Five Pinellas for the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas. (Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas photo) [ Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County ]
Published Feb. 24, 2020|Updated Feb. 25, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Business can live or die by the quality of the workforce. And a child’s readiness to learn and to succeed in life is shaped in a major way well before kindergarten.

Put those facts together, and you get the reason for Thrive By Five, a Pinellas-based initiative that this week will roll out a program to recruit businesses and community organizations to help foster family-friendly workplaces and improve educational access and development for children younger than 5.

Thrive By Five, which is funded by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and run by the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas, will hold a community summit 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Center for Health Equity on 34th Street S in St. Petersburg, The event will feature David Lawrence Jr., the founder of the Children’s Movement of Florida, and opportunities for business and other private organizations to support early education and development.

Statewide, 53 percent of incoming kindergarten students in 2019 were ready to learn, according to the Florida Department of Education. Around Tampa Bay, the percentages were 60 percent in Pinellas County, 54 percent in Hillsborough, 57 percent in Pasco and 55 percent in Hernando.

Raising those numbers is an economic development issue, said Tom Kennedy, a commercial real estate broker who heads Thrive By Five Pinellas’s group for business engagement.

“Basically, 85 percent of your brain growth takes place before the age of 5,” he said, “and the brain never stops developing, but if you’re behind in the beginning, it’s a lot harder to catch up.”

Thrive By Five Pinellas is one of several initiatives designed to create a bigger, better pipeline of talent from bay area schools to the larger economy. Last year, the regional nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership announced Tampa Bay Works, an effort focused more on the back end of the education system. It aims to get businesses to provide local educators more detailed and timely information about precisely what kind of applicants they need, and what training, degrees and certifications those candidates ought to have.

Related: Times columnist Bob Trigaux: What's our weakest link? To compete as a region, first fix our talent gap

Thrive by Five is working on a pilot program to designate participating businesses as family-friendly, based on whether they have policies on things like paid leave, health support, how they manage their work schedules and whether they provide other kinds of family support. For companies with more established policies, the designation could also look at issues like pay equity, diversity and inclusion, and community investment.

“They can be a business champion, and they can advocate for family-friendly workplace policies ... and we will resource them” with tool kits, presentations and information, said Keesha Benson, director of Thrive By Five Pinellas for the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas. “Anything they want to kind of rally around to get the word out for family-friendly policies.”

If you go

What: Mobilizing the Collective summit: The role you play in early childhood success

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Center for Health Equity, 2333 34th Street S, St. Petersburg

Admission: Free, but registration required. Go to and click on “Register now."