The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce earned the Business Pacesetter award from the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for its commitment to pre-kindergarten education, according to a news release.

The organization, which is dedicated to increasing the number of children who read proficiently by the end of third grade, presented the chamber with the award at the group’s recent Action Summit. The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

This past October, the Conway Area Chamber announced a partnership with local nonprofit Lifelong Learners Inc. to develop a pre-kindergarten program focused on kindergarten readiness, parental involvement and quality instruction. To fund the effort, the chamber agreed to commit $50,000 annually from its Toad Suck Daze festival proceeds.

Senior vice president Jamie Gates said investing in early childhood education furthers the chamber’s commitment to prepare the next generation’s workforce and create more opportunities for Conway’s young people, according to the news release.

"The Chamber has been an advocate for high-quality education in Conway for more than 100 years; our goals haven’t changed," he said in the release. "While we will continue to support higher education in our area, we also recognize the importance of early learning. We want to equip our day cares, preschools and parents with the best in training and teaching materials."

Many studies show that 85 percent of brain development occurs before age 5, Gates said previously. For this reason, Lifelong Learners aims to give child care providers access to professional development opportunities and high-quality curriculum. The organization will also develop and distribute milestone-focused parenting and teaching methods to the parents and caregivers of children up to age 5.

The Lifelong Learners initiative began working with four pilot sites in the fall of 2012. Those four sites encompass nine child care providers and more than 270 area preschoolers, according to the release.