May 3, 2013

Georgia first lady: Kids need a push to read

By Christopher Smith

— Children such as 5-year-old Carson Carrel of Eton Elementary School are eager to learn to read, said Sandra Deal, the wife of Gov. Nathan Deal. But without a push from adults some students could face a bleak future.

Carson isn’t worried, though.

“I read all kinds of books all the time,” he said, “because it’s fun.”

Carson is one of hundreds of children that Sandra Deal has read to as part of her Read Across Georgia tour. Deal stopped by Eton Elementary in Murray County and Roan School in Dalton Thursday morning. She visited Cohutta Elementary School on March 6. The tour is expected to end Friday after Deal has visited all 180 school districts in the state.

“Everywhere I go I see that our children are eager to learn,” she said. “All the children I’ve seen have been attentive. We can really inspire them to want to learn to read. I see the joy that reading can bring. They want to read. And we need them to be proficient readers by third grade.”

Third grade is a key turning point for most children, according to education researchers. Children reading on grade level by that grade are statistically better learners, citizens and family members.

Tyler Lee Gooslin, 5, probably doesn’t realize that. He probably also doesn’t recognize that knowing how to spell his name could also spell success in his educational and professional future. What he does know is the story Deal read to him — “Who I’d Like to Be” — was “really awesome.”

“My favorite part was the bumblebees,” he said of the several creatures the main character in the book pretends to be. “I like them because they can sting.”

But bumblebees are no match for Batman.

Tyler said his favorite thing to read when he goes home is “Batman: Year 100,” a four-issue comic series detailing Batman’s struggle to restore peace and freedom to Gotham City after it has fallen into a federal police state with little to no privacy laws. Perhaps it’s heavy reading for a 5-year-old, but it’s still reading.

“That’s the important thing,” Deal said. “These kids will read for information when they get older. School gets harder and they will need to be able to read and understand the material. Every child deserves the opportunity to graduate from high school. That’s our goal.”

Deal said services like the local Readers to Leaders initiative are important to the community. The initiative is a joint effort by community leaders and school officials in Whitfield County Schools and Dalton Public Schools to push all local children to read at grade level by the third grade.

“I think everyone can participate and show that they can read and help mentor children as volunteers,” Deal said of the programs within Readers to Leaders. “Anyone can read to children. Read to them in groups. Most children just need that encouragement. Parents are so busy working just to make a living. And we have TVs on all the time. The same for computers and phones. Parents really don’t talk to their children. Kids need that one-on-one time.”

Individual attention is vital to help ensure literacy, Deal said. Only then will children be ready for the future.