Athens, Ga. – Georgia’s first lady, Sandra Deal, read to pre-kindergarten students in the University of Georgia’s Child Development Lab at the McPhaul Center on Monday as part of the Read Across Georgia campaign.
Deal, a former sixth-grade teacher and daughter of educators, went all out with facial expressions and sound effects to engage the group of 4- and 5-year-olds who gathered to hear her read “T.J.’s Discovery,” a new book written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School.
To date, Deal has spoken to students in all 159 Georgia counties and more than 430 schools as part of a campaign to promote literacy. She spent more than an hour visiting and reading to the students at the Child Development Lab, a unit of the human development and family science department within the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“I feel like the key to (being successful) is getting a good education when you’re young,” Deal said. “That’s why I’ve taken the opportunity to read to young children rather than work with the older children since I’ve been first lady. I feel like the foundation is just so very, very important. Pre-K is where we start.”
For Deal, the mission is personal, stemming from memories of watching some of her former students struggle later in life due, in part, to illiteracy.
“I had sixth-graders who couldn’t read, and they struggled, and I knew that every year it was going to get more difficult for them, and their struggles were going to discourage them,” she said. “My goal is to see them have a choice about their life. It all starts with reading.”
After reading to the McPhaul students, Deal invited Chelsea Jarrell, park manager at the nearby Victoria Bryant State Park, to speak to the students about various outdoor activities available to them that promote family interaction.
For Deal, who also serves as chair of the Governor’s Office for Children and Family and co-chair of the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, the two activities—reading and family interaction—are uniquely related.
“I want to let them think about going for a picnic in the park and doing some family activities together so they can interact and have things to talk about rather than just sitting in front of the television,” she said. “I know that parents are sometimes stretched, especially if they have more than one job or if it’s a single-parent family, but families are so important, and interaction with the family really makes a difference.”
As she left, Deal was presented with a handmade sign from one of the McPhaul Center students, Amelia Spell, signed by her and her classmates. Deal visited with students at Athens’ Chase Street Elementary School and Madison County’s Ila Elementary School later in the day.
The Read Across Georgia campaign was launched in 2012 and supports Gov. Nathan Deal’s Grade Level Reading Initiative, which aims to have all Georgia third-graders reading at grade level or better by the end of third grade.
“We were honored to have Georgia’s first lady here in our pre-K classroom, and we appreciate all of her efforts in the Read Across Georgia campaign,” said Amy Kay, director of the Child Development Lab. “It’s so encouraging to hear her stress the importance of reading to pre-K students, a passion we all share here at the CDL, and we’re grateful she took the time to share her enthusiasm and love for reading with us.
“It’s also reassuring to know that the government officials in our state value the importance of early language and literacy skill development and understand the positive impact on children when the very youngest Georgians are read to and interacted with on a regular basis.”