There is nothing tied to a child’s success more than their ability to read.
That was the message of Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam during a kickoff event Tuesday at WCMS for The Children’s Reading Foundation. The foundation is composed of 19 school districts in the Upper Cumberland region devoted to improving early childhood reading skills.
“We know that two-thirds of students who can’t read proficiently by fourth grade will end up on welfare or in jail,” said Haslam. “I know one of the main things the governor hears when it comes to recruiting industry are concerns about the education of our workforce. Reading helps children go on to find high-quality jobs. It’s the key to everything they do in school."
The Children’s Reading Foundation has established a lofty goal of having 90 percent of all third-graders in its 19 school districts reading on grade level by 2021. Haslam said less than half of Tennessee third-graders currently read on grade level.
“As First Lady, I realize I have a voice,” said Haslam. “I don’t necessarily have a big budget, but I have a voice and I can educate and advocate. One of the things I look at when I hear 70 percent of Tennessee students who go to community college need remedial work is I want to know why. What we’re learning is the problem doesn’t begin in high school and it doesn’t begin in middle school. Many of the problems stem from the fact children come to kindergarten not prepared to read.”
Haslam said 80 percent of a child’s brain is formed by age 3, and 90 percent is formed by kindergarten. That makes early childhood programs like Imagination Library so vital, she said, because it gets reading material to children at a young age.
Imagination Library is a program which sends free books to children in Tennessee up to age 5. The books arrive monthly in the mail and any child is eligible to enroll, regardless of income.
“This month is the 10th anniversary of Imagination Library,” said Haslam. “To date, we’ve sent 21 million books throughout the state of Tennessee.”
In covering 19 school districts, The Children’s Reading Foundation reaches over 60,000 students. It will take improving the reading scores of 1,930 students to reach the foundation’s goal of 90 percent reading at grade level in seven years.
A number of representatives were on hand Tuesday to launch the program. Those included Dr. Janice Fox, who is serving as president of The Children’s Reading Foundation.
“We know the harsh realities of not reading on grade level by third grade,” said Fox. “When that happens, students struggle in all subjects and 75 percent of poor readers never catch up. Poor reading is the No. 1 link to school discipline problems, attendance problems, and juvenile criminality.”
Several representatives talked about the important role parents play in the education of their children. It was emphasized that reading to your child for 20 minutes a day is one way to give them a great start in life.
“Parents, you are your child’s most important teacher,” said the First Lady. She indicated two things repeatedly tied to student success are: 1) if a parent shows interest in homework, and 2) if a parent reads to their child 20 to 30 minutes a day.
In giving the closing remarks, White County Director of Schools Sandra Crouch said, “There may be no greater challenge today than ensuring our children succeed in school. It’s tied directly to whether they become productive citizens.”
Warren County Director of Schools Bobby Cox received a plaque, along with representatives from the 18 other school districts, for being charter members of The Children’s Reading Foundation of the Upper Cumberland.
Cox then presented the First Lady with a gift for her visit. The gift was two Pioneer T-shirts, one for the First Lady and one for Gov. Bill Haslam, and two Pioneer penants.
To find out more about the organization, visit www.ReadingFoundation.org.