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TN First Lady lunches with members of Brentwood Womens Club

uesday, Tennessee’s First Lady Crissy Haslam spoke about initiatives she is promoting while a guest of Brentwood Women’s Club at their December luncheon at the Brentwood Country Club.

Bothered by 2011 statistics that show Tennessee’s state academic scores ranked among the bottom 10 states, and realizing those scores and the education of the state’s workforce are issues Gov. Bill Haslam faces as he tries to lure businesses to the state, Mrs. Haslam was inspired to promote parental involvement and literacy development.

A mother of three grown children, she draws on experience to stress the importance of parental involvement in the development of children.

In 2010 Tennessee’s graduation rate was 85 percent. There are a number of issues that contribute to the decision to drop out of school, primarily, “Most children who drop out of high school are already behind – they were behind long before they dropped out,” Haslam said. “Children who are not reading on grade level by third grade can catch up, but it’s very difficult to catch up after third grade.”

Haslam looked at third grade reading proficiency scores and found more than half the third graders not proficient – on grade level.

Third grade is such a critical grade, “Some states use third grade scores to determine the number of jail cells they will need in the future,” she said.

Part of the problem is parental engagement, according to Haslam. “Most of the brain – 80 percent – is developed before a child gets to school, so parents need to be engaged from birth. Children need a foundation of learning and exposure to books very early on in their development. A large number of children enter school already behind and not ready to learn. Parents need to know, until their children enter school, they are the first and most important teacher,” Haslam said.

“Reading, singing nursery rhymes and talking teaches babies sounds that later will become words,” she said.  “Low income children hear 30 million fewer words by age 4 than most children from middle and affluent families – whether in rural or urban areas it’s a problem.”

Low literacy is associated with a myriad of problems from teen pregnancy to low mortality and crime, Haslam said.

Parents need to be involved, they need to stay involved and they need to know the importance of their involvement right from the very beginning.

For a year, Haslam studied schools in specific areas of the state to determine ways of engaging parents in their children’s educational development.

“Two ways rose to the top,” she said.

Parents reading to their children at least 20 minutes a day, or older children reading to themselves, and encouraging children with their homework.

“You don’t have to know how to do the homework – just encourage them,” Haslam said. “I think some parents are doing a good job; some just need to know how to do a good job.”

In 2011 Haslam partnered with 10 Tennessee schools with TCAP reading proficiency schools below the state average to pursue initiatives to get parents involved in their children’s education.

That program generated Raise Your Hand Tennessee, a program in which volunteers read to children, tutor and become mentors to children whose parents aren’t involved.

Back to School Knocks – a program to welcome and engage people new to the community and re-engage those who have not been involved in the school community. Volunteers actually knock on doors, personally offer an invitation to visit local schools and hand out information about the schools.

Imagination Library is a birth to age 5 free book club, which provides children with a new book each month – free. Parents merely have to register for the program.

In some areas, that is a problem, but Haslam found a solution.

In many communities, pastors are the key and their wives are the doorknobs. Haslam began the First Ladies for Healthy Babies initiative – a partnership with the wives of pastors and ministers in communities to open the doors and get resource information about health issues and brain development into the hands of those who need it.

“After participating in the program, one new mom said she learned to, ‘Put down the cell phone and pick up the baby,’” Haslam said. “This is a grassroots movement to increase awareness. I don’t have a budget, but I have a message.”

Haslam also reminded the women the Governor’s Mansion is open for tours each Tuesday and Thursday.

During the first two weeks of December the Haslam’s are hosting the second annual Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays. Open home tours at the Tennessee Residence will be held Monday through Friday, Dec. 3-14 and on Saturday, Dec. 8.

“We love living there and we love opening the house to the people,” Haslam said. “Last year we had more than 7,000 people come through.”

This year’s décor theme is Tennessee’s Music and was made possible through partnerships with the Museum of Appalachia in East Tennessee, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Middle Tennessee, and Stax Museum in West Tennessee.

Tennessee school children provided ornaments for 16 trees in the Conservation Hall. Colleges and universities also participated with ornaments for the higher education tree.

The state’s 95 counties provided original ornaments for the County Ornament Tree. A local artist from each county was selected to paint a provided ornament representing their home county. Williamson County’s ornament won Best Ornament.

For information about “Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays,”visit


Posted on: 12/5/2012


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