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Crissy Haslam urges Rotary to get involved with child literacy

Franklin’s Noon Rotary Club members received a strong nudge today from Tennessee’s First Lady Crissy Haslam to try to step up their involvement in teaching youngsters to read.
Whether adults carve out more time to read out-loud at home to children and grandchildren or become a regular reading volunteer in the classrooms, Haslam believes the return on investment will be exponential.
While teachers provide the infrastructure, Haslam says more adults are needed to work with young, struggling readers.
Haslam was in Williamson County earlier today to spread the “Read 20” message that she is passionately advocating in a state that ranks lower in literacy than prospective employers like to see.
“Bill’s working to bring jobs to Tennessee, but (potential employers) are concerned about having educated workers. Education is the center of our economy,” she said.
The emphasis, she said, must be on more parent engagement with children and community engagement with children.
“Eighty percent of a child’s brain is formed by age three,” Haslam noted as she built a case for sharing the written word as early as possible.
“Read 20” involves a parent committing to reading 20 minutes daily no matter the age of the child.
Pulling from her own family experiences as a parent of three, the First Lady spoke about her husband’s love for reading to his own children as they grew up.
“One of Bill’s favorite books to read was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” she said of the C.S. Lewis classic that has spanned more than 60 years in print.
In a second strategy to strengthen Tennessee literacy rates, Haslam has partnered with United Way of Tennessee in a campaign called Raise Your Hand.
A chance to shepherd a struggling, low-achieving reader is an opportunity to make a difference in Tennessee’s future, she said.
And thirdly, in an effort to strengthen teacher-parent relationships, Haslam launched a Back to School Knocks program for children who are new to a school and could benefit from a home visit by a teacher and principal.
“One school principal said ‘we’re not going to just knock on the doors of new families, but we are going to all the doors of families in our schools.”
Haslam has also chosen to continue successful programs begun by previous administration’s, like Imagination Library, a statewide partnership forged by Dolly Parton and Gov. Phil Bredesen to sign Tennessee’s newborns up for receiving a book every month through the age of five.
Presently, only 50 percent of Williamson County’s children are registered for the free program.
In an effort to reach the inner city neighborhoods of the state’s largest cities, Haslam explained her First Ladies of the Church program.
The First Lady’s staff set up meetings to explain the importance of parent involvement with the pastors’ wives of churches in urban areas.
Back in Nashville, she has orchestrated a multi-agency effort to bring the individual commissioners of every department dealing with children into a regular meeting to exchange ideas.
Called Children’s Cabinet, Haslam has coaxed the heads of TennCare, health, human services, children’s services, mental health, and education to sit down at a table and share their successes and challenges, ideas and concerns.
“It takes us being a reading community, reading businesses, reading schools and reading families,” she emphasized.
For more information about how to get involved in Haslam’s programs, visit
“When it comes to education right now, I think you know all eyes are on Tennessee.”
“I can tell you there’s not a silver bullet…but I had a parent tell me maybe there is a silver buckshot.”

Posted on: 10/31/2013


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