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Tennessee’s First Lady challenges students to read during summer break

June 5, 2018

Rutherford County Schools

Growing up in Memphis, Crissy Haslam loved reading books.

Encouraged by her parents, she read all the children’s classics.

It’s a list that would include everything from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to “Charlotte’s Web,” but as a young girl, her favorite was “Winnie-the-Pooh” by A.A. Milne.

She loved the characters — Piglet and Eeyore along with Tigger and the others — and their adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.

“I carried that book around so much that it turned from red to pink,” said Haslam. “It kind of faded with the handling.”

She still has it.

The book is packed away in a box with other memories from her childhood.

“I wish I had it now,” she said, adding, “When we’re done with these eight year and we go back (to Knoxville), I’ll probably find it.”

The eight years she is speaking of are the two terms her husband Bill has served as Governor of Tennessee.

As First Lady of Tennessee, her chosen platform has been advocating for literacy and educational matters.

For the second consecutive summer, Mrs. Haslam is championing a Summer Reading Competition, which challenges all rising kindergarteners to rising fourth-graders throughout the entire state of Tennessee to spend a minimum of 2,000 minutes reading.

The challenge began June 1 and continues through July 27.

Rutherford County students (and others from around the state) who read a minimum of 2,000 minutes will be eligible to enter a lottery that will randomly select the Top 100 readers. Those selected will be invited along with one parent to attend a celebratory Kids State Dinner with the Governor and First Lady at the Tennessee Residence in Nashville on Sunday, August 12.

“It’s exciting to come here and to see it through a child’s eyes,” said Mrs. Haslam, who is hopeful of young readers finding their “Winnie-the-Pooh” regardless of its genre. “They are our future. There might be a child in that room that might live in this house one day.”

Parents and students interested in more information regarding the Statewide Summer Read, can find it by logging on HERE.

After Gov. Bill Haslam took office in 2001, Mrs. Haslam got a group of people together to discuss potential issues she could address. They talked about everything from drug and child abuse to infant mortality before settling on a true passion — education.

Her research showed that kids did not fall behind in reading comprehension once they reached high school, they were already behind in middle school and elementary school. In fact, Mrs. Haslam discovered some were behind when they arrived at school for kindergarten because “they had never been read to.”

“It seemed like the best thing for me to do was to work on reading,” said Mrs. Haslam. “I thought, he’s working on the later years, so I’ll work on the early years.”

Gov. Haslam has increased the annual budget for teacher salaries and public education, while also focusing on Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect.

Mrs. Haslam has developed a series of programs and other educational issues including Parents as First Teachers, Parents as Education partners, Literacy Improvement, the First Lady’s Read 20 Book Club, Imagination Library and the Statewide Summer Read Program.

Education is important for the future of all young children.

And reading is the foundation of that education they receive in Rutherford County and elsewhere.

“Hopefully I brought awareness to the problem,” Mrs. Haslam said. “It’s not where we want to be, but improving.”

Throughout her time as First Lady, she has seen firsthand how “really, really hard” teachers have worked as well as librarians, especially here in Rutherford County, and parents have utilized the Imagination Library to receive books.

“The purpose of that program is to get parents reading to young children,” said Mrs. Haslam, who has also championed Building Strong Brains: The Tennessee ACE’s Initiative.

She said the first three years of a child’s life their brain is developing and reading to their child is one of the best things a parent can do.

Time spent reading to a child or with a child can be logged for the summer reading challenge along with the time a student spends on their own.

It’s a way to challenge kids “who haven’t discovered they like to read yet” to find the kind of books they do enjoy — be it a sports biography, “A Wrinkle in Time” or “Winnie-the-Pooh.”