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Third graders' reading skills lag
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Despite a five-year state effort to improve reading proficiency among third graders, 66 percent of students are not reading at grade level.

Sandra Deal, Georgias First Lady, addressed the Dawson community Thursday during a luncheon hosted by School Superintendent Damon Gibbs.

Eighty percent of a childs brain is developed by age three, Deal said. We dont get them in school until theyre 4 if we get them in Pre-K. We have to educate parents, too. Parents have to know how important it is for them to talk to their babies.

Talking to babies and young children helps them learn and everyone should do it.

In 2010, Gov. Nathan Deal, Sandras husband, launched a statewide campaign to improve a startling 2009 statistic: nearly 70 percent of Georgias fourth graders were not proficient readers, despite abundant research on the importance of third-grade reading proficiency for school and lifelong success.

By 2014, the statistic dropped marginally to 66 percent, according to the Get Georgia Reading website.

Dawson County has several programs outside the classroom to help pre-readers, including WeeBooks and READ.

Additional support comes from Dawson Family Connection and Growing Brights Stars, a collaboration of local organizations with a focus on early education, according to Nancy Stites, coordinator of Dawson Family Connection.

Its important that the community come together with a shared understanding and take ownership of the issue at a local level, Stites said. We have a lot of great working going on in our community now with a focus on the importance of reading.

Deal said she understands how teachers struggle.

The hardest thing for kindergarten and first grade teachers to overcome is the lack of vocabulary for children who have come out of poverty, she shared. Because evidently people dont talk to their children. They put them in front of a television, and they let them sit.

Older students are often struggling with the significance of reading, according to Deal, who taught sixth grade for many years.

I think thats where we lose so many of them because they dont see the relevance of education, she said. They kinda get lackadaisical about some of the things they do. They dont feel challenged sometimes, and then some of them start dropping out. Its getting them to understand that reading is important to their future. If they want to be somebody, theyve got to think about it.

A love of learning is key to educational success.

We pick up the opportunities wherever we are, she said. Its great if you have children in your home you can read to, but there are places where theyd love you to come to after-school programs and work with children. Schools are always looking for guest readers. There are just so many ways we can serve.

Not only does it take a community to create readers, it also took one to bring the event together.

We are very pleased that the First Lady decided to bring her message to Dawson County, School Superintendent Dr. Damon Gibbs said.During the past year, the Dawson County school system has been working hand-in-hand with Family Connection to raise awareness about the importance of childhood literacy. We are eager to partner with First Lady Deal in moving her initiative forward.

The event was hosted by Dr. Damon Gibbs and its supporters included Dawson County Board of Education, Family Connection, READ, Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, Dawson County Library, Wee Books and Linda Umberger. Food was provided by Peach Brandy Cottage.