Riverview Elementary preschoolers and kindergarteners were treated to a special reading session March 7 courtesy of Georgia's first lady.
Sandra Deal, wife of Gov. Nathan Deal, read to students as part of her Read Across Georgia tour. It supports the governor's reading initiative, a push to have all of the state's third-graders reading at grade level or higher by the end of the school year.
But Dawson County also has a special tie for Deal.
"My parents taught here in the 1970s," she said. "They were teaching [in Dawson] when the school burned down. We lived in Hall County ... but mother taught second grade here for one year and daddy taught eighth-grade math."
Deal said that she has been reading all of her life, both as the oldest of four and as a former educator, but it was a shocking statistic that really spurred her into action.
"When my husband was elected, some statistics came out that they could predict how many prison beds they needed to build by how well children read on a third-grade level," she said.
"Having taught sixth grade, I knew how they could get so far behind and how unhappy they would be sometimes, struggling, because they couldn't make good grades if they couldn't read."
She said she discussed the issue with her husband.
"You know, as much as I love the middle school-aged children, we've got to start with the little ones," she recalled telling him. "That's where they develop and grow. And if we can get them reading by third grade, then from that point on, they are reading for information and they'll be able to read on their own."
According to Deal, 70 percent of Georgia's prisoners do not have a GED or high school education.
"If we are going to change our society and help make our communities better and help to alleviate some of the fear that people have, we have to do something in the way of education," she said. "My husband has worked so hard to bring jobs to this state, but you have to have an education to do these jobs."
Deal said that it was for this reason that she tours the state, reading to at least one school per county on her tour.
"We have to encourage children to want to learn to read. It's not enough to just teach them. They have to want to learn to read and be excited and eager to read," she said.
"I like to try to introduce that it can be fun and make them want to go home and practice, practice, practice, so that they can be good readers."
By encouraging the children, she hopes to influence both past, present and future generations to become educated and treat reading as something fun to do.
"I think if they learn some significance and why it's important, and then hopefully they will make an effort to improve their skills," Deal said.
"And the teachers try really, really hard, but they need help at home, too. They can't go home with every child and practice. Parents can help with that."