Kilough Elementary was one of five area schools Georgia first lady Sandra Deal visited Thursday as part of her new state reading initiative.
The effort supports Gov. Nathan Deal's goal of increasing the percentage of children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Sandra Deal is visiting schools across the state this month to raise awareness. At Kilough she read "Who I'd Like To Be" by Elizabeth Brown to a group of kindergartners.
"We just think it's important to give every child a good start by teaching them to read early," she said. "By the time of third grade they are beginning to polish skills and they need those skills for the content areas as they get older."
According to a 2003 study by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 17 percent of Georgians lack basic prose literacy skills. The new initiative begins with young children.
"The underlying skill of reading, being able to sound out the words, figure out what they mean, to see the root words and be able to transfer that knowledge to higher-levels of learning, is so important and it just takes learning young," Sandra Deal said.
"If [children] learn to love reading when they are young, then it's likely that they will love reading as they get older."
Literacy is also a vital building block in broader education, the first lady explained. A retired teacher, she has seen the negative effects of children struggling with reading.
"If they don't know how to read by third grade, they are going to start finding excuses for failure," she said. "They'll start staying out of school and having tummy aches.
"Unfortunately, some of them will start learning to cheat to find their way and they lose self-confidence."
Despite the struggles, she believes reading can be fun for children. She recalled enjoying the "Nancy Drew" and "Box Car Children" series when she was young and encouraged today's children to find books on topics that interest them.
Kilough Principal Tracy Compton said she was thrilled with the visit.
"Everyone was in high anticipation for her arrival," she said.
Children sat quietly as Sandra Deal read to them. Two of her former students, now teachers at Kilough, greeted her with hugs. Others asked her to sign copies of the book.
Deal hopes that by visiting schools she can encourage both teachers and students to be literacy advocates. Her goal is to visit all 179 school districts across the state in the next three years.
Overall, she explains that reading gives self-confidence, which "leads to achievement."