(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
Haslam, during an event at Argie Cooper Public Library, said that her husband often hears about education and the need for an educated workforce from industries. Industries want an educated workforce to be available before they'll invest in creating new jobs. Too many Tennessee students drop out before completing high school, much less vocational, technical or college classes.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis)
High-school dropouts aren't created overnight, said Haslam. Reading level in third grade can be a predictor of trouble later on -- and only 40 percent of third-graders are reading at the proficient level. Children with low literacy rates are three to four times more likely to drop out.
And problems in school can be traced back to the ways in which a preschool child was exposed to books and language.
"It's very important for our youngest children to be read to," said Haslam.
Among those attending Tuesday's luncheon were State Sen. Jim Tracy, Bedford County Mayor Eugene Ray and Shelbyville City Manager Jay Johnson.
The Imagination Library program, founded by entertainer Dolly Parton, provides a new book each month for children from birth to age 5. The Governor's Books from Birth Foundation began in 2004 as a statewide campaign to implement the Imagination Library program in every county in Tennessee.
The program costs $24 per child per year. Each county has a local non-profit organization designated to raise 50 percent of the program's cost, with the state providing the other 50 percent. Argie Cooper Public Library is the local non-profit partner for Bedford County.
Haslam said that local involvement in the program has been in "a rebuilding phase" and Carl said that only about a third of the qualifying children in Bedford County are signed up. The program is open to all children, regardless of situation, although Haslam said it is of special importance to those who have disadvantages like poverty.
Haslam also has a separate initiative, the READ20 Family Book Club, which encourages families to read together for 20 minutes a day.
"I'm trying to get the teachers to assign that as homework," she said.
Officially, Haslam's appearances in Rutherford and Bedford counties on Tuesday were to promote Imagination Library, while her appearances later in the day in Marshall and Maury counties and at the Cheatham County Fair were to promote READ20.
But Haslam and Carl said the programs are interconnected, along with the "Raise Your Hand" reading initiative, promoted by United Way groups across the state, which recruits volunteer readers and tutors.
"All of these programs work so beautifully together," said Carl.
Dawn Holley of United Way of Bedford County said the local group has worked with Argie Cooper Public Library to promote the "Raise Your Hand" program.
All 95 counties in Tennessee have implemented the Imagination Library program, making Tennessee the only state in America with 100 percent participation. Parton personally finances the program in her home county, Sevier County in East Tennessee.
According to the state, more than 15 million books have been delivered since October 2004. There are currently 208,392 Tennessee children receiving the books, just over half of the 407,000 children within the age group. Any child is eligible for the program. A total of 288,096 children have graduated from the program.
In some communities, hospital nurses sign families up as soon as a child is born. Pediatricians and family physicians also distribute information about the program.
A committee of childhood education experts selects age-appropriate books for the program. The list includes "The Little Engine That Could" -- a personal favorite of Parton's which has become representative of the program -- "Spot Goes to the Farm," "The Snowy Day," "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," and "Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!"
Crissy Haslam's emphasis as First Lady has been on encouraging parent engagement in education, according to her official website, www.tn.gov/firstlady.
For more information about Imagination Library, including how to sign up your child for the program or donate to help support it, go to www.governorsfoundation.or or call (877) 99-BOOKS.