Op-Ed: A Healthy Society is an Educated Society (The Tennessean)

James Pond, Guest Columnist
President, Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation
Op-ed featured in The Tennessean

September is Early Literacy Month in Tennessee. With many young students not entering classrooms this September, early literacy initiatives are carrying even more importance. We have to focus on what we can do, on what is possible to foster learning. The health of our society depends on it. 

Everyone agrees early literacy is important; how important is a bit more vague. 

Today, 36 percent of third graders in Tennessee read proficiently. Data shows a strong correlation between third grade reading proficiency scores and high school drop-out rates, incarceration rates and poverty. Third grade is the critical time where children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” As a community, we have the power to positively influence reading proficiency for our youngest citizens. We can come together to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee by building lifelong learners. 

Where do we start? Simply, by reading with a child. Just 15 minutes a day is one of the healthiest habits to influence their academic and professional success. If you have older children, share an early memory of your favorite book or a person who influenced your love of reading. My high school English teacher sparked my love of learning and is still a lifelong mentor and second parent. Today, I experience true joy reading with my two-year-old grandson. I’m not sure who enjoys the stories and time together more. Right now, our favorite is Little Joe Chickapig; it never gets old. Books bond.

Our organization, Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation, is fully committed to bringing community partners of all sizes, public and private, together to get books into the hands and homes of children, regardless of location or socioeconomic background. Books are not device- or internet access-dependent. Books do not need to be quarantined. We deliver them right to your front door. Books provide an escape. They spur conversation and spark our imagination. Books are a gift, for individuals, for families, for communities. 

Literacy is a human right and the foundation to lifelong learning. The entire community has a role in protecting this right and providing it to our children. We are on a mission to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee, and we need your help.

In honor of Early Literacy Month 2020, we created #TeamReadTN to help navigate a new way to learn, and to inspire kids to be resilient, whether in a classroom or in their own living room. #TeamReadTN is inviting all Tennesseans to share the book or person that has most impacted your life or sparked a love of learning. 

Join Governor Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee, along with the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators organizations in #TeamReadTN, and help us raise awareness for the importance of reading and early literacy. Let’s beat the statistics. 

Together we can build a brighter future for our state. A healthy society is an educated society.