Read Across Georgia
Georgia First Lady visits Ruth Hill
by Rebecca Leftwich
Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal said she didn’t realize when her husband, Gov. Nathan Deal, first took office that she was supposed to have “a project.”
“I told them, ‘I can’t pick a project – I’m too interested in everything!’” she recalled during a keynote speech at the Rotary Club of Carrollton Tuesday, when she also visited several area schools including Ruth Hill Elementary in Newnan.
The daughter of an elementary school teacher and a former teacher herself, Mrs. Deal and her husband – whose mother also taught school – are strong supporters of early literacy. Last week’s visits to Ruth Hill, Centralhatchee, Whitesburg and Carrollton elementary schools with stops at Rotary and the Whitesburg Library are part of the first lady’s Read Across Georgia incentive. By the end of March, Mrs. Deal expects to visit schools in 60 Georgia districts, with an eventual goal of reading to young students in all 180 school systems in the state.
Despite her grueling appearance schedule and other public duties as the governor’s wife, encouraging children in a love of reading is not Mrs. Deal’s only project.
“I’m not the type to sit and drink sweet tea and read magazines,” she told Carrollton Rotarians.
For example, she has immersed herself in the history of the furnishings in the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.
“I’ve never lived in a house with antiques before, and I wanted to know how to properly take care of them,” Mrs. Deal said.
Having special bookcases built to house rare volumes – an autographed copy of “Gone With The Wind,” for example – has been a priority for both Deals, but the subject of Revolution-era furniture left one half of the couple pouting.
“I can’t let my husband have a dog,” Mrs. Deal said. “It might chew up this 200-year-old furniture! He can get that beautiful German Shepherd later when he’s not governor.”
Bringing upstairs living and guest quarters up to date also are projects the current first lady has embraced. Few hands were raised when she asked who among Rotarians and their guests had visited the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.
“If you haven’t been, shame on you,” Mrs. Deal chided those in attendance. “It belongs to you, and you need to check on your property.”
They may differ in opinion where a First Dog is concerned, but the Deals are united in their quest to have every Georgia reading proficiently by third grade.
“We must increase the percentage of children reading well and independently at grade level because this lays the groundwork for all of their future academic and career endeavors,” said Mrs. Deal, who was joined by her husband, Georgia School Superintendent John Barge and Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Bobby Cagle in declaring March as Read Across Georgia Month.
“My husband and I believe one of the most important things you can do is learn to read,” Mrs. Deal told kindergartners at Ruth Hill at her Tuesday morning visit, during which she read a poem written by the governor as well as a Georgian-authored children’s book. “And if you want to be good at anything you have to do it over and over again... practice it.”
Mrs. Deal told the Ruth Hill students reading well by third grade means they are more likely to be successful as they continue on in school and in their careers.
The stop at Ruth Hill was arranged by kindergarten teacher Amber Rhodes, who is a friend and former sorority sister of Mrs. Deal’s assistant, Ember Bishop.
Ruth Hill Principal Valerie Mathura welcomed First Lady Deal, and Kindergarten students Maddie Nolan and Jaden Wilkes presented her with Newnan’s “A Taste of Georgia” cookbook and a bouquet of flowers.