First Lady spreads reading cheer

By DEMETRIUS THOMPSON,

More than four dozen Newton County Elementary School students got a special treat on Friday morning as the school welcomed Mississippi First Lady Deborah Bryant as part of her Read Across Mississippi campaign.

Bryant showed the students a slide show to give them information about the state, the governor’s mansion, and the early struggles with dyslexia of her husband, Gov. Phil Bryant. She also answered questions from the students before reading them Don Freeman’s classic 1968 children’s book “Corduroy.”

Bryant started visiting elementary schools in each county in 2014 to help generate a joy for reading in early education.

“When we started this, just 48 percent of the third graders could read at a third-grade level, and now we’re at over 90 percent of our students passing the third grade reading  gate which is awesome,” Bryant said. “But we want to be at a much higher level than that. You just want to keep raising the bar. When I heard our statistics and the number of kids who couldn’t read at a third-grade level, it broke my heart because I knew that a lot of those kids would go on and by the ninth grade they would drop out of school. And that was not where I or the Governor wanted our kids to be.”

Bryant, who still works two days a week as a banker, set up a schedule to not only visit schools in the Jackson area, but in all 82 counties. She said that she and her staff will sometimes leave at night to travel to the farthest location and visit other schools along the way back to the state’s capital.

Bryant also donated Mississippi author Bill Wilson’s children’s book “The Fib: A Wordy Tale” to the school’s library and ended her visit, as customary for the campaign, by giving each student a hug.

“It kind of seals the deal and let’s every kid know that they really count — just to let every one of them know how valuable and special they are and that there’s nothing that can hold them back,” Bryant said. “They’re our future, and we have to invest in our future.”

NCES was an “A” rated school in the 2016-17 state accountability ratings, and the school scored in the top 10 in the state on last year’s Third Grade Reading Assessment.

NCES Principal Jason Roberson said literacy plays a huge part in the school’s continued success and that he and his staff were glad to welcome Bryant to promote reading.

“Reading is fundamental. I know it sounds like a cliché, but if you cannot read it affects every other subject and it starts in kindergarten,” Robertson said. 

The Read Across Mississippi campaign is a part of Bryant’s H.O.M.E. (Healthcare, Outdoors, Mansion, Military and Education) platform that looks to improve the quality of life for all Mississippians.