There was some debate between Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal and Akers Academy teachers Ms. Dee and Ms. Leslie about what vegetable the dinosaur was supposed to look like. Was it a brussels sprout? An artichoke?
The group settled on an artichoke and moved on. There were plenty more fantastical things in ‘Behind the Little Red Door’ to consider: a flying fox, an astronaut dog, a blue moose reading a newspaper, a squirrel looking through binoculars.
“It’s a beautiful little book about imagination,” Deal said. “What could be behind the little red door? It’s just a fun book to read.”
Deal was making her second stop at a Forsyth County school on Tuesday during Georgia Pre-K week. She started the morning at Kid Center Child Care and Learning, then followed Akers Academy with visits to the Primrose School of Cumming West, Whitlow Elementary School and Kelly Mill Elementary School.
Deal chose the book by Coy Bowles, a member of The Zac Brown Band. Bowles wrote the book last year for the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Georgia Lottery for Education that funded the development of the state’s first preschool program, as well as the HOPE Scholarship, by former Gov. Zell Miller. More than 83,000 children are now enrolled in preschool programs around the state, according to the Zell Miller Foundation.
Deal has made education a hallmark issue of her tenure as Georgia First Lady since her husband, Nathan, was first elected governor in 2011. A former educator herself in Hall County, Deal taught sixth-grade language arts. She started the Read Across Georgia initiative in 2013 to help increase the percentage of children reading at grade level before the end of third grade.
“I started reading to children because I think that’s important to give them a good start and encourage them to want to read,” Deal said. “We know the brain develops probably 70 percent by the age of 3, and we don’t get (children) into Pre-K until 4 years old. Parents are the first teachers, and then the preschool teachers pick up and start working really hard with them to get them ready for kindergarten to get them ready for first grade. I just enjoy reading to these little ones trying to get them interested in reading.”
After reading to Ms. Dee and Ms. Leslie’s class, Deal went to see Ms. Alaina and Ms. Beth’s class, and she touched on the same themes as she did in the previous reading, prompting the children with questions about each page, encouraging them to embrace their imagination.
With good friends, she told them, they could use their imaginations to be anything: an astronaut, a cowboy.
“Or a cowgirl!” said one student.