Kids came to Nolan Elementary School's auditorium giggling softly and wearing hats and gloves.
All of them were third-graders dressed in winter wear in anticipation of Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam coming to read the award-winning "Mr. Popper's Penguins."
Their chatter came to a halt when Assistant Principal Alisan Taylor told the students that Haslam had arrived.
"She is here because she thinks reading is so important," said Taylor. "She wants you reading at grade level or above."
Nolan Elementary PTA President Scottie Goodman Summerlin said she had invited elected officials to read to students, but she never expected to hear back from Haslam. Then Summerlin got a call saying the first lady was coming to town and wanted to read to students.
Haslam walked to the front while children sat cross-legged on the floor.
"I'm so glad to be here," Haslam said. "Nolan's test scores are very good. I looked them up."
She thanked the teachers for effectively teaching, talked to students about being a first lady and told them some of her husband's duties as governor. She also talked about visiting the Tennessee Aquarium, where she read the same book to students visiting the penguin exhibit.
She told Nolan students about her statewide Read 20 initiative patterned after Hamilton County's Read 20 program that started nearly seven years earlier. She encouraged all the children to read at least 20 minutes a day.
Then she sat down on the edge of the stage and read.
Mr. Popper is a painter who was fascinated by penguins but was too poor to take care of them. So he turns his house into an icy-cold environment and develops a circus act that allows the penguins, all 12 of them, to take care of him.
Nine-year-old Jarrett Campbell tossed his gloves in the air while listening to the story.
The first lady told the students that they were such good readers she wanted to get reading tips from them to share with other students.
"What has helped you be a good reader?" asked Haslam.
"Use context clues," Jarrett responded.
Eight-year-old Allie Dwyer said, "Set a timer so you'll know exactly how long to read."
Haslam invited the group to join her Read 20 Book Club, where students and parents can go online to see the book of the month and read the same book as other people. She brought stickers and bookmarks for each child.
"We need more of our third-graders reading on third-grade level," Haslam said. "What better way to do that than to get them reading 20 minutes a day? The more you read, the better you become."
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...