GCSU’s Center for Early Language and Literacy Holds Annual Summit on Childhood Literacy

Georgia College & State University’s Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy holds its 2023 Governor’s Summit on Early Language and Literacy July 12-13 in an ongoing effort to boost early language and reading skills in children throughout Georgia.

The summit brings together state legislators, literacy experts, superintendents, professors and teachers to share evidence-based research and best practices for reading. Participants will attend sessions to collaborate on ideas, exchange stories and learn more from experts across Georgia.

This year’s theme, “Supporting Emergent Literacy Development with Evidence-based Practices for Young Children,” especially honors the life of former Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal, who passed away in August 2022 after a courageous battle with cancer.

Mrs. Deal earned her bachelor’s and master’s in education at Georgia College & State University when it was known as The Woman’s College of Georgia. In 2017, the Deal Center opened and was named in her honor as the state’s designated research and training facility for advancing early language and literacy skills in children from birth through third grade.

“We are pleased that the Georgia General Assembly chose her alma mater to open the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy here,” said Georgia College President Cathy Cox. “Mrs. Deal was passionate about literacy and worked tirelessly to make sure every child got the best early start in life with strong reading skills.”

“She was a model for volunteerism and community service—a living example of what it means to care for others and especially for children,” Cox said. “We are honored to help carry on her legacy.”

A portrait of Mrs. Deal holding one of her favorite children’s books will be unveiled at a dinner event Wednesday, July 12. The 36 x 48 acrylic painting was created by Damara Sochacki, who graduated from Georgia College in May with a degree in art.

There will be a “Read Aloud” station throughout the two-day event—to honor Mrs. Deal’s goal as first lady of Georgia to read to school children in all 159 counties of the state. All participants can be recorded reading a children’s book at the Read Aloud station. The recordings will be available for children to listen to on the Deal Center website.

Other highlights include keynote speaker, former Patriots wide receiver and UGA Bulldog star Malcolm Mitchell, who’ll talk about the state of literacy in America. At dinner, autographed copies of Mitchell’s new children’s book, “Hey Georgia,” will be handed out.

Georgia College’s bobcat mascot, Thunder, will also be on hand throughout the summit to stamp his pawprint on copies of the book, “Thunder Learns to Read,” by Dr. Linda Bradley, Georgia College’s program coordinator for Reading, Literacy and Language.

Special guests at the summit are expected to include: former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and family members; Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp; state Senators Billy Hickman and Chuck Payne; Amy M. Jacobs, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning; Dr. Ryan Lee-James, director of the Rollins Center at the Atlanta Speech School; Dr. Caitlin Dooley, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children; Dr. April Aldridge, deputy superintendent of the Georgia Department of Education; Joy Hawkins, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement; and Georgia College’s new executive director of the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, Dr. Lindee Morgan.

This spring, Gov. Kemp signed two bills to improve literacy rates among students in Georgia. Senate Bill 211, championed by Sen. Billy Hickman, creates the Georgia Council on Literacy, a panel tasked with reviewing the state’s literacy programs and outcomes and making recommendations for improvements. House Bill 538, known as the Georgia Early Literacy Act, requires teachers to be trained on evidence-based literacy instruction.

“This summit’s a little bigger, and it’s the first since Mrs. Deal’s passing with a larger lineup of presenters from across the state of Georgia compared to previous years,” said Kimberly Scott, administrative office manager at the Deal Center. “With the new House and Senate bills, there’s a higher focus on literacy. We want people to come and see the changes and learn how they can make an impact in their communities.”

“We hope everyone takes something back with them to implement and re-energize them,” Scott said, “so we’re ready for the next school year.”

About 200 participants are expected. Opening remarks and general sessions are 1 to 4 p.m. July 12 followed by a fundraising dinner honoring Mrs. Deal in Magnolia Ballroom on the Georgia College campus in Milledgeville. July 13 continues with breakout sessions 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Atkinson Hall and Magnolia Ballroom. Topics include the future of literacy in Georgia; instructional coaching; transformational approaches in teaching; using science to implement structured literacy; building connected communities; mentoring programs; and how font affects reading comprehension.

To register for the summit, visit campusce.net/gcsu/course/course.aspx?C=1037. The dinner will be 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Magnolia Ballroom. This semi-formal event costs $125 per person and includes dinner, live music, presentations, the unveiling of Mrs. Deal’s portrait and an autographed copy of Mitchell’s book. To register for the dinner, visit alumni.gcsu.edu/2023-dinner-with-the-deal-center.

The summit’s being held with significant support from these sponsors: The Georgia Lottery Corporation, the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy and its free online Cox Campus, Kennesaw State University’s Bagwell College of Education and the Georgia Foundation for Early Care + Learning.

Cindy O’Donnell
(478) 445-8668