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Darrell Huckaby - 07/17/09

Read to your children.

Maybe you don't have children and haven't for a long time. Maybe you have grandchildren. Maybe you are a child yourself. Whoever you are and whatever your station in life, you know someone who has children. Do them a favor and pass this message along.

Read to your children.

OK. I know you are asking. "What brought this on?"

Well, as Gene Talmadge used to say, "I'm a comin' to that."

The beginning of school is still several weeks away, but already I am getting calls - lots of calls - from parents of my rising 12th-grade students who want to know what they can do to make sure their kids are accepted at the college of their choice.

Quite frankly, if I were to give them a brutally honest answer, that answer would be, "Not much, at this point."

That is not 100 percent accurate, of course. You can bear down on your kid and make sure that he or she does everything within his or her power to make the best grades possible during fall semester. Every little point helps when it comes to calculating grade point averages. And you can sign them up for an online SAT improvement course, or buy them one of those books and make them practice until they are extremely comfortable with the test format. And the night before they take the SAT or ACT, make sure they get a good night's sleep. (And, by the way, if your child is a senior and taking the SAT or ACT I hope your child is trying to improve on a previous test score.)

These things will help. But to the parents who want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - the die is already cast and your child has already lay the groundwork that will establish his or her place in the pecking order when it comes to college admission.

But for those who have small children - those in kindergarten or the first grade maybe; or younger - read to your children. That's the very best advice I can give you.

Zell Miller did a wonderful thing when he established the lottery funded HOPE Scholarship for Georgia students who matriculate at Georgia colleges. HOPE. Helping outstanding pupils excel.

Note the word "outstanding."

Zell Miller believed that Georgia students who worked hard enough to excel in school deserved a chance to attend college, and he believed that the state of Georgia should help them. And he would fund his scholarship by implementing the only truly voluntary tax our state collects. No one is required to ever buy a lottery ticket. I don't play the lottery myself, but my children have received an awful lot of tuition money from the folks who do.

The downside to this whole HOPE thing, if you can call it a downside, is that more and more high-achieving students are staying home for college. By home I mean within the confines of our fair state.

More good students staying home to go to school means more competition for admission - particularly at the more prestigious schools.

This year's freshman class at the University of Georgia, for instance, will be the most exclusive ever. It takes an SAT score that is right at the equivalent of a 1400 (under the old scoring system) to get in Georgia. Two of us used to make it in for that. The requirements for admission to the other schools in the university system have gone up as well. A lofty grade point average in the most strenuous courses offered is another huge part of the equation.

Which brings me back to my initial directive.

The best way to help your children become solid students is to read to them when they are young. Instill in them a love for the written word from the cradle on. Study after study after study has shown that the No. 1 factor that separates high academic achievers from low achievers is reading. The best way to prepare for standardized college entrance exam is to begin to read at a young age and then continue to read prolifically. Readers develop large vocabularies - a key component of most standardized tests - and comprehension - a key component of learning in general and test-taking in particular.

I am a lot closer to 60 than I am 50, but I can still remember the wonderful books my father read to me, long before I darkened the door of a classroom. "Tom Sawyer." "Treasure Island." "Arabian Knights." "Robin Hood." And more Uncle Remus stories than I can count. We didn't have a lot of material things in our little four-room mill village house, but we always had books, and the public library was a weekly destination. That fact, more than any other, is the reason I have been able to do the things I have been able to do in my life.

I can think of nothing sadder than a child who is never introduced to the wonderful world of words and pictures.

So, again. Read to your children.

And if you don't have children, find someone who does and pass this message along.

Read to your children.

You can thank me when they are accepted into the class of 2030 at the college of their choice.

Darrell Huckaby