Miss America, Gov. Walker promote new reading program

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RACINE -- Wisconsin's own Miss America teamed up with Gov. Scott Walker Friday to promote a new reading program that's close to her heart.

Laura Kaeppeler visited St. Joseph School in Racine and shared her story of growing up with a father behind bars. “When I was teen, my father made a mistake and had to go to prison for a year in his life, and I never thought that I could become Miss America,” said Kaeppeler.

The two were there supporting Walker's new Book Bridge Program.  It’s part of his Read to Lead Initiative aimed at increasing literacy skills of both inmates and their children. “If you're not reading at or above a fourth-grade reading level, then you're not likely to graduate, so we need to nip that in the butt,” Walker said.

“About 40 percent of the offenders in the system are without a high school diploma,” said Gary Hamblin, Secretary of the State Department of Corrections.

The pilot program will start at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility, where participating dads will record themselves reading books to their kids.  Both the book and the recording will then be sent to the children. “This Book Bridge concept is about connecting fathers, strengthening the bond between fathers and their children,” said Walker.

The program is expected to reach about 200 children - children who, Kaeppeler says, are not alone. “I know what it's like to receive phone calls and letters from a prison facility.  For my father and myself, one of the most important things that we tried to do was to maintain a connection and maintain a relationship,” said Kaeppeler.

The pilot program will start this summer at the Racine facility.  The plan is to expand to other sites and add incarcerated mothers to the program.