Kathy Gephart to start column in The Express to promote literacy



Area educator Kathy Gephart has a mission: To promote literacy so to help uplift children and their parents.

She hopes to do that one child, or as she muses, one “stone” at a time through a new public outreach: Stone Soup Literacy.

That outreach begins today in The Express community newspaper, which will publish Kathy’s Stone Soup Literacy column on a bi-weekly basis.

“We’re very pleased Kathy approached us to write a column to promote literacy. Like her, we, too, are passionate about literacy and reading,” said Bob Rolley, Express publisher. “Any message that can resonate with parents about the importance of helping their child to learn to read, and to support that mission within schools … we want to be a part of.”

A graduate of Lock Haven High School and the former Lock Haven State University, Gephart is perhaps best known as a teacher of high school biology.

She taught for 28 years in public schools.

Upon her retirement in 2010, she began to focus on her second career: Helping teachers teach.

Kathy believes that the best way to build literacy in a community is to start at the beginning or, in other words, at birth (or even before!).

Beginning in the early 2000s, there became an increased focus on literacy, with grant monies being made available to institutions to enhance literacy instruction. With these monies, literacy took a bit more of the spotlight as a major issue, and as Gephart began to move into literacy coaching, she started to realize her passion.

“Textbooks aren’t exactly edge-of-your seat exciting,” Gephart chuckled. “How can we get students to engage better with text?”

After retiring from teaching high school science, Gephart began to work for Penn Literacy Network, teaching graduate level courses for teachers on the subject of literacy.

On a basic level, literacy can be defined as making sense of information. Gephart noted that childrens’ brains are developing differently today due to the presence of technology. This places the emphasis of adaptation on adults.

“I was very strongly influenced by meeting the needs of children in poverty,” Gephart said, mentioning that rural poverty is very different from urban poverty due to the lack of resources available. While those stricken by poverty in an urban setting have easy access to public transportation and libraries, the rural poor do not have similar resources. “Schools are not my main focus for being here,” Gephart noted. “It’s more about what we can do as a community outside of school.”

This drive to help led Gephart to create Stone Soup Literacy, so named after the folk tale about three soldiers who arrive in a town where nobody has anything to eat. The soldiers set up a pot and a fire in the middle of town, and begin throwing stones into the pot. Gradually, the villagers emerge from their houses and comment that the soup needs “just one more thing.” With enough support from the community, bit by bit, the village has a feast with everyone contributing a little at a time. This fable is inspirational to Gephart, who believes that the same principle can apply to literacy.

Gephart’s goal is to be an agent of change — to be like the soldiers in the village. “I want to facilitate and help motivate the community to help with this important cause,” she said, expressing her opinion that “we need citizens who can objectively evaluate information and know the importance of looking at both sides of an issue.”

Early in the ideation process, Gephart discussed her plans with Keystone Central Foundation president Karen Brandt. Together they brainstormed some ways to leverage things the community has already in new and actionable ways, without needing a lot of money. One idea that she specifically mentioned was for doctors and dentist offices to have a literacy corner – rather than providing children with toys or letting them play games on their phones, encourage them to read. This was just one idea among many that Gephart is excited to implement, exclaiming “I have pages of ideas!”

Gephart’s inaugural Stone Soup Literacy column can be found on Page C5 in today’s edition– the first partnership amongst what she hopes will be many more.

“My first column is about reading aloud to your kids,” she said, expressing that parents raise their children the way they were raised.

If they grow up in an environment without books, the kids won’t value books either.

A website, “stonesoupliteracy.com,” is under development, as is a Facebook page. Gephart wants the online experience to be just that: An experience.

“I want it to not be a one-way distribution of information,” she emphasized. For example, Gephart might ask online, “What are some of your favorite read aloud experiences?” and then go to the Facebook page or the website and share that — it’s all about engagement. The website will also be a place where Gephart can host resources, links to videos on literacy, how-to videos of her own design, and so on.

After years in Lock Haven, Gephart lives in Howard now, and is the proud mother of three children: Grahm, a musician; Justin, who works at First Quality; and Meredith, who moved to New Mexico and works on web design and marketing, which has allowed her to help Gephart develop her website. She also has a grandson, Owen, who “has more books than he could know what to do with.”

“I don’t know where exactly this has all come from,” Gephart reflected, “but professional and personally, everything that I’ve learned and done has led to this.”