The mission behind my educational publishing company is to write and publish books that make a social impact in the world in some capacity. My newest title, A Touchdown in Reading: An Educator’s Guide to Literacy Instruction is a follow up to Tackle Reading. Now more than ever, our students need motivation and support in reading education. These books help to address the illiteracy facing America’s youth today by helping parents and teachers understand to implement quality reading instruction for children at home and in school. We use the titles in part of an annual educational philanthropic initiative called Tackle Reading Day each March to promote a love of literacy with a passion of football. Thanks to the support of the NFL and NFL Alumni Association, we are able to give the gift of reading through these books and reading visits, both live and virtually, from current and former NFL athletes.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Starke, an urban literacy consultant, reading specialist, adjunct professor, and former elementary school teacher. She is the founder of Creative Minds Publications, an educational publishing company and The Starke School. Starke is the author of Amy’s Travels, Tackle Reading, and A Touchdown in Reading: An Educator’s Guide to Literacy Instruction. Starke created the annual Tackle Reading day, supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni Association to promote a love of literacy with a passion for football. Starke graduated from Longwood University with a BS and elementary education and an MS in Literacy and Culture.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and am the oldest of three girls. My mom is an educator, and my father is a business owner. I am very fortunate to have been able to combine my love of teaching and business in my own career. I grew up in a happy home where we were taught to work hard, treat everyone with respect, dream big, and give back. These values and life lessons have remained with me throughout my life. Our family is very close; we all make it a point to never miss birthdays, holidays, or family beach vacations.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
I have always been a reader. As a very young child, I loved The Berenstain Bears series and the life lessons that were provided through the poems and stories. I believe that every message you take away from a book like The Berenstain Bears or The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein stays with you as you create your own path and life choices.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
In the course of my career, I’ve certainly made a number of funny or interesting mistakes. I will have to say that the most interesting mistake happened with the publication overseas in China of my first children’s book, Amy’s Travels. It was brought to my attention months after the release of the title that the book was also printed in a vast number in Mandarin Chinese. While my goal is to certainly provide engaging and educational children’s books to readers around the world, I now publish all of my books in the United States.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
The mission behind my educational publishing company is to write and publish books that make a social impact in the world in some capacity. My newest title, A Touchdown in Reading: An Educator’s Guide to Literacy Instruction is a follow-up to Tackle Reading. Now more than ever, our students need motivation and support in reading education. These books help to address the illiteracy facing America’s youth today by helping parents and teachers understand to implement quality reading instruction for children at home and in school. We use the titles in part of an annual educational philanthropic initiative called Tackle Reading Day each March to promote a love of literacy with a passion of football. Thanks to the support of the NFL and NFL Alumni Association, we are able to give the gift of reading through these books and reading visits, both live and virtually, from current and former NFL athletes.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I have used my own personal experience and expertise as a former inner-city elementary school teacher, reading specialist, and literacy coach to create a guide to help any teacher teach reading. It includes special stories about students I had the honor to teach along the way who always help me become a better educator.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
Before the pandemic, only 34% of nine-year-old children in America were reading on grade level. I travel around the country to help failing elementary schools achieve reading success. Sadly, I can’t be in every single school. Therefore, I decided to actually create a book that includes my ideas, tips, tricks, and lessons that educators can instantly implement in their instructional practices no matter the grade level or school location.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I will never forget the principal of an elementary school in Philadelphia at the end of a Tackle Reading event we hosted in his school. He was in tears when he said, “In all of his years in this school, no one group of people had done so much to help his students and teachers in such a short amount of time.” It’s remarks like this that encourage us to continue to expand our reach and impact in urban literacy education.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes, hosting or sponsoring a Tackle Reading event in your community is the first thing anyone can do. Secondly, using sponsorship opportunities or fundraising to prove books, reading events, or literacy consulting services for elementary schools makes a huge impact. Finally, shining a light on the importance of literacy and lack of focus on this life skill in our country is essential to make improvement.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership means establishing a mission that people can believe in, follow, and be a part of in some capacity. Great leaders are always respectful, evolving, and always willing to learn themselves. We always like to work for a boss or leader who puts people and ideas first and embraces creativity and flexibility.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1.I wish someone gave me a list of every NFL team or individual player that has a foundation or commitment to education. I know I have not connected with all of them yet, and there is a special place on the Tackle Reading team to highlight their efforts while supporting this mission. Each March, thanks to #TackleReading trending on social media, I usually receive a message from an NFL playing wanting to connect.
2. I wish someone told me that social media would be a tool that would be here to stay and continue to change. I was very hesitant to share my story and connect with people on Facebook because of the easy access for people to comment. I also found early on that people you didn’t even talk to in real life wanted to be “friends” on Facebook, so to me, it wasn’t a genuine platform. However, I can say that social media applications including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have helped me connect to wonderful fellow literacy leaders, authors, and athletes.
3. Teaching is traditionally a female-driven industry. I wish that someone had told me how many females also happen to be football fans. It’s the same thing with parents; we often talk to moms about reading and school concerns, but plenty of dads want to know how to support their children’s educational career. I have as many fathers thanking me for writing an engaging and motivational book to help them as I have teachers and female football fans requesting the book for their school book club.
4. Sports teams and organizations obtain sponsorship easily, which is never the case in public education. So many schools want to purchase Tackle Reading for their families or teachers to host a Tackle Reading event with authors and athletes throughout the school year and don’t have the budget to do so. I would love to see how we can obtain sponsorship more easily in education to help all of these schools tackle reading.
5. I wish someone told me how to effectively share your mission and story to make the largest impact possible. In my case, it’s teaching the world to read.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Reach for the moon. If you fall short, you may land on a star.” I love this life lesson quote because I believe that when you follow your heart to achieve your highest dream and potential, you end up making a special impact somewhere you may not have even imagined.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There are so many individuals I want to meet with to discuss how we can use the combination of reading research, motivation, and technology to teach the world to read. This includes Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, and Melinda Gates.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit www.creativemindspublications.com and follow @KathrynStarke on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!