Mary Knight, MFA
Over the last 30 years, Mary has been a children’s librarian, media center supervisor, K-12 public school writer-in-residence, curriculum writer, expressive arts practitioner, and a published author with an MFA in writing for children and young adults. To her great joy, all of these experiences have converged into the creative enterprise that is now called CoreEmpathy.
Mary’s idea for CoreEmpathy grew out of a graduate lecture she gave on the power of empathy in young adult literature and how writers evoke it. In her research, she discovered a study out of the University of Toronto that demonstrated that people who read fiction are more empathetic than those who don’t. Researchers concluded that this is because fiction writers are adept at engaging readers into a virtual world where they enter into a character’s point of view. In other words, stories offer practice in empathy building.
After the Newtown school shootings in December of 2012, Mary, along with so many others in this country, asked herself how she could make a difference. Clearly, comprehensive solutions were needed not only to counteract bullying, but to create safe and supportive learning communities in which students thrive academically and emotionally. It occurred to Mary that cultivating empathy through literacy offers a viable approach.
After earning her MFA, Mary decided to use her years of experience as a curriculum writer and creative writing teacher to develop a story-based curriculum that would teach both empathy and literacy skills. She knew she needed someone who had an intimate knowledge of the Common Core literacy standards as well as experience in the classroom, so she invited her friend, literacy specialist, Christie Kesler to join her in the project. Fortunately, she said “yes!”
Christie Kesler, M.Ed., Certified Reading Specialist
First and foremost, Christie is a teacher with 23 years of experience in teaching at the elementary, middle school, and college levels. She has also been a trainer of teachers in best practices in literacy instruction for over half that time. In addition, she is the author of a set of twelve comprehensive training and instructional reading manuals for K-8 educators.
As a reading specialist in credential and a literacy specialist in expertise, Christie has spent many years observing and listening to the needs and desires of teachers, principals, and curricular directors as to what's working and what's not in literacy education. She has dedicated the core of her professional life to what it means to be an effective teacher—a joyful pursuit!
Before Mary left the Pacific Northwest, she and Christie sat down at a local restaurant on Whidbey Island to share one last breakfast together. Of course, the two friends eventually got around to sharing the excitement of their current creative endeavors in the educational realm and they left each other saying, “One of these days, we’re going to work on a project together…and we know it’s going to be great!”
Six years later, Mary approached Christie with the idea of CoreEmpathy and in that moment, Christie knew: “This is it. This is that something great."
“It’s the perfect partnership,” Christie says. “Together, we are creating a literacy program that joins the heart of a learner with his or her intellectual growth—something that has me both enthralled and present for this undertaking. In a phrase, it makes me happy.”
“Learning needs a higher goal. Learning isn't enough. We need to help students be people who are happy and healthy and who are happy and healthy with others. That's the higher goal. A cornerstone to being happy is to connect with others. CoreEmpathy will teach how to do that.”
Christie and Mary during their first brainstorming session.
Mary and Christie raising a toast to the completion of their first prototype lesson.
The increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together
Although Mary and Christie once lived on the same island and belonged to the same book group, the two women now live 2500 miles apart—Mary in Lexington, Kentucky and Christie north of Seattle, Washington. Their creative process exists with the help of the internet, Skype, Voxer and quarterly trips east and west to each other’s neck of the woods — but the true magic of their partnership expresses out of their shared love for children.