Community reading program returns

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS Brenda Rogers, left, and Jackie Wynkoop showcase this year’s books for Bellefonte READS.

BELLEFONTE — In Centre County, about 11 percent of the residents are illiterate, according to census data, but a committee of volunteers in the Bellefonte Area School District and the local community has been working to combat this problem.

Started during the 2014-15 school year, the Bellefonte READS program continues to flourish and spark an interest in reading by hosting events that bring the community and families together around one book.

“Books really teach you life lessons,” said Bellefonte Area Middle School Vice-Principal Jacqueline Wynkoop, who also helped start Bellefonte READS. “That’s how you learn about situations and about life lessons, it’s from interactions with family, but it’s also with reading books.”

Each year, the book chosen for the community to read has a theme that people of all ages can relate to. This year, the theme is “overcoming challenges,” and the high school- and adult-reading level book is “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, with two books for younger readers: “The Only and Only Ivan” for grades three through eight and “Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla” for pre-K to fifth grade readers.

For “The Hate U Give,” the theme of overcoming challenges is present throughout the book, said Brenda Rogers, secondary literacy coach within the school district. “We think it’s very relatable to current times; we think it’s a book that kids will be able to relate to and learn valuable life lessons.”

In “The Hate U Give,” the protagonist is a 16-year-old female African-American student named Starr, who is struggling with living in her community while she attends a predominately white school, Rogers explained. When Starr becomes the only witness to a police officer shooting her childhood best friend, the balance between her two worlds is shattered, and the book focuses on the various struggles she goes through.

Every year, there is an event held to distribute the chosen Bellefonte READS books, which are free to the public, regardless of school district or residence. This year, there will be more than 400 books available.

This year’s event will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 in the Bellefonte Area High School library. In case of inclement weather, there will be a backup date of Feb. 22. There will also be a few activities surrounding the book’s theme, including hands-on art activities and gorilla face painting.

To further promote literacy and to host an array of activities centered around the chosen books, the Bellefonte READS committee puts together a community literacy night, which will be held this year from 6 to 7:30 pm. on March 15, with a snow date of March 22. The event takes place primarily in the school’s gymnasium, with a free community dinner in the school’s cafeteria held prior to the event.

Rogers said the community night is meant to encourage families to attend the event together and take part in more than 20 fun book-related games and activities. There is always a raffle for a book-themed goodie basket, a free book swap and a Scholastic Book Fair.

“The love of reading and the joy of reading doesn’t have to always be school- or work-related,” Rogers said.

The district literacy coaches have always played a key role in Bellefonte READS.

Within the district, there are two literacy coaches: Rogers, who helps at the middle school level, and Nicole Kohlhepp, who helps within the elementary schools.

As a literacy coach, their role is to work with the teachers throughout the schools to help promote professional development. Rogers said the literacy coaches attend several training sessions and workshops and then extend that professional learning knowledge to the district teachers.

“We try to be just a resource, whether that be material, whether that be in the classroom, to the teachers,” Rogers said.

Planning of the Bellefonte READS program is a big task the coaches take on.

According to Wynkoop, who used to be a literacy coach in the district, the committee of more than 10 volunteers starts planning for the next school year soon after the current year’s community literacy night is over.

Several local organizations help make the program possible year after year.

Each year, Wynkoop said the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs’ Bellefonte Woman’s Club donates money to purchase the books, and many members help out with the events planned around the year’s books.

To help the committee afford a big portion of the books, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) State College branch has given the program grant money for the past three years. Rogers said that AAUW gave them $1,500 this year to purchase books.

Anyone interested in donating to or volunteering with Bellefonte READS can contact Brenda Rogers, secondary literacy coach, at or 814-355-5466, ext. 5302, or Nicole Kohlhepp, elementary literacy coach, at or 814-355-5519, ext. 2168.