By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
My, oh my, how things have changed for Jordan Petter.
For eight years, Petter was a blended English teacher for Belton High School, coaching junior varsity volleyball and track and field for the Lady Tigers.
Over the period of the last three years, Petter became involved with a project called “Book Love.” It was a project centered on literacy and appreciation for reading.
“About four years ago, Belton ISD financed the English department to attend the Summer Literacy Institute at Baylor University,” Petter said. “One of the keynote speakers was world-renown author and educator, Penny Kittle. She spoke of the Book Love Foundation that she promotes and exercises amongst her students. Hearing her passion about this foundation sparked a flame within me, and little did I know that tiny flame would quickly catch fire.”
Petter built a library in her classroom. The library was complete with shelves and books. Put together with love, Petter launched the library in her classroom.
“At the time, I decided to incorporate the Book Love program into my class; I was entering my sixth year of teaching, and I knew that the love for reading within students had taken the back-burner compared to technology and video games. After the Baylor conference, I spent the remainder of the summer collecting books, whether that was from generous donations or bought with my own funds from places like Half Price Books or garage sales. I wanted my students to have an ample amount of titles and genres to choose from, so I made it my priority and passion to collect as many as possible. Over the duration of my engagement with the Book Love program, I had collected over 1,100 titles, encompassing 18 genres, such as business and finance, historical nonfiction, science fiction, teen fiction and suspense.”
Petter did not go blindly into the project. She needed to grasp the level of reading and interests of her students.
“In order to gain an idea on where my students stood when it came to reading, I had them complete a survey, asking questions about their prior reading experience, the last time they actually read for fun and an estimate of how many books they’ve read throughout their lives,” Petter said. “The results from that survey were astonishing; the majority of students had not read a book since elementary school, even claiming that they merely resorted to SparkNotes and Shmoop for novels that they were required to read for school curriculum.”
After gathering the information from her students, Petter implemented her plan, and set it in motion.
“After an explanation of the upcoming year-long reading program we were about to embark upon and numerous groans later, the students were out of their seats, browsing the shelves and checking out titles from my classroom library,” Petter said. “We Book Love read the first 10 minutes of every class, and because modeling serves as one of the strongest teachers, I read alongside the students to show that reading wasn’t a strategy for wasting time but an opportunity to converse afterward and share plots and new discoveries, which developed excitement within students about which books they wanted to read next. Within a month, most students were on their second and third books. Even if they hadn’t progressed passed their first novel, they were at least enjoying what they were reading! The benefits of Book Love came in many different forms. It didn’t matter how many books students were able to read; what I cared about was the growth of passion and love for reading. Getting students to understand that reading wasn’t a punishment, nor a chore, was a prize in itself. Even though I have an ample amount of success stories, one student always comes to mind: She was the student who refused to pay attention during class, would ask to go to the restroom just to wander the halls, but the moment she flipped open ‘Teen Spirit’ by Francesca Lia Block, her world changed; after that, she never left my classroom to ‘go to the bathroom’ and would continue reading after the 10-minute Book Love time was over. To this day, she and I still keep in contact, and she continues to be an avid reader.”
Over the course of time, Petter found that her own personal growth and interest in different genres of novels increased her love for the project and fueled her passion to further her students’ love for reading.
“Personally, my love for reading also grew,” Petter said. “Prior to Book Love, I had only focused on the novels I taught for curriculum; throughout the program, I learned alongside the students, and my desire to plunge into the literature world developed. It’s been about four years since I’ve integrated the Book Love program into my life, and anyone who knows me will attest that books are one of my greatest loves. Long story short, to answer your question, the benefit I found from the Book Love Foundation was the love and joy of reading, a beautiful art that seems to be lost in the chaos of the world.”
Petter’s bachelor’s degree is in psychology, and her master’s degree is in counseling psychology, both from Tarleton State University. As a teacher, Petter said the degrees were beneficial when dealing with in-classroom mentoring and teaching, especially when it came to the mastery of English, reading comprehension and literacy.
“I used concepts of my degrees each day in class and with my athletes,” Petter said. “Every day, I’d put on at least five different hats: teacher, coach, mentor, counselor and mediator. My degrees taught me how to handle various personalities, how to use approach strategies for certain types of individuals and more. With these skills, I was able to connect with my students and build healthy rapports with them so that educational (and athletic) achievement would come easier.”
When I interviewed Petter back in June 2018, she had three bookshelves and nearly 900 books. Obviously, the collection grew over the next 18 months.
“When I left the classroom, I boxed about 1,100 novels,” Petter said. “Needless to say, my neighbors thought I was moving when they saw how many boxes were in my garage!”
The Book Love project led to a career change, and it was one Petter did not take lightly.
When Lake Belton High School began staffing, a position came open as the school’s librarian. In one aspect, one could see this as a natural transition, having been an English teacher.
“As a person progresses through life, desires, goals and passions change,” Petter said. “For example, once I incorporated Book Love into my classroom and personal life, my perspective of reading changed; I didn’t expect this change to occur, but I yearned for more knowledge, and I realized that the more I read, the better I felt as an individual, and I also felt like I brought greater value to social conversations.”
A career change was not something that Petter expected, although she sought a change of pace. She became the Digital Information Specialist for LBHS in January 2020.
“With me being in the classroom and in athletics for nine years, I wanted a change of pace, so when this job became available, I thought it’d be a perfect fit for me,” Petter said. “I did not foresee my career taking such a turn, but I’m sure glad it did! Not only am I around books, but I’m also still around students and teachers. Additionally, by taking on the role of Digital Information Specialist, I’ve learned so much on the digital side, and, like Book Love, I’ve started craving the desire to broaden my abilities in the digital world (shout out to Kristie Shepherd!).”
Physical libraries have changed over the course of time. Libraries full of books and periodicals, encyclopedia sets, microfiche slides and card catalogs have been replaced by the internet and search engines.
“The Bronco Library houses over 19,000 titles, ranging between 34 genres,” Petter said. “Because the English teachers are still incorporating Book Love in their classrooms, students are visiting the library and checking out novels. Some of the ‘non-readers’ come in because their ‘English teachers made them,’ but by the time they leave the library, most are excited about the book(s) they’ve chosen. Because our library offers such a wide range of genres, we also anticipate and look forward to other subject areas using our resources as well. So, in the sense of checking out physical books, students are still using the library; however, we have also integrated Sora, a digital platform for eBooks, and some students are choosing eBooks over physical. When it comes to the digital world, the position of Digital Information Specialist encompasses a wider array of responsibilities compared to the stereotypical librarian, who wears glasses and merely checks out books: The modern library now features additional resources, such as providing technology help to students and teachers, modeling how to effectively use GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and Chrome extensions and maintaining our Bronco Library website that houses pertinent information (i.e. research tools, digital resource platforms, resume building guidance, CCMR information). Needless to say, the Bronco Library is more than just books; we are a guiding source for all-around academic success.”
From start to finish, the COVID-19 closure slowed the process of building the library.
“Oh, wow! This was such a long, and tedious process, but definitely worth it! Beginning in early January, I received help from multiple sources, but two people were especially patient and generous during the process,” Petter said. “Susan Wenberg, the BHS librarian, graciously allowed me to shadow her for the spring semester – well, for three months, until COVID put a halt to it; she taught me a lot of behind-the-scenes information and the back office to the program we use. Our Follett representative also provided me an ample amount of support, all the while exuding patience toward my exceeding number of questions. With the constant help of these two individuals, the road to building the Bronco Library ran smoother than it would have without them.”
Even during the school stoppage, Petter continued to work on the library.
“During the spring, one of my main duties was to choose which genres I wanted to showcase in the library; after selecting a total of 34 genres, I then had to “genrefy” each title,” Petter said. “As easy as it may seem, this task was anything but. I spent two, almost three, months organizing each of the 19,000+ titles into genres that I felt like the content depicted best and students would circulate the most. Follett delivered approximately 700 boxes of books in late July, and it was meticulous work placing them on the shelves in a fluid ‘genrefied’ sequence. Honestly, I was grateful that school didn’t start on time because, as my family will attest, I wanted everything perfect for the first day, and full boxes were still on the floor the morning of Aug. 19. Of course, plans for the library were underway before I was even offered the position, but my part in the project took about eight months to prepare. As always, the library is always changing: new titles, Google extensions and platforms and digital tools. Therefore, the building and construction of the library is an ongoing process.”
Professionally and personally, Petter has learned a great deal in the project.
“I love a good challenge, and this position has definitely challenged my skills, knowledge and even my sanity,” Petter said. “On the inventory and software side of the library, I was, and still am, challenged at learning the ins and outs of our LMS (Library Management System) software. However, just like with anything, learning takes time and trial-and-error; even though I’m not the most patient person, I constantly have to remind myself that practice, even if minor setbacks occur, will result in gained knowledge and confidence.”
Of course, the digital side of things is where Petter experienced the most personal growth.
“When it comes to the digital side, I have come a long way (just ask KShep)! The last couple of years I was with BHS, I taught Blended English courses, which were half online and half face-to-face; therefore, technology was integrated into my classroom and curriculum, but if I knew then what I know now about technology, my classroom would have been much more “techie” than what it was! Since working at LBHS and alongside Kristie Shepherd, my knowledge about technology and the educational tools offered have vastly grown! For a person who used to carry around a huge desk calendar to now maintaining my own Bronco Library website, I have definitely come a long way!”
Those of us in Belton know JP’s mom, longtime teacher and coach Denise Petter. She coached, taught and ran the athletic business office for many years. Denise has always played a major role in Jordan’s life. Denise has had recent health struggles during the last seven months, and Jordan has been there for her during that time.
“My mom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) in early March 2020,” Petter said. “Currently, we’re on the sixth cycle of chemo, and we pray that His plan will strengthen our faith and deliver positive outcomes. Mom has always been a strong woman, sometimes too strong. However, during this time, she’s shown more of a vulnerable side, with unwavering support. When she should be taking a chill-pill, she’s in the library with me, sorting and shelving books. Mom is my hero, and having her support during my career change has served as a huge relief.”
Petter is not only the Digital Information Specialist and librarian for LBHS; she also is a charter member of the Bronco Leadership Committee, headed by LBHS Principal Jill Ross.
“I was so honored when Jill asked me to be a member of the Bronco Leadership Committee,” Petter said. “The committee consists of our fearless leader Jill Ross, assistant principals, counselors, testing coordinator, Instructional Coaches, Digital Learning Coach, Administrative Assistant and me. We met numerous times prior to COVID, virtually during COVID and currently on a weekly basis in order to discuss campus needs, concerns and solutions. Our group works so well together; we feed off of each other’s energy and provide effective feedback. This group is literally the epitome of “meeting of the minds;” there are so many intelligent people in this group that I consider myself privileged to work alongside them. As Will Rogers once said, ‘A man only learns by two things; one is reading and the other is association with smarter people.’ I’ve got the reading part down, and now I continually surround myself with intellectual, clever colleagues.”
Having spent many days and nights covering sports with Petter at the bench, I asked her if she misses teaching and coaching.
“I’ve been asked this question so many times! Just because my position has changed, doesn’t mean that my passion for the game has diminished. What I miss is teaching the strategy of the game: Where to go on defense, and why there versus another spot on the floor; reading the offense and teaching what to look for to anticipate the upcoming play; reading the defense to figure out the weak areas and how to take advantage of them. It’s the teaching and seeing the lightbulb turn on that I miss; what I don’t miss are the tiresome 90-hour weeks. However, I get my fill of the athletic side, since I keep book at LBHS games and attend BHS and Troy matches. Additionally, the athletes and I still keep in touch, so my relationships with them haven’t changed other than the fact that I don’t get to see them every day. I am blessed to have built so many amazing relationships with the girls, and they know I still have much love for them.”