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By David N. Krough, TJJD Communications Specialist

The Giddings State School Book Club 2.0 is off and reading this spring, poring through stories of challenge and determination – by characters whose lives may have once looked very similar to their own.

The Mentoring Book Club, recently revived, was founded in the fall of 2022 by a group of Giddings students who decided they wanted to do better in life when they got out of school, according to Assistant Principal Dr. Tracey Walker.

It all started when Walker had found a copy of the book “Mentor: The Kid and the CEO,” by Tom Pace, on the shelf of the assistant principal’s office when she took the job after four years teaching art at Giddings’ Lone Star High School Southeast.

“We reached out to Mr. Albert Yancey, who himself was incarcerated at the age of 16, tried as an adult at 17, and sentenced to life in prison,” Walker said. “He has an amazing story of triumph and is consulted regularly regarding ways to reach out to our students.” Yancey was released early from TDCJ and often speaks to youth about the importance of avoiding prison.

Yancey suggested that “Mentor” was a good book to start with. The book had also been used as a study tool by the school superintendent and principals, prior to Walker’s arrival. 

“(I) had no idea how I would meet with my students after I took the new position,” Walker recalled. “I had no idea how I would get the money to get the books, nor the time to do it, nor the staff to help.” 

A student at the time, T.A., was regularly pushing to start the club, Walker recalled.

“I got so tired of him asking, ‘When are we going to start book club?’ that one day as he entered the school and asked me again, I just said in frustration, ‘Fine! Let’s go to the office and make a flyer to invite kids to come.’” 

BookClub4 2024 4T.A. picked the images for the original flyer and went from class to class, inviting youth to attend.

Just after COVID, Walker discovered 10 copies of “Mentor” sitting on the shelf in the chapel during one of their events

“So I knew we had to do this,” she said.

In September 2022 the book club began with three youths as the leaders (CEOs as they called themselves) and 27 students. 

At first, Barbara Graves and Brittney Humphries from the Recreation Department provided a space and additional staffing for club meetings.

“We were uncertain if (students’) behavior would stay under control (but) we have been impressed from day one with their behavior, attention span, and answers that they give in the group setting,” Walker said.

Author and English teacher Susanna Luviek, who had just moved from Washington State to teach with TJJD, saw a flier on Walker’s desk and immediately asked if she could help. 

Luviek had taught at a private, college prep high school where she found her niche.

“I found that the few at that school who were troubled, and those who the other teachers didn’t work well with - ended up being my favorites and the ones who worked well with me. That inspired me to look for a teaching job where the balance of troubled teens was shifted, and I could potentially have a bigger impact. (At) TJJD (I) feel so much more job satisfaction here than where I was before.”

In addition to teaching, Luviek is a published author, having written the psychological thriller “Daunted No More,” – which has been featured in the club’s reading list. Luviek’s exploration into literary characters and love of writing continues to influence her work in teaching.

After rounding up enough volunteers to help staff the events, book club was a go.

A collection that eventually became “The Success Library” was donated by TJJD through James Bateman’s office in Education Services. There, students can choose from titles such as “Prescription for Success”, “Built to Last”, “See You at The Top”, “The Dream Giver”, “Making a Habit of Success”, “The Other Wes Moore”, and “Developing the Leader Within You.” 

Education Services also donated the medals that students can receive after reading their fifth, tenth and fifteenth books. 

The Pace Foundation, started by author Tom Pace, donated classroom sets that included “Think and Grow Rich” and “Purpose Driven Life.”  

In Luviek’s classroom, students read portions of a selected book each week, followed by discussions and posting statements on the wall of noteworthy comments shared about their weekly lessons.

They refer to themselves as the “Book Club Men.”

BookClub4 2024 1Students need at least one teacher and one staff member to recommend them on the application. Rules state that students must have spent at least 30 days on campus with no security referrals and must be passing all classes before they can apply for membership.

Luviek says her students by and large are a very eager bunch and look forward to meetings.

“Some of those who get their GED, and don’t normally want to do any work in class anymore, will continue to work so that they have passing grades and won’t miss out on book club,” she said.

Word-of-mouth about the club is also a great motivator for students to do all they can to meet the requirements.

“They are setting long-term goals to get into a later group, or short-term goals to make sure they don’t get skipped over for a meeting,” Luviek said. “We stop at key points in the stories we read and discuss the characters and their situations, decisions, perspective, alternative choices, and growth. It’s been amazing to hear their interactions as they observe and share with their peers. We ask questions because we want them to identify things themselves that will allow these lessons to stick and help them grow together.”

Currently, one of the subjects for the Book Club Men is how to identify Emotional Intelligence in the story characters to help increase their empathy and self-management.

There are about 20 members this spring, but Luviek says there are many more waiting to get in.

“Whatever it was that kept them out, many will turn that around in order to get accepted and/or to continue being picked up each time. With that, more students end up qualifying than we can fit in each meeting. We are very selective and they know it, so they work harder.”

“Helping them grow is the reason I teach. It’s not English I love teaching, it’s the teens.”