Jamille Rogers of Conway was sure when she was working on master’s degrees in library media and information technology that she didn’t want to be a librarian.
“I said, ‘I’m too loud, and I hate that card catalog,’” Rogers said.
The 34-year-old recalled that the University of Central Arkansas professor to whom she made that remark told her: “Yes, you are, and you’re going to be great at it.”
A lot of people think so.
Rogers, the library media specialist at Marguerite Vann Elementary School in Conway, is one of 10 national winners of the I Love My Librarian Award, an initiative of the American Library Association.
She received $5,000 and a plaque at a ceremony hosted by the Carnegie Corp. on Nov. 30 in New York City.
Rogers said she is going to use her $5,000 to raise $25,000 — to renovate the elementary school’s media center. The school pays for the basics, but she wants a wow factor for students.
“I just want to upgrade it and take it to the next level,” she said.
In addition to receiving her award, she got to tour the sights and watch the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center from her vantage point on the 31st floor of a nearby skyscraper.
“It was magic; it was magic. We couldn’t ask for anything better,” she said.
She was accompanied on the trip by retired Ellen Smith Elementary School Principal Betty Ford, who gave Rogers her first job “out of the gate” as a kindergarten teacher.
Rogers was nominated for the I Love My Librarian Award by her principal, Bobby Walker, who is in his fifth year in the Conway School District.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Walker said. “We’re proud of her.”
Walker said Rogers goes far beyond her job as a media specialist. Walker raved about her in the nomination letter, calling her the “true essence of an astounding educator and librarian.”
Rogers, at just 4 feet 8 inches tall, is shorter than many of her students.
But she’s made a big impact.
Rogers started her career in 2004 as a kindergarten teacher at Ellen Smith Elementary School, and she was in her first year of teaching when she decided to get her dual master’s degrees, “which was insane,” she said.
She came to Marguerite Vann Elementary School eight years ago when the district needed to fill three positions with media specialists who had the “new designations.” Rogers said she loved kindergarten, but she decided to take the leap.
“In the eight years as serving as our school librarian, to say that she has impacted students’ lives would be an understatement,” Walker wrote in the nomination form. “She really loves her students and goes above and beyond, in and out of the media center, to help them uncover and reach their potential.”
Rogers, the Marguerite Vann technology specialist, implemented the first project-based learning lab in the district — a place where students learn with everything from computers to Legos — and last year, she worked with Walker and others in the community to establish the Distinguished Gentleman’s Club to help improve the achievement gap among boys.
She said there is a connection between behavior and academic achievement.
She said her mother, Jeanette, a public schoolteacher who died of breast cancer when Rogers was 17, would have been proud. Rogers’
father, Gary Rogers of Bryant, retired as superintendent of the Alexander Youth Services Center.
“That’s how I got to see how the academic-achievement gap affected children,” she said. Her mother’s students who struggled academically often ended up in trouble and at the Alexander facility, she said.
Rogers is also the site coordinator for the Arkansas Foster Grandparent Program in the school district, and those volunteers work one on one with many of the boys in the Distinguished Gentleman’s Club. She also organizes the schoolwide Community Day and more, Walker said.
When Rogers got a phone call from the American
Library Association president in November, Rogers thought it might be a prank call or a scam. It was at the end of a class, and Rogers said she usually has her phone on
silent. However, she answered.
“At first, she told me there were 1,100 applicants, so I was excited to be nominated,” Rogers said. Then she told Rogers she was one of 10 national winners and would be flown to New York City for a ceremony.
“It was surreal! The kids said, ‘What’s wrong, Miss Rogers?’ I said, ‘I think I just won a really big important award,’” she said.
Rogers said her loving, enthusiastic kindergarten teacher in Little Rock, Susan Blue, inspired her to become a teacher. They still keep in touch, and Blue plans to attend Rogers’ wedding in September.
Rogers’ family, which included her two older brothers, moved from Little Rock to Bryant when her father became the superintendent, and that’s where she graduated from high school.
She came to Conway in 2000 to attend UCA with the goal of being a middle school computer-lab teacher. The first person she met on campus was Greg Hunt of Conway, who helped her unload boxes from her dad’s truck.
“We just had a great friendship,” she said.
He asked her to work in his real estate agency, The Sandstone Real Estate Group. At first, she just did marketing; then she got her real estate license. He died Nov. 30 last year, the same day she got her award this year.
“I knew he’d be so proud; I felt like it was his day,” she said.
Her first year at Marguerite Vann, the card catalog had been computerized, she was happy to see. The library was also lacking personality, something she has plenty of.
“It was plain; it was bare. There were no decorations,” said Rogers, who was dressed in festive red and green with a leopard-print scarf and necklace. “I begged maintenance, ‘Please, can you help me?’” They agreed, but said she had to pack the books — all 9,000 of them.
The library was gutted — it got paint, carpet and Smart Boards.
Today, it has a bright safari theme with stuffed animals resting on the tops of bookshelves and a sectional, bought with Box Tops, for students to lounge on as they read — either printed versions of books or e-books.
“I think kids need options; they need a variety,” she said. Rogers said she has a collection of e-books that the kids can read, as well as the printed books in the library.
“They need to touch it and feel it and understand the only way you’re able to get that e-book online is that this [printed book] was developed first,” she said.
However, one advantage to e-books is that all students can read the same book at the same time, she said.
Getting kids excited about reading and learning is why Rogers went to Walker and asked for his help about five years ago, when he became principal.
Rogers said the library was competing with video games and technology, and books were being left behind.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to have something else to teach with,’” she said. “We had to make
Walker said he tried similar innovations when he was in Memphis, and he was all for trying something new.
“The goal was to fuse a library and learning lab together,” she said. She visited schools with learning labs in Dallas; Memphis, Tennessee; and St. Louis, Missouri.
“Schools across the nation are doing some amazing things, and I wanted to bring that here.”
The Marguerite Vann TechLab, a project learning lab, was born. Rogers recruited UCA students to help her design the room, which has modular furniture and bright colors.
“I have the best principal in the world, so he lets me do this one week and do one week [in the library],” she said.
On this particular day, it seemed like organized chaos. Christmas music was playing in the background as a group of boys built with Legos, and others had Rubik’s cubes and had cut out pieces of paper with “magic numbers” on them and were placing them on a grid so the numbers added up to 15 diagonally and horizontally.
She checked the boys’ work. “Good job!” she said to them. “Yes!” a student replied.
The students using Legos were also learning math. A group of them proudly showed Rogers their matching creations, built with different colors.
When the boys were asked about their teacher, the responses came fast.
“She’s good. We did board games and stuff,” said Tyrius Pirtle, 9.
“She’s fun because she lets us do fun activities,” said Chance Lambert, also 9.
Jacoby Cagle, 10, said he likes the project learning lab “because we have freedom.”
Rogers said she strongly believes that boys learn differently from girls, and they need freedom to explore.
“My real dream? A school for boys. In my perfect world, that’s what I’d have. It would be called No Girls Allowed,” she said, laughing. “No, I’m just kidding.”
She also worked with her principal, Partners in Education and the school’s Watch Dog Dads program to start the Distinguished Gentleman’s Club. Sponsored by Bell & Sward Gentlemen’s Clothier in downtown Conway, the students learn social skills, etiquette and are asked to dress up once a month.
At an awards ceremony for the third- and fourth-grade boys, she said business co-owners Erik Sward and Zanette Bell gave each boy a lapel pin. Sward told students he was proud of them, Rogers said.
“Boys need to hear a man say he’s proud of them,” she said.
After the club’s first year, Rogers had students write essays about what they learned. One said he wanted to be in the Navy, like Walker, so he could help people, too. Another said he “felt important” when he dressed up.
Stephanie Huffman, that prophetic professor who oversees two master’s-degree programs at UCA, said she is not surprised at what Rogers has accomplished.
“Most people think that all school librarians do is check out books and read to kids all day,” Huffman said. “It’s about programming and developing literacy programs and instructional-technology programs and being active in students’ lives and being the heart and center of that school. It’s being able to work with the principal, superintendent — all the constituents who are involved there.
“She knows how to do that; she’s got that personality,” Huffman said of Rogers. “She’s going to win numerous awards in the future. I know she will.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.