Author inspires Nevada Middle School students to see failure as a learning opportunity

Marlys Barker, Nevada Journal Editor
Nevada eighth-grader Jonah Woods greets author Sean Jensen, who spoke to middle school students, grade by grade, on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Nevada’s eighth-grade students had nothing but good things to say as they filed out of the auditorium following an inspiring presentation by Sean Jensen on Nov. 16.

They liked that the author of the popular book series, Middle School Rules, which presently contains three books written about famous athletes, talked about how you can do anything you set your mind to, and if you fail, failure isn’t a negative. It’s a way to learn something so you can try again. They liked that as a sports writer, he has met and interviewed many of the athletes they’ve watched on television. They fed off his positive message and energy.

And as the eighth-graders left, the seventh-graders filed in.

Jensen, who lives in the Twin Cities area, spoke to all middle school students, grades five-eight, in presentations throughout the day, with each grade level taking a turn. His visit, funded by the Nevada Schools Foundation, makes him the second consecutive current author to be invited to spend time with Nevada Middle School students. Last year, April Henry, whose most popular book is “Girl, Stolen,” came to Nevada Middle School, and middle school librarian Jessie McGaffin said, “Henry’s books have been flying off of my shelves ever since.”

McGaffin hadn’t planned to seek out another author this year, but said she received an email from a website that the school uses for ebooks. It had a little writeup about Jensen’s books. “I clicked the link to his website, watched his video on his books and knew our kids would benefit from hearing his story and about why he writes,” she said.

Jensen told students that one of the reasons he writes is because he loved sports. He came to realize that he wasn’t going to be good enough to play professional sports as a way to make a living, so he decided that being a sports writer was something he could do to stay involved in sports. Among the things he has covered are 14 Super Bowls and two Olympics Games.

Jensen shared that he was born in South Korea, and because his grandfather wanted a better life for him, he sent him, at the age of 6, to live with a relative who had married an American. Just like that, Jensen went from living in his “homogeneous” home country — which one seventh-grader was able to give the definition for — to a country where everything was new to him, including the language. “For months and months I sat at the back of the classroom, not understanding what anyone was saying,” he said.

The first thing that gave him hope was sports. He started watching them on TV, something they didn’t have in Korea, and then his American parents signed him up for all kinds of sports programs. That’s how he made friends. Even though he couldn’t speak their language very well, he was able to become part of a sports team with a common goal, and that helped him fit in.

When it comes to writing, Jensen told students their lives are like something being written, as each of them is “writing” their own story. “You get to decide which direction it’s going to go.” The decisions and choices they make can take their life in either a positive or negative direction, he said.

Among the things he’s learned about successful athletes and people, he said, are that they share three common traits: 1) they believe in themselves, 2) they do not fear failure and 3) they practice gratitude.

In a very interactive presentation, where Jensen allowed kids to answer questions and share thoughts with him as he spoke, Jensen admitted to his young audience that writing the young adult books on athletes is a dream he’s chasing right now. He’s working hard to try to make it a success. Talking to kids at schools is one way he markets what he’s doing. And it’s clear that the time is well spent.

A group of eighth-grade girls was asked if they had read any of his books. They all indicated they had not, but that they would be reading them now.

At the end of his presentation, Jensen challenged students to think about the last trait he shared — practicing gratitude. He asked every student to think of someone they could say thank-you to about something, no matter how little it might be. He asked students to write a note to that person by hand and then personally deliver it to them. “Deliver it by hand and see what that means to them,” he said.

McGaffin said she would love it if the middle school could host an author at least every other year. “I think the kids really enjoy putting a face to some of these books that they read and love. It also brings an excitement about learning how to write or become an author,” she said.

Molly Toot, of the Nevada Community School Foundation, said that organization looks to support these types of activities. “The Foundation feels that these types of activities that can help energize students about reading are really the kind of activities that we are all about. It is great to see the enthusiasm from the students about meeting the author of books they enjoy reading, and this author (Jensen) is especially intriguing as these are books with stories around sports, which inspire both boys and girls,” Toot said.

To learn more about Jensen’s books, visit his official website: http://middleschoolrules.com. Jensen told students he plans to have a fourth book released around March of 2017.