COVINGTON, Ga. — Elementary students across Newton County had a special visitor this past week.
Former Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons star Brian Jordan spoke at six Newton County elementary schools to help launch the Brian Jordan Foundation (BJF) Reading Challenge. This is part of Jordan’s relationship with the Newton County School System.
The challenge is to help encourage students to improve upon their reading skills. Jordan referenced his own struggles with reading during his childhood to help fuel the initiative.
Early on, Jordan used his finger as a guide to help him read. But, with more confidence and practice, that was no longer the case.
“It’s amazing to see [the kids’] faces when I tell them I had to go one word at a time over and over until that finger got faster before I really gained confidence,” Jordan said.
On Monday, Jordan visited Live Oak, Porterdale and Heard-Mixon elementary schools, and two days later he spoke to students at West Newton, Livingston and Middle Ridge, too.
He’s coming back after the new year as well to visit the remaining elementary schools in the county.
On each visit, Jordan shares the story of his own reading struggles as a way to encourage each child to persevere and continually work at their own reading skills. He also reads one of the four children’s books he’s written: “I Told You I Can Play,” “Overcoming the Fear of the Baseball,” “Time-Out For Bullies” and “The Adventures of Champ Jr.”
He’s in the process of finishing his fifth book, too.
The challenge will run from December 2022 to February 2023. And there is a reward for each class that shows the most improvement.
The most improved students will get to play a game of kickball with Jordan whose teammates will be teachers from each school.
Jordan believes the bigger reward is the long-term benefits each student will have by developing a passion for reading at an early age.
“I want the kids to understand that I love sports, but sports can be taken away with one hit or one injury,” Jordan said. “But having an education is something that can never be taken away. And the knowledge is in the books.”
In fact, during the Q&A portion of Jordan’s visits, he often gets asked what his best day of his career is. His response shocks most students.
“For me to go in as a guy who played two professional sports and explain to them that wasn’t my happiest day,” Jordan said. “My happiest day was graduating from the University of Richmond and getting my college degree.”
Jordan launched his reading challenge in August 2019 through a partnership with Douglas County’s school system. Since then, he’s gone to Clayton County and Richmond County to help spread the awareness.
According to Jordan, the response has been “phenomenal.”
Former @AtlantaFalcons and @Braves star @TwoSportman has visited numerous @NewtonCoSchools elementary schools this week to collaborate with the @BrianJordanFdn Reading Challenge.— Phillip B. Hubbard (@PBHubb23) December 7, 2022
Check out my story in the @covnews weekend edition about Jordan's mission with this challenge. pic.twitter.com/9sLrJFYcSK
“The kids read way more books in a year than the schools have ever seen,” Jordan said. “So, the challenge works. And [NCSS] is already seeing the results with just the [first round] of visits to the schools.”
Now, he’s stopped in Newton County to help spread his message of building confidence among youth in their reading.
The Jordan-NCSS partnership began when the former 15-year MLB veteran met NCSS’ Elementary Curriculum & Instruction Coordinator Karen Dozier at a conference in Savannah a few months back.
Jordan’s long term objective, though, is to keep the challenge going.
“I want to expand and get to as many schools as I can even outside the state of Georgia,” Jordan said. “I want to blow this reading challenge up all over the world.”
In the initial challenge launch with Douglas County, Jordan took students on field trips to places like Chick-Fil-A headquarters and the College Football Hall of Fame. And, while the COVID-19 pandemic took that away, he aims to return that to the challenge by getting more sponsorships.
“I want to get more sponsorships involved so these kids can get some experiences in life that they’ve probably never had,” Jordan said.
Another wishlist item Jordan has is for more current and former athletes, as well as celebrities, to get involved.
“I have a company and I want to have a professional writer listen to these stories and make them into children’s books,” Jordan said. “So that it’s these athletes who go to the schools and share some of their stories with the kids. This generation of athletes today, if they could share their stories and motivate these kids, it could make a world of difference.”
Going around and visiting various schools and areas brings a lot of joy for Jordan. But it’s the smiles on the students’ faces when they realize they have a similar struggle with a former professional athlete that truly energizes him.
On each visit, Jordan kicks off the discussion by asking the question, “Who lacks confidence in reading?” The students’ response is awe-inspiring for Jordan.
And he believes that, by the end of the school year, there’ll be fewer hands raised when asked the same question.
“There are so many kids like me out there, and to see their hands go up when I ask them that question,” Jordan said. “It just shows me that they want the help.We’ll have a fun year trying to get them to improve their reading by offering them contests and challenging them to be better.
“It’s a constant work of making sure that these kids know that Brian Jordan is coming back to their school,” Jordan said. “They’re not going to see me just one time passing through like most people do.”