Nestled into the media center’s bookshelves are crisp and tattered pages, waiting to be explored by students at the Winter Park High School Ninth Grade Center. Whether they gravitate toward hair-raising mysteries or heartwarming romance novels, media specialist Ginger Carter knows just which book to put in their hands.
“All it takes is giving them that one ‘I can’t put it down’ book. It changes their lives,” Carter said. “And then they come back for another one.”
Her 26-year career in education is defined by her creative spirit and limitless imagination. Despite only working at Winter Park High School for a year and a half, she was named the freshman campus Teacher of the Year and one of five finalists for Orange County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year.
Carter said that although she feels honored and humbled to be recognized for her work, teaching isn’t about the limelight — it’s about the students.
“I’m trying to teach them the love of reading,” Carter said. “The reason I do a lot of the things I do in this library are to get students in here, so I can talk to them about books.”
Carter has transformed the media center into a superhero’s haven. From the cardboard metropolis resting atop the bookshelves to the handmade Batman Bat-Signal hanging above the entrance, she’s created a youth-friendly environment.
The sun shines through a wall of glass windows, providing natural light for those working on computers and studying at tables. Bold, colorful signs direct students to a variety of book genres. Over 30 college pennants adorn the center’s high walls.
Principal Timothy Smith said Carter’s innovative ideas resonate with students and in turn promote a thirst for learning.
“She’ll look outside of the traditional concepts. She’ll get an idea, think it through and see how we can make it viable,” Smith said. “And she does that because it will add to a student’s learning experience.”
Smith said an active media center is essential to a thriving school, and Carter does everything in her power to engage students in reading.
“She has this great heart for helping kids learn, grow and become successful,” Smith said. “She’s one of those people that make you say, ‘One day, I hope I’m as smart and creative as she is.’”
During her time at Winter Park High School, Carter has integrated technology into educational activities, which she said has earned her a reputation as someone who’s not afraid to try new things in the media center.
In the Makerspace room, students can focus on the areas of study outlined by STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. And if that doesn’t intrigue them, Carter will spark their interest in agriculture by showing them the newly-built aquaponics garden. For those who enjoy field trips, she has Google Cardboard, allowing students to experience 3D virtual excursions without stepping foot outside of the media center.
“I try to get the kids where they’re like, ‘Wow,’ as they learn something new without realizing it. Because then I’ve got them,” Carter said. “I can then go ahead and ask them, ‘What book are you reading right now?’”
When Carter attended college, she struggled with choosing a career path. Her grandparents, both of whom had experience in the teaching field, recommended her to pursue a degree in education.
Although she was unaware of the impact it would have on her at the time, Carter said heeding her grandparents’ advice funneled her into her position as a lifelong educator.
“As soon as I stepped foot into a classroom, I fell in love,” Carter said. “It’s a way to inspire and build relationships. It lets me be creative and be my own boss. It’s an all-in-one profession.”
During first and second period lunch, the media center is bustling with students. Amongst them are freshmen studying for this year’s Battle of the Books, an annual competition that tests students on literature from the Sunshine State Young Readers Award (SSYRA) list.
To prep the students, Carter has received help in writing over 300 practice questions for each book on the SSYRA list. Having taken first place with her team of freshmen last year, Carter is hoping for another victory this March.
Student and team member Jacob Weaver, 14, participated in Battle of the Books last year as an eighth grader. He said Carter inspires him to put his best foot forward.
“She makes me want to read more,” Weaver said. “She brightens up my day, because she’s just a joy to be around.”
The winner of Teacher of the Year will be announced in an awards ceremony on Feb. 17 at the Rosen Centre. But for Carter, her focus remains on motivating students to become avid readers and reach their potential.
“It’s about getting them to read,” Carter said. “You do whatever you have to do to make that happen.”