Family Court Judge Pete Conley Recognized by Harrison County BOE for 25 Years of Classroom Reading at Johnson Elementary

By Julie Perine on June 09, 2018 via

Pete Conley has a 35-year law career to his credit. He’s a former member of the Harrison County Board of Education and for the past year and a half, he has served as Harrison County Family Court Judge.
When he’s not busy in his professional realm, Conley has a standing appointment with the third graders of Johnson Elementary School. Every Friday, he reads to students. The adventures he brings to the kids are compliments of the Junie B. Jones book series.
Tuesday evening, Conley was recognized by the Harrison County Board of Education for 25 dedicated years to the students of Johnson Elementary.
It all began when he and wife Cindy’s daughter Mimi was in first grade at JES.
“I always read to the girls at night Cindy had bought a Junie B. Jones book for me to read. I thought it was hilarious and someone suggested that I read to Mimi’s class. The Read Aloud program was bigger back then and I wound up reading to her first-grade class,” Conley said. “The teacher was laughing as I was reading. It’s such a funny series.”
Conley said he continued to read, following Mimi all the way to sixth grade at Bridgeport Middle School.
“Meanwhile, my daughter Sarah had started school so I started reading to her class and followed her to third grade,” he said.
The JES third grade teachers at the time – Mrs. Kay Burnett and Mrs. Jane Stonko – not only asked Conley to read to both classes that year, but persuaded him to return the following year.
“I remember them both walking up to me and saying, ‘You’re not getting promoted. You have to come back to third grade,” Conley said.
It was probably 10 to 15 years ago when classroom requirements changed, placing stress on elementary school schedules. It was then decided that Conley would read to both third grade classes at the same time and rather than Wednesdays, he would read on Fridays.
For the past seven or eight years, Conley has incorporated a trivia game at the end of the school year, which he calls “Junie B. Jones Jeopardy.”
In the competition – boys vs. girls – he incorporates material contained in the dozen or so books read throughout the year.
Junie B. isn’t just entertaining, she learns a lot through experience.
“She’s ornery, but she learns life lessons along the way – about how to treat people and she’s very impulsive,” Conley said. “Junie B. always winds up in a predicament of some sort because she tries to do things she shouldn’t be doing and she’s really witty … Her relationship with adults is kind of funny because she tries to act like an adult sometimes and winds up getting herself into trouble.”
Conley admits he got himself into a little trouble when he made a Facebook post about being privileged to share the works of the late Barbara Parks, writer of the Junie B. Jones series, for 25 straight years with the students of Johnson Elementary School.
“As Junie would say, ‘Me and my big fat mouth,’” Conley said. “I shared what a joy it has been sharing stories and laughs and I apologized to the teachers for getting the kids all wound up.”
Conley’s Facebook friend Gary Hamrick, president of the Harrison County school board, saw the post and took note, arranging for Conley to be recognized for his dedication.
“It did mean a lot to me. It was special on a couple of levels,” Conley said. “It’s always nice to be recognized, but more importantly, I wanted to encourage others to do it. I get as much or more from it than the kids. I enjoy it. It’s so uplifting to see those smiling faces, who are always happy to see you.”
Some of the children Conley read to are 30 years old. He has kept track of and heard from some of them. One told him he inspired her to read Junie B. Jones books on her own. He knows of at least one who is an elementary school teacher in the area.
There lies the real reward.
“That’s when you know you’ve encouraged kids,” Conley said. “I always try to tell them that by reading, you learn words, you get to go places and meet people you don’t know.”
Conley just finished up reading for the third-grade classes of Kim Olivio and Gina Cann. He looks forward to starting a new school year in the new JES building.
Editor's Note: Conley was shown top/cover reading to students of Johnson Elementary in 2000. Just above he is pictured with wife Cindy, BOE President Gary Hamrick and Superintendent of Harrison County Schools Dr. Mark Manchin.. 

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