Highland Middle School teacher Malinda Bertels has combined her two passions -- teaching and writing -- to create a tool to combat bullying.
Bertels penned a fictional novel about a high school freshman bullied by a classmate, which she uses in her seventh grade language arts class to teach students about the widespread effects of bullying as well as in English lessons.
Bertels' novel titled "Just Pete" tells the story of Peter Gilmore, a freshman in high school, who is bullied by classmate Nick Johnson. Both are fictitious characters. Bertels said she hopes to "bring more awareness to the issue of bullying" by including what Peter and Nick both go through in the book.
"It's not based on just what the victim goes through but what the bully goes through as well, and why they do what they do," Bertels said. "Most of the time bullies bully because of something that's going on in their lives. I wanted to get it from both perspectives."
Bertels said the novel only took her a month to write in 2010, but she spent the last two years editing it into the polished product that's set to be released by Tate Publishing in May.
Since she wrote the book, Bertels has been incorporating it into her classroom at Highland Middle School. Bertels said she has created English lessons based on the book, which are aligned with the Common Core Standards.
"Not only am I teaching a lesson on bullying, I also cover vocabulary and literacy elements and ask journal questions based on the book," she said. "It's nice when you get to teach so much with one resource -- that was my goal."
Highland Middle School Principal Erick Baer commended Bertels' efforts to incorporate Common Core Standards into the book and said the book has "sparked really good conversations" with her students.
Bertels credited the support of her students with giving her the courage to pursue publishing the book. "It was my students' love for this book and constant encouragement that gave me the confidence and determination to get this book published," she said.
Bertels hopes her novel makes "people more aware of the bullying issue. Bullying is a serious social issue plaguing our schools across the nation," she said. "It is my sincere hope that my novel, 'Just Pete,' will act as a catalyst in reducing the problems of bullying in classrooms everywhere."
Bertels, 48, has taught seventh grade at Highland Middle School for the last decade. She knew she wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a little girl. She recalled playing school with her dolls growing up in Pana, Ill., near Decatur. She honed in on seventh grade during her time student teaching.
Bertels earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education and her master's degree in education from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Bertels has already written her second novel, which is about a student who has autism. "My goal is to write things kids can really learn from," she said.
Bertels and her husband, Morris, have four children. They reside in Edwardsville.
The 180-page paperback book "Just Pete" retails for $12.99 online at www.tatepublishing.com. Advanced copies of the book are available through the publishing company.
Teacher/author Malinda Bertels is holding several upcoming book signings for her novel "Just Pete":
* 11 a.m. Saturday, March 2 at the Fairview Heights Public Library, 10017 Bunkum Road
* 1 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at the O'Fallon Public Library, 120 Civic Plaza
* 1 p.m. Saturday, March 9 at Michael's Coffee Shop, 425 Broadway in Highland
* 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16 at Bella Milano, 1063 Illinois 157 in Edwardsville