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Mystery solved! Principal found, so students can head back to school

Kent City — It is no mystery why one group of students enjoyed going to school over the summer.

Students climbed through crime-tape barriers and carefully analyzed each overturned chair, missing or misplaced item, and other clues left behind in Principal Pamela Thomas’s office.  

Yes, she was still missing, but they were determined to figure out which of the suspects was responsible.

Regular reading, writing and math exercises were wound into the curriculum of mystery and intrigue.

Approximately 100 Kent City students heading into first through fourth grades this fall took part in the summer program, said teacher Kathy Arlen, who is credited with creating the themed activities. Due to construction at the elementary building, summer classes met at the middle school from 7:45-11:45 a.m., and included both breakfast and lunch.

Students with top secret access — Blakely Kruithoff, left, and Eva Garcia — enter the crime scene to look for clues

“We have a building theme each year and extended our theme — Detectives and Mysteries — for the 2021-22 school year into the summer,” Arlen said. “I choose a theme based upon an idea that will be of high interest to the students and engage the families.”

Along with the regular curriculum used during summer school, teachers this year implemented a variety of hands-on forensic science activities, including making marshmallow shooters, using invisible ink and solving crimes.

The Big Event

The summer session ended with the culminating activity: “Who Kidnapped the Principal?”

“Earlier this week, students were informed our principal was missing,” teacher Morgan Denyes said. “There were six suspects: myself and some other teachers in summer school volunteered (and) answered questions that Kathy (Arlen) developed.” 

After hearing the news, students went to work creating missing person posters and placed them around the school. Then they spent days speculating as to who had done it, Denyes said.

Students interviewed all of the suspects, and carefully recorded the information. Then, wearing  “top-secret access” badges, they visited the crime scene, where they worked to analyze clues to determine which suspect committed the crime.

Some of their evidence notes: 

  • Someone left behind a dog leash; which of the suspects owns a dog?
  • A partially eaten candy bar. Does that mean the suspect loves chocolate or not?
  • Old sneakers might mean a runner committed the crime.

Someone pointed a finger at Denyes.

Another accused: “You like to run and you have a dog.” 

Another asked, “Do you like coffee?”

Soon, the wide-eyed young detectives gathered around Denyes, declaring “You did it.”

Examining clues and interviewing suspects led to students making inferences and searching for a conclusion as to whom the prime suspect might be, Denyes said.

“Next, we will be doing a written response using the evidence and their background knowledge to make a claim,” she said. 

“This has been such a fun activity for our summer school students because this is a perfect way for them to practice reading skills that many struggle with.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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