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Running connects with reading on middle school track

Sixth-graders dash like Ghost

Kentwood — Like the main character in the book “Ghost,” by author Jason Reynolds, sixth-grader Josiah Khenkhanthang lined up to start the 100-meter dash.  

He crouched in a runner’s starting position, fingertips on the track beneath him. When his gym teacher yelled “Go!” he took off in a full-on sprint, his ponytail bouncing and red shoes a blur.

Sixth-grader Josiah Khenkhanthang gets into his runner’s pose

A bit later Josiah finished the physical education period with a full lap around the track — 400 meters —  with his Crestwood Middle School peers. “I’m kind of surprised that I got here so fast,” he said as he finished.

Sixth-graders are reading “Ghost,” about a boy who dreams of becoming the fastest sprinter on his middle school track team. Instead of just having students read about Castle Cranshaw (who is nicknamed Ghost) racing, English language arts and physical education teachers saw the opportunity to bring the action outside to the track on a recent Friday afternoon. 

“It’s really inspiring because it’s relatable to middle school racers,” said Josiah, of the book. “Maybe it will inspire them to join the track team.”

English teachers Paige Baker, Anne Brown and Janet Kuiper joined physical education teachers Jodi Peterson and Charlie Hang in planning the event as a way to build connections across English and gym curriculums.

“To get the students out here running the 100-meter like the protagonist Castle Cranshaw does, what a cool connection to make it real for them, to make it physical and to give them the opportunity to have some fun,” Baker said.

She added, “We love this book because it’s by Jason Reynolds, whose motto is to write not-boring books.”

Students run like characters in the novel, ‘Ghost’

How Fast Are You?

Eighth-graders timed sixth-graders, who compared their times to 100-meter dash world record holders Usain Bolt, the late Florence Griffith Joyner and East Kentwood record holders.

Track starts in March, and the event also gave students a taste of what being on the team is like. Peterson said she wanted to get students interested in joining. 

‘It’s really inspiring because it’s relatable to middle school racers.’

— sixth-grader Josiah Khenkhanthang

“I’m always for getting the kids physically active and getting them excited about running,” she said. “It’s nice, because the story does get some of the kids really motivated and excited about it.”

Sixth-grader Adut Anai said the event helped her visualize the characters in the book. 

“I didn’t really have a picture before of how they would run or how big a track was and all that. It helps me know what it looks like.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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