More than 100 seventh graders from each school in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) spent an activity-filled day together at Camp Beech Cliff during the 7th Grade Read in October, with a highlight being the group discussions and presentation with award-winning author Gary Schmidt.
Since the start of the school year, seventh graders and their English Language Arts teachers read and interpreted Gary’s middle-grade novel “Trouble,” a complex story about a teenager working through a family tragedy by reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin.
The goal of this annual event is to bring kids from all MDIRSS schools together around a shared book experience, and provide an opportunity for them to interact and form friendships with one another before beginning the high school experience together in two years.
In the past, the event has been a half-day of group discussions with community volunteers as their group leaders. But this year, IRW Director of School Programs Alison Johnson and Camp Beech Cliff Camp Director Matt Cornish brought the book to life by planning interactive stations for each team to complete that drew from themes in “Trouble.”
The day-long event utilized Camp Beech Cliff’s beautiful spaces to their fullest and gave kids the chance to stretch their legs and minds and use their in-class discussions and personal interpretations of the book to complete the challenges.
Throughout the day, 12 teams competed in a series of six stations including the low ropes course that imitated Mount Katahdin’s Knife’s Edge, a relay race, creating an artistic timeline of the book, book trivia, cooking apple crisp over a campfire and having small group discussions and book signing with Gary.
It was great fun to see kids from different schools working together to solve problems on the low ropes course, cheer each other on during the relay race, help each other come up with the trivia answers and creatively connect to make a timeline of the book’s major events. Laughter was heard throughout the campus, as well as shouts of encouragement from one team to another; a friendly game of tag between several teams broke out when a station was completed early.
Kids from each school created imaginative book trailers for “Trouble” that were viewed during lunchtime. At the end of the day, Gary shared with the seventh graders the inspiration for his book and how he approaches writing. As for the old adage, “write what you know”? Forget that, Gary says. That would be boring. He recommends writing what you don’t know and learning something new and sharing it with your audience.
Gary is an inspiring and engaging speaker and we love it when he comes to Maine, a place dear to his heart. Driving to Camp Beech Cliff the morning of the event, Gary was asked why he has featured Maine in most of his books. “When I’m writing, I pick a place that I know I’ll want to be for a long time,” he said. “Maine is so interesting and beautiful, and it’s a place I’m happy to be for a long time while I’m writing.”
The seventh graders enjoyed the new format of the event. “I loved the [event]. It was super cool to meet an author of a book that I really enjoyed,” said one seventh grader. “I really liked the presentation and I never got bored. It was also very inspirational!”
We couldn’t have had such a successful event without MDIRSS Curriculum Director Julie Meltzer and Administrative Assistant Karen Shields, as well as all of the ELA teachers and support staff who prepared their students with wonderful discussions. Community volunteers led each team and we are so grateful for their support! Thanks to Jenna Beaulieu, Michelle Finn, Melissa Haas, Lisa Horsch-Clark, Jenny Jones, Helen Koch, Nancy McKechnie, Jayson Pelletier, Melinda Rice-Schoon, Carol Schaefer and Jeff Young for sharing their passion for reading with MDI kids.
We look forward to bringing a different book to life for the next class of seventh graders next year!