Bethel Middle School (BMS) students have been jumping, rolling, and climbing in the gym and vigorously reading during their spare time during a six-week reading and fitness challenge inspired by the hit TV show, “American Ninja Warrior.”
The Reading Ninja Warrior program challenged BMS students to complete three rigorous reading rounds to finish a total of 30 books or read one million words in just six weeks. The fitness aspect of the program involved the middle school’s gymnasium being transformed into an obstacle course. Thanks to a First Citizen’s Reading Grant from the Haywood County Schools Foundation, BMS students learned to navigate a cargo net, climb ropes, and traverse a peg board.
“The challenge was a way to encourage our students to be physically and mentally fit,” BMS Lead Teacher Emily Fama said. “We pulled together as a whole school to show students the Reading Ninja Warrior program really was an interdisciplinary approach to total wellbeing.”
From January 27 through March 9, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students read at total of 2,401 books and more than 39 million words.
“Our students more than doubled their book count and increased word count by 41 percent compared to a typical nine-week period,” Kendra Plemmons, BMS media specialist, said. “The majority of our students participated in the challenge and completed round one, which was 15 books. The fact that they read so many books on their reading level was a great accomplishment!”
The school held a kick-off event in January to introduce students to the new gym equipment and explain the rules of the competition. Round one of the reading competition, also known as the “Qualifying Round,’ required students to read 15 books or 500,000 words. Students who completed the “Qualifying Round” received a special ninja warrior arm band and got school-wide recognition. Students advancing to round two, or the “City Finals,” had to complete 10 more books or read an additional 300,000 words. These students qualified for the school’s top 20 percent reader’s reward. The final round called “Mt. Midoriyama,” named after the TV show’s final challenge, required students to read 5 more books or 150,000 words. Students completing the final round read a total of 30 books or one million words to earn a trip to Gravitopia, an indoor trampoline park in Greenville, S.C.
During the kick-off celebration for the program, students also met Clinton Taylor, a contestant on season 6 of American Ninja Warrior. Taylor inspired students to reach their full potential and cautioned them that you will only go as far in life as you want to.
When students were not in the gym scaling the cargo net, they were fervently reading books and novels to advance to the next reading round.
The BMS PE staff began installing the new gym equipment with the hope of showing students that being healthy can also be fun. The course encouraged students to try non-traditional workouts as they completed the obstacles.
The ninja-inspired obstacles were designed to improve students’ muscular strength, endurance and agility, as well as to teach them the importance of perseverance, BMS PE Coach Spenser Reeves said.
After six weeks of reading, 27 students conquered “Mt. Midoriyama” and were rewarded with a day at Gravitopia.
Five students who finished the “Mt. Midoriyama” reading challenge and successfully completed daily obstacle course drills in PE earned a trip to NinjaKour in Lilburn, Ga. to train with professional Ninja Warrior athletes.
“The Reading Ninja Warrior competition was a lot of fun, and I liked trying to beat my friends on the obstacles,” Louis Mehaffey, BMS seventh grader, said. “My favorite obstacle was the rope climb.”
Mehaffey, along with Lucas Whitted, Alyssa Bridges, Starling Inabnitt, and Luke Pinkston were the top five students who went to NinjaKour.
“Sometimes middle school students lose interest in reading, and the Reading Ninja Warrior program was a great way to reignite that fire for them,” Fama explained. “The competition showed our students the importance of being well-rounded and improving their physical and mental strength.”