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Canal Winchester Middle School Welcomes Author Jason Reynolds

Author Jason Reynolds looks into the crowd as he speaks to Canal Winchester Middle School students on Wednesday, January 31,
Megan Anthony

“Even though we’re different people, we have a bond because we’re from the same place.”

That’s just one of the powerful messages award-winning author Jason Reynolds shared with Canal Winchester Middle School students on Wednesday, January 31, while discussing storytelling, writing, community, and more at a school-wide assembly.

Mr. Reynolds, author of best-selling novels including Ghost and Long Way Down, visited the school thanks to the work of CWMS Library Media Specialist Mrs. Heather Baugess.

“Over the years, we've hosted many spectacular authors, but one author was exceptional and really stood out from the rest,” said Mrs. Baugess, who will retire this summer after 28 years at CW Schools. “In October 2018, Mr. Reynolds came to CWMS, and our students hung on every word he shared. They also devoured his books for the remainder of the year following his visit. I wanted our current students to experience this phenomenon, and if I am being really honest, I wanted to finish my career as a librarian with the very best.”

Students buzzed with excitement while they waited for Mr. Reynolds to take the stage at X Church on Wednesday afternoon, singing along to pop music and playing games with X Church staff who took to the stage to entertain them. Reynolds joined teachers Mrs. Ashley Dearth and Mrs. Allison Burns on stage for a talk-show-style chat featuring questions submitted by students.

Their questions covered growing up in Reynold’s hometown of Washington, D.C., stories of his childhood with his siblings, and how he learned to fit in as his family moved to different neighborhoods.

“The leader is always the person who’s going to stand out doing their own thing,” Mr. Reynolds told the students as he urged them to be themselves. “You already cool. If you’re you, you’re cool. And if you can hold on to that, everybody else will adjust. Either they’ll like you for who you are, or they’ll be just like you.”

Students were already familiar with Mr. Reynolds’ work through reading his books from the Library Learning Commons and in classes.

“When we did our read-aloud of Ghost, the students hung on every word and wanted to know what was going to happen next,” shared Mrs. Burns, who teaches 7th grade English and Language Arts. “They reacted so emotionally throughout the read-aloud and couldn't believe some of the choices the main character made in his life. They were invested in the main character, Ghost, and wanted good things for him. I think that his books and life resonate with our students so much because they feel seen and represented in his books.”

Mrs. Dearth’s seventh-grade students were so inspired by their reading that they decorated white shoes with the themes of Ghost. Mrs. Dearth wore one pair that a student worked on during recent show days while others lined the stage at X Church.

“As a teacher, teaching Jason Reynolds books is a slam dunk,” she said. “Reynolds believes that kids today need to see themselves in books. The stories need to connect to their lives and the issues they face as young people. His writing is raw and real, and kids connect with him. He is a role model, especially for our young boys.”

Mr. Reynolds told the CWMS students that he hoped someday he would run into them, and they would share how his words influenced them to become people who make the world a better place for future generations.

“These books are only meant to stoke you and spark you and challenge you, so you become those people.”

Giving our students this experience was truly a community effort. Thank you to Mrs. Baugess, Mrs. Dearth, Mrs. Burns, the entire CWMS team, and our transportation department for their coordination and support. We’d also like to thank the Madison Township Police Department and X Church for their help. Finally, we’d like to thank the donors who helped cover the costs of the event, including the BrockStrong Foundation and CWMS Student Council.

Jason Reynolds speaks into a microphone on stage

Author Jason Reynolds spoke to Canal Winchester Middle School students on Wednesday, January 31, discussing storytelling, writing, community, and more in a talk-show-style interview with teachers Allison Burn and Ashley Dearth.

Colorful, hand-painted shoes sit on the front of a stage

Colorful, hand-painted shoes created by students lined the stage when Author Jason Reynolds spoke to Canal Winchester Middle School students on Wednesday, January 31, discussing storytelling, writing, community, and more in a talk-show-style interview with teachers Allison Burn and Ashley Dearth.

Heather Baugess laughs on stage

Canal Winchester Middle School Library Media Specialist Mrs. Heather Bauges introduces Author Jason Reynolds to students. Mrs. Baugess was instrumental in bringing the experience to CWMS students.

Three people sit on a stage in front of hundreds of students

Author Jason Reynolds spoke to Canal Winchester Middle School students on Wednesday, January 31, discussing storytelling, writing, community, and more in a talk-show-style interview with teachers Allison Burn and Ashley Dearth.

Jason Reynolds smiling on stage

Author Jason Reynolds spoke to Canal Winchester Middle School students on Wednesday, January 31, discussing storytelling, writing, community, and more in a talk-show-style interview with teachers Allison Burn and Ashley Dearth.