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Literacy and Marathons

September 27, 2022 | Brent Harris

I have trained for a number of marathons over the last five years. I’m not sure what has compelled me to keep running them, despite the time and physical commitment it takes. Perhaps it’s my desire to stick to a schedule and check things off of lists; or it’s the guilt-free two weeks of eating and sitting that takes place in the post-run recovery period. Either way, I have gone through the cycle a number of times and keep going back.

For each of the marathons I’ve done, I was happy with how it ended. It was long and difficult, but because of the training that went on for the 15-20 weeks leading up to race day, the marathon itself was manageable.

The 8th graders are in the throes of their High School Application process. It’s not easy. There are plenty of things to juggle, and each item seems very make or break for the students. There are applications to fill in, standardized tests to take, meetings to have, questions to ask, essays to write… and when one thing wraps up, there’s always something else to do.

When stress levels are higher, students fall back on their training and the things they know how to do to get by.

They’re well-prepared to tackle the high school application process, succeed on their application essays, succinctly speak in an in-person interview, and comfortably complete the standardized tests in large part due to one thing that we value at Mustard Seed School: Reading.

At MSS, students read all the time. From the beginning of their time at MSS through the end of their 8th grade year, students read constantly. They complete Reader’s Responses to synthesize their thoughts into writing; they read books with their teachers; they read books in groups; they read short stories and long stories, and learn to consume news appropriately. They do it all.

Regular reading is one of the best ways to prepare for life. It helps students work on problem solving skills, increases their perception levels, helps them detect nuance and work through complexities and develops their empathy, among many other things. These skills prepare them for the high school application process, and of course for life beyond high school.

And all of this hard work and dedication through the years is the training process. It’s training them for life, sure, but to the 8th graders, it feels like it’s training for all of this difficult and complex work that comes at the beginning of their school year filling in applications and taking standardized tests. I have learned a lot from running marathons, including the importance of practice and training and flexing muscles so that when these muscles need to be heavily relied on in a stressful or difficult moment, they are there for us. The 8th graders are right there. They are flexing these muscles that have been worked on since the beginning of their time at Mustard Seed School. The 6th and the 7th graders are adding reading and writing skills to their list as well, preparing them for big situations that require skills that not all middle schools manage to give their students. At MSS, though, it is a fierce priority.

Check in and ask what your child has been reading! See what they think. Like me, you will probably be impressed with their perception.

Brent Harris

Teacher, Grade 7; Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grades

Brent Harris has been teaching Middle School students since 2015. He loves teaching students how to understand the world through literature and writing. He teaches English Language Arts, but he likes to teach other things too! Both of Mr. Harris' parents are educators, and despite trying his hardest to avoid following in his parents’ footsteps, he graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in English Education and a Minor in Physical Education; as a result, Brent is a great argument piece for any “Nature versus Nurture” debate.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Harris enjoys playing guitar and drums, listening to music, spending time outside, playing sports, and hanging out with his kind and loving wife, Lauren. A native of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Harris stays true to all the Canadian stereotypes by being extremely kind and perpetually sorry. He has been a director and counselor at multiple children’s camps in Canada and Michigan, and he appreciates the idea of teaching students and campers in a place where there is freedom to entertain new ideas and try out new things. Mr. Harris has enjoyed coaching volleyball, soccer, and baseball, and while he loves nature, he is being slowly converted into a city boy.

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