Western Middle School students complete escape room for Read Across America

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Mar. 23—RUSSIAVILLE — Avery Kylie Grambs is your average high school kid when her life changes in dramatic fashion.

Grambs learns she's in line to inherit a fortune when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies. But there's a catch. She has no idea who he is.

This is the premise of young adult novel "The Inheritance Games," which follows Grambs as she tries to solve the mystery of why she was selected. The book is full of twist and turns, as Hawthorne was a man who fancied puzzles, riddles and codes.

The book was a hit among Western middle schoolers who all read the award-winning novel this month as part of Read Across America.

Western Middle School turned Read Across America — celebrated every March 2, which is Dr. Seuss' birthday — into a month-long event full of puzzle- and reading-related activities.

The celebration culminated Friday morning in a highly anticipated escape room for students.

Teams of three students, representing sixth, seventh and eighth grade, navigated their way through four puzzles for their own grand prize.

The escape room was set up on the stage of the auditorium with the use of drama club props.

The first puzzle was a box with a letter decoder inside. It led students to the next clue: a locker combination. It threw some of the kids for a moment. They didn't realize they'd have to leave the auditorium.

"Nobody told us," said seventh grader Kyndell Tedder. "We ran to the locker."

The group sprinted out of the auditorium to the cheers of the entire middle school student body who watched.

The second puzzle had students decipher a message. The message came in paper letters with different fonts. Grouping similar fonts together revealed the message.

"I feel like we were struggling with the font," said Andrew Miller, a sixth grade teacher.

Student groups could pick one staff member to help them. The seventh graders picked Miller.

"We were told he was good at puzzles," said student Leah Wagner.

The students who got to do the escape room were those who completed the most teacher puzzles.

Teachers created puzzles based on their favorite book. Some were simple, like a crossword, others were complex. One teacher 3D printed a puzzle box, another used Morse Code.

A letter from Hawthorne encouraged the kids to go to the library to check out a teacher's book. Upon doing so, they could try their hand at the puzzle. Twenty-five teachers made puzzles.

It was an instant hit.

"The first day was nuts," said teacher Madi Pearson. "Eight teacher puzzles were solved in one day. People were flocking to the library. That was the goal of all of this was to get kids to read."

Pearson, who teaches sixth grade social studies, was the brains behind the puzzle idea and escape room. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries.

"We can do a lot with those kinds of books," she said.

Kyndell was one of the students who completed all 25 puzzles.

The various font letters spelled an important clue: "flickering." That led students to a candlestick on top of the piano.

The seventh graders didn't even need to solve the puzzle completely to figure out their next step.

"We saw 'flick,' and we went to the candle," Wagner said.

They then headed backstage where they found a briefcase. The fourth and final puzzle came with the clue: "look to the stars."

This was a stumper. The groups looked all over the stage but no dice.

Some students had the idea to look up to the ceiling. It was an eighth grader who spotted a star, posted on the wall above the top row of seats in the auditorium.

This created a fervor among all the students. Those in the audience began looking for the other stars. Dozens of hands pointed out two more.

Seventh grader Emery Smith rushed up the stairs and grabbed them. He was thankful for the audience's help.

"I didn't like the stars," he said. "I wasn't going to get them."

The stars had a series of letters revealed with the use of an invisible ink pen. Those letters were the final clue. Put in the right order, they opened a box on stage with the grand prize.

The seventh grade team deduced the message of the letters: dodgeball. The box opened revealing a flash drive with a video on it.

The video was played for the students, unveiling their reward: a school-wide dodgeball tournament to be held at the end of the school year.

In a way, it brought the entire Read Across America month full circle.

Read Across America used to be big event every year at Western Middle School, but like most things, was sidelined due to the pandemic.

"We've gotten away from the fun parts of school," Pearson said. "That's what makes it exciting for the kids."

Same goes for the dodgeball tournament. None of the middle schoolers have ever experienced it before.

"They have no idea how fun it's going to be," Miller said.

Up to six people will be on a team. That can include teachers. It'll be a March Madness style of tournament.

The month also featured door decorating contests and dress-up days, all related to "The Inheritance Games."

Teachers and the Western PTO fundraised to distribute copies of the novel to all students.

After an exciting hour in the auditorium, the students headed back to class on the final day before spring break.

In the afternoon, the students watched "National Treasure," a movie where the main characters follow clues, including ones on the back of the Declaration of Independence, in search of a treasure.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.