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A principal and three teachers laid shoulder to shoulder in the center of a gym floor on Wednesday morning as a rider on a BMX bike barreled toward them. The Sacajawea Middle School gym erupted in cheers and the thundering of feet on bleachers as the rider leapt into the air, easily cleared the group.

The assembly — the first the school held in the last 18 months — was the culmination of Read to Ride, a summer reading program the middle school held in partnership with USA BMX Foundation.

To encourage reading throughout the summer, students were given a raffle ticket for each book they read with the grand prize of a Mongoose BMX bike and helmet raffled during Wednesday’s assembly.

Professional BMX athlete Cam Wood was there to talk with students, perform a couple of jumps and help raffle off the bike provided by USA BMX Foundation and Mongoose.

Wood, who also attended Chief Joseph Middle School and Bozeman High School, said it was important for him to come back home and do events like this to introduce and encourage students in both BMX and education.

Sacajawea Middle School Principal told the assembled students Wood was an “example of what you can do, too. He put his mind to a goal and he did it.”

Sacajawea Middle School Reading BMX

Sacajawea Middle School students sit on bleachers in the school's gym on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in preparation for their first assembly since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Sacajawea Middle School Reading BMX

Cam Wood, former Bozeman student and professional BMX racer, meets with Sacajawea Middle School students after an assembly at the school incentivizing literacy on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.

Twenty-one sixth and seventh graders participated in the program and collectively read around 200 books, said Eileen Zombro, who ran the summer reading program at the middle school. The school plans to hold the event again next year and hopes to have even more participants.

“This will help inspire kids to be life long readers,” Zombro said.

Zombro said it’s especially important to have a reading program when students are out of school to help reduce the “summer slump,” or the loss of academic and reading skills during the summer.

The student participants were each awarded a certificate during the assembly and additional prizes, like water bottles and beanies, during a breakfast with Wood that followed.

Katy Hines, a teacher at Sacajawea and involved in Gallatin Valley BMX, first connected the school and organization last year. A similar program was held but it was not limited to just one school due to the pandemic.

Sacajawea Middle School Reading BMX

Cam Wood, former Bozeman student and professional BMX racer, helps eighth-grader Cash Shonkwiler with the BMX bike she won as part of a reading incentive program at Sacajawea Middle School on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.

Pairing reading with BMX is a great opportunity because the world of BMX is welcoming to all newcomers at any age, Hines said.

“It’s an effort to promote reading, literacy and making healthy life choices,” Hines said of the program. “… I want it in all the schools.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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