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Book inspires students to do more than just read about social issues

In "Ghost" by acclaimed author Jason Reynolds, the lead character is running for a spot on an elite track team.

In a way, he's also running from the issues that plague him at home, such as domestic violence, alcoholism and food insecurity.

But these issues are not unique to a fictional character—they are things that are part of our community, for better or worse, and reading "Ghost" is one way to look at effects and solutions, said Shawn Hinger (B.S.Ed. ’03, M.Ed. ’08, Ed.S. ’11), media specialist at Clarke Middle School who is also leading a book club at this year's Camp DIVE.

A partnership between the Clarke County School District and the University of Georgia College of Education, Camp DIVE is a month-long summer program that keeps kids immersed in learning during the summer.

Hinger's approach to the book club is more than simply reading and talking about the story. "We talk about what societal issues are, and as they come up (in the book), we have different people from the community come and talk about them," said Hinger, whose book club students are in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. "And we talk about the resources in the community that might be available to them."

One of those visitors was Susan Dodson, director of external relations at the Northeast Georgia Food Bank. She spoke to the students about food insecurity, an issue faced by many children in the Athens area. While many food drives take place during the holidays, it's the summer, when kids are not getting regular meals at school, when there is the greatest need. Unfortunately, it's also not a time when food drives often take place.

After discussing the different ways they could help and voting, the book club members decided a food drive focusing on proteins would be the best way to go.

Now, a brown barrel sits near the entrance to Clarke Middle School for the last week of Camp DIVE as kids work to get the word out about their efforts. High-protein, nonperishable foods such as cans of beans or jars of peanut butter are the priority items.

The food drive also takes the plight of a fictional character and makes it real, said Hinger. By applying the book's lessons to their own community, the students not only have a deeper understanding of its characters, but they also feel like they are part of the solution.

"It's refocusing through a different lens, and they've really gotten into it."